Artist Muriel Hasbun reflects on her background, her work, and being a "Latina Artist."
MURIEL HASBUN: I'm originally from El Salvador. My family comes from different places, though. My father was born in El Salvador, but his parents are Palestinian Christians who came from Bethlehem at the beginning of the 20th century. My mother is French, and she was born in France of Polish-Jewish parents.
The heritage influenced my work in that, on the one hand, I knew that I was a daughter of immigrant families in El Salvador, and so I always felt like I could move through different circles and different cultural backgrounds pretty easily, but on the other hand, it also made me feel like I could also be on the margins. So it influenced my work in that, personally, I wanted to find out more about my heritage and more about my cultural background and religious background and began investigating my family history through my work.
I chose photography as a medium. Well, on the one hand, my father had done photography as an amateur, and we had a darkroom at home, and so I learned photography through him. But I was also exposed to other arts because my mother owned an art gallery, so art was really part of my language and my experience growing up, but, ultimately, I chose photography because I was fascinated by the whole idea that a photograph is really a presence of someone. At the same time, it links you to that presence, that kind of light that reflects off of a person is actually recorded on the film, or now with digital cameras, it is recorded in some ways, and so that idea that a photograph records what was there and that is no longer there is what always attracted me to photography. Photography is known for being very descriptive, but at the same time it alludes to what isn't there anymore, and so it's a document of a particular time in a particular place and of a person in ways that makes it really powerful to create a dialogue with the past.
Through the work, I really began investigating things that had been silenced in some way either because of a traumatic kind of event, like the Holocaust in my mother's case, or because of assimilation and prejudice in my father's case. So Palestinians were not well seen in the 20th century in Latin America, and there's still a lot of prejudice against Arabs, and on the other hand the way to really survive the Holocaust was to be silent about one's identity, so that kind of passed on to me, those questions. Through my work, I really try to re-encounter, recreate, and construct the work or the sense of self and identity that in some ways was lost.
Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art presents the rich and varied contributions of Latino artists in the United States since the mid-twentieth century, when the concept of a collective Latino identity began to emerge.
Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and G Streets, NW)
“A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum” celebrates the numerous ways in which photography, from early daguerreotypes to contemporary digital works, has captured the American experience.