SAAM’s Exhibition, Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art”

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  • E CARMEN RAMOS: Hello, I’m E. Carmen Ramos, curator for Latino art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I’m delighted to tell you about a project that I’ve been working on for the past three years. It’s an exhibition titled “Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art.” It presents over ninety works of art from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s pioneering collection of Latino art. It encompasses works by artists of Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Dominican descent, as well as other artists from Latin American diasporas living in the United States.

    Our exhibition focuses on artists who worked since the mid twentieth century to the present day. A period that saw many shifts in American culture, but also a point when many Latino artists began to imbue their works with references to Latino culture, history, and experience. As well, a broader American culture of which they are also part. One of the reasons why the mid-century period is so important for Latino artists is because it is at this time that many of them start attending art schools in the United States.

    It is also around mid-century that Latino communities begin to contest their marginalized position within American society. Many Latino artists were galvanized by the civil rights movement and became masters of socially engaged art. Others inflected avant-garde modes with themes and issues drawn from Latino culture, history, and experience. Some were pioneers and participants in modern and contemporary art movements, like abstract expressionism, minimalism, performance art, and beyond.

    In organizing “Our America,” we sought not only to represent the broad depth and breadth of Latino art, but also to show the deep and rich links between Latino artists and the art and culture of the United States.

    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. The exhibition is drawn entirely from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s pioneering collection of Latino art. It explores how Latino artists shaped the artistic movements of their day and recalibrated key themes in American art and culture.