Texans must engage with Latin American histories in artwork

Audrey Larcher

Working as an art museum guard, you develop an eye for small things. My job at the Blanton Museum of Art requires attention to skewed angles and tilted frames. I notice visitors with fingers that twitch to touch artwork. I search for miniscule painting scratches. And every day, I witness when guests meander our halls, consistently spending a little more time in the Latin American gallery than any other section.

It makes sense why this gallery compels visitors. Pieces like Jorge de la Vega’s anxious oils, Oscar Munoz’s contemplative sketches and Julio Alpuy’s joyous prints all capture innately human experiences. They tangibly illustrate the abstract complexities of existence, subjecting viewers to a wide range of powerful emotions that command more of their attention. 

But while most Texans can enjoy a trip to the Latin American gallery, Trump’s recent DACA repeal threatens 200,000 mostly Latinx people into fear of leaving their homes. This political reality and its surrounding experiences are inextricable from Latinx art. 

Considering our nation’s surge in xenophobia and racism, it is more important than ever to connect with the broader narrative behind Latin American art. Museum curators must incorporate the political history behind this art and its relation to current events into exhibits.

Latin American art’s emotional command is rooted in politics. The region’s characteristic imagery and personal themes erupted out of colonial history, a product of pre-Colombian art’s evolution to cope with genocide, slavery and cultural destruction. These political influences permeate Latin American art history, taking form in traditions from muralism to magic realist literature.

This political lineage still holds strong. Mexican citizen and permanent U.S. resident Angelique Rosales-Salgado studies art history at UT, but creates her own art to celebrate Latinx identity. In her opinion, this celebration inextricably encompasses a critique of power structures. 

“I don’t think you can separate the fact that Latin American art is influenced by historical, political conflict,” she remarked. 

Similar artistic approaches are visible in Latin American art across Austin. The Harry Ransom Center’s new exhibition on modern Mexican art showcases Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, two artists known for incorporating vocal politics into their art (the former of whom featured Lenin in one of his murals). Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s manuscripts, which illustrate imperialism’s impact on Latin American culture, live in the archives just above. The Mexic-Arte Museum  on Congress provides a space dedicated to highlighting Mexican artists and their experiences.

These artists’ political voices ring clear, but arts patrons may not necessarily be aware of them. As Latin American communities continue to resist hegemonic powers such as the Trump administration, Senate Bill 4 and heightened day-to-day racism, the responsibility falls on curators to amplify these voices and bring their political message to exhibition’s forefront.

People are moved by this art. If we expose them to the stories of who made this art and why they made this art, we can foster greater understanding of immigrants’ struggles. And maybe that will translate into more
compassionate law.

Larcher is a Plan II sophomore from Austin.