Book reviews, Comments, Culture, In Focus

Radical women: Latin American art

This is a landmark publication which generously illustrates the work of over a hundred artists and collectives from fifteen different countries and contains important essays by experts in the field of Latin American and women’s art.

 

Josely Carvalho

Sean Sheehan

 

The curators of the exhibition which gave rise to this book justly claim to be presenting the first genealogy of radical art practices by Latina and Chicana women, thereby filling a large gap in the history of twentieth-century art.

They address head-on the political situations which the work of the artists is inseparable from and, in particular, the repressive governments that sought to control and curtail the behaviour and thoughts of women artists.

The book’s images, unlike the exhibition, are organized around countries and while the essays are themed they are also country- or region-specific.

Artists represented in the book have been selected because they have chosen ‘to problematize the body – a body that, for the most part, had been addressed from a masculine and patriarchal perspective’.

Isabel Castro

So, for example, the work of US-born Isabel Castro depicts, in a series of colour photocopies, young Latinos of her acquaintance in the crosshairs of a gun. This work, called “Women under fire”, uses the gunsight as a metaphor for the predicament of women in a man’s world; she began “Women under fire!” after hearing about the federally funded forced sterilization of Mexican American women at a Los Angeles hospital in the mid-1970s.

Patricia Restrepo, born in the same year as Isabel Castro (1954), is a Colombian artist whose experimental film, “Por la mañana”, is based on a poem by Jacques Prévert. A woman reviews her life at breakfast time with a husband who ignorers her; the repetition of her review enacting her frustratingly dead-end existence in a loveless relationship.

One of the eleven artists in this book who were born in the US or developed their work there is Josely Carvalho. Brazilian-born, she became one of the leaders of the grassroots feminist movement in the 1970s and in New York she taught silk-screen techniques for creating posters and banners.

Castro, Restrepo and Cavalho are only three of the 120 artists whose work is featured in Radical Women, the first major compendium of Latin American artists and collectives to find its way into print.

The wealth of their visual work is well represented in the images that make up the bulk of this book while the accompanying essays draw back the veil that has been drawn over their contributions to art history and examine particular aspects of their achievements.

From In The Morning by Patricia Restrepo

The range of topics is wide: experimental art in Venezuela; ‘poetics of resistance’ in Pinochet’s Chile; the role women artists played in Paraguay’s history; a celebration of ‘indiscipline’ in the provocative work of Argentinians like Marta Minujin,  Liliana Maresca, Maria Luisa Bemberg; an essay on art from the Hispanic Caribbean.

What the essays and the images in this book share is the truth behind a remark of Maria Lugones: ‘Unlike colonization, the coloniality of gender is still with us’.

“Radical women: Latin American art, 1960-1985”, by Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Andrea Giunta, is published by Prestel.

 

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