Issue 3
April 18, 2019

Where’s all the Latinx art?

How a group of Latinx women are empowering their community through local art.

by Lincoln Mondy & Amina Akhtar
latinx art

This piece originally appeared in Issue #3. Subscribe to get our monthly newsletter!
- Amina and Lincoln

Alarmed at the underrepresentation of the Latinx community in galleries, funding tables, and academic settings across the country, Rose G. Salseda analyzed abstracts and panels presented at the College Art Associations annual conference from 2012 to 2016. Salseda found that out of nearly 200 sessions, only 1.4 sessions a year focused on Latinx art.

As Latinx art was being erased on such a national stage, Vanessa Fuentes, Wanda Hernández, Catherine Lopez, and Ingrid Ortega were witnessing the chilling effect of the lack of funding, scholarship, and support of Latinx art in their own community. They did what many young people of color are often forced to do — create it themselves.

The four women worked together to build Creating Casa, a curatorial collective based in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) that unifies and empowers the local Latinx diaspora.“It came out of frustration,” said Ingrid Ortega, who began strategizing last year on how to build a community celebrating and supporting local Latinx art. Ortega set out to build power with fellow Latinx artists and art-lovers who were interested in filling the gaps they saw. The first person she approached was Wanda Hernández, the curator of Nuestras Historias: Latinos in Richmond, the first bilingual exhibition to explore Latino heritage in Virginia. On the lack of representation, Hernández declared, “Latinxs have lived in the DMV in significant quantities since the 1950s, yet we are constantly described as new arrivals. While our brothers and sisters continue to immigrate to the DMV, we’re not new. We’ve been here.”

Latinx art shouldn’t be confused with Latin American art, of which there is a celebrated (if not still undervalued) history. While Latin American art is segmented by nationalities (Mexican, Cuban and Peruvian), Latinx art is more about the unique lived experiences shared by U.S. artists of Latin American descent. Even though the Latinx population is on the rise, many art institutions have not caught up, leaving the community underrepresented in the closed-door board rooms and private tables that fund, legitimize, and empower art.

Creating Casa’s inaugural exhibition debuted at HIVE 2.0, a creative space at the Anacostia Arts Center. Catherine Lopez said she hoped people would walk away from the exhibition with “a motivation to stay connected to home and maintain ties to our ancestors.” The space featured both renowned Latinx artists and newcomers who are exploring their identity through art.

Artist Luis Perlata Del Valle migrated to the U.S. in 1985 from Nicaragua, and at the age of 13 began painting graffiti murals around D.C. Creating Casa has three original pieces in their inaugural exhibit from the award-winning artist — including construction signs that have been reborn with visuals of a solemn matriarch and two young children sheltering under a blanket. The third is a portrait of a group of people with their faces covered by an American flag, their indistinguishable faces an acknowledgment that the group could be, has been, and is any number of people who seek refuge in the U.S. Dell Valle’s subjects stare at iconic household products illustrated by Veronica Melendez, a young artist whose depictions of Goya beans, conchas, and coconut water turn everyday items often seen in Latinx households into shared memories. The exhibit also highlights the photography of Jennifer Albarracin Moya, a young Bolivian who says that clashes between her worlds have been a source of inspiration, and Karla Casique whose work focuses on undocumented immigrants. The diversity in mediums, experiences and ancestral homes forms the rich patchwork quilt that is Creating Casa’s colorful debut.

As Rose G. Salseda and her contemporaries work to increase Latinx representation in institutions like Universities and Museums, international and hyper-local work like Creating Casa is ensuring that Latinx folks see themselves reflected in their communities. “Creating opportunities to connect and bring people together will allow us to collectively say, ‘yes, we are here’ and will introduce us to conversations and spaces we have yet to be in,” said Catherine Lopez.

The women behind Creating Casa have a shared vision of a future for Latinx art. Vanessa Fuentes desperately wants a future where Latinx folks aren’t cast away as a monolithic group, going on to say, “within each Latin American culture there is creative brilliance, and I hope we can continue to grow and cultivate that creativity.” Catherine Lopez is working towards a future that, “encourages a multi-generational movement towards inclusivity.” The collective understands that this is only possible if there are institutional changes, like more investment in art education.

A question that perfectly illustrates why there needs to be more Latinx representation in the art world comes from Wanda Hernández — “What does it mean for us to know all the words to Knuck if you Buck by Crime Mob and Escándalo by La Sonora Dínamita?” At a time when far-right commentators are packaging the Latinx community as a monolith, the community deserves the space and funding to explore this question and all the ways their Latinx heritage shapes their experiences here in the United States.