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Adrian Esparza, "Wake and Wonder Americana." Photo courtesy of: Latinx Art museums and PAMM
Adrian Esparza, "Wake and Wonder Americana." Photo courtesy of: Latinx Art Sessions and PAMM

What is the state of Latinx artists in contemporary art?

A Jan. 24- 25 conference at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, seeks to gather artists, critics, curators, and all of Miami in an effort to explore the question.

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For Naoimy Guerrero, artist, curator, and art critic, a museum can serve as a host to conversations about identity, culture, and contemporary art - and it is precisely that role which she envisions for the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), in collaboration with the Art Center/South Florida, in the context of the upcoming Latinx Art Sessions program on Jan. 24 and Jan. 25.

The PAMM and The Art Center, a residency program for artists on Miami Beach, will be the site of a two-day program built by Guerrero, the PAMM DAMLI Curatorial Fellow, as well as María Elena Ortíz, Associate Curator, PAMM, and Natalia Zuluaga, director of [NAME] publications. Their objective is to involve Latinx artists in Miami, a city with 60 percent of the population who identify as Hispanic, as well as Latinx artists all across the country.

Guerrero, who had already forged a path as an artist and critic by interviewing and writing about artists of color in her native New York City, in addition working in various museum positions, including the well-known El Museo del Barrio in Harlem, had met Ortíz at a Ford Foundation conference on Latinx art in 2016. Together, they discovered a connection between the questions they were each seeking to answer about Latinx artists and the contemporary art scene, and the plans that soon became Latinx Art Sessions were set in motion.

“I think that museums if anything are community centers and they should host these conversations and gatherings so that people can connect and have solidarity and listen to each other,” Guerrero said of their work with Latinx Art Sessions at the PAMM.

“I felt that, as someone who experienced that, I think that that’s something that needs to be, that’s all part of decolonizing a museum, is doing away with that elitist kind of aura that it has. Because it does,” she noted.

Part of this effort to merge the museum-centered conversations with the surrounding art communities is indicated by the program’s inclusion of art studio visits on Jan. 25 to the Art Center/South Florida artist studios.

The residency program, which started in 1984 and now houses about 14 artist studios in their current space on Miami Beach, is able to provide resources, including studio spaces, to working artists in Miami.

Esther Park, VP of Programming at ArtCenter/South Florida, said that it was “almost a no-brainer...to be involved in a conversation” like the Latinx Art Sessions, thanks to the fact that many of their resident artists identify as Latinx.

Several of their artists are featured in the panels as well, and conference participants will be able to go to the artists’ studios at the Art Center on Friday in order to meet them and see their works.

For Park, having the conversation on Latinx identity in contemporary art is a natural fit for the Miami art world and scene as a whole.

“Miami is kind of the epicenter, experimental city, for the future of what’s to come for Latinx art,” she said, noting the many Spanish-speaking cultures - Dominican, Colombian, Venezuelan, Cuban, and more - that are present in the city’s Latino population.

The first Latinx Art Sessions is part of PAMM's Latin American and Latinx Art Fund, which allows the museum to develop exhibitions and programming dedicated specifically to Latinx culture.

For Guerrero, the Latinx Art Sessions is at once a continuation of the work that she has already done on the lack of equity in the art world, and a conversation-starter for a more in-depth examination of contemporary Latinx art both inside and outside of museums and art institutions.

Building a more equitable future

However, Guerrero noted, museums as places open to all communities was not how she experienced art institutions when she was growing up in the Bronx, New York. Though surrounded by world-class art institutions, she did not go to many museums until she attended DePaul University in Chicago, where she studied art history and studio art.

When she moved back to New York City and began working in assistant roles in the art world there, she became aware of the vast resources that had been so close to her in her childhood home - and, at the same time, the enduring barriers that meant that even working in the art world as a graduate of a collegiate art program, she still “[felt] very much like an outsider.”

So Guerrero began to reflect on what changes she would like to be a part of, and witness.

“I said ok, this is what I want to see. I want to see criticism written by people who can relate to an artist of color, because of their lived experience. I want to see mainstream institutions taking that on,” said Guerrero. “I want to also build a network of Black American and Latinx folks that are involved in the art world, I want to get to know what’s happening and I want to catalogue and share it as I’m doing it.”

This led to a website, where Guerrero started publishing her art criticism, written in both English and Spanish, that came about as a result of her persistent efforts to go to any opening and event in New York that featured any artist of color or centered on lack of equity in the art world.  She noted that she began to realize that her original assumption - that there just weren’t that many artists of color - was incorrect. There were many artists of colors, but there wasn’t an easy way for them to connect with one another.

For Guerrero, the use of the term Latinx for this conference at PAMM, a term which is still debated for Latinos in the U.S., is a framework from an art historical and curatorial practice perspective.

“It helps me create a framework through which I can be specific in my consideration of the way that an artist walks through the world, and so in individual arts for me it’s just specifying that ‘Hey, this artist is of Latin American and Caribbean descent, and they are being informed by U.S. lived experience,’” she observed.

“To me that feels very important to denote, because it brings with it a lot of vulnerability and it brings with it a lot of that feeling of ni aquí ni de allá - tú no eres de aquí, ni de allá, and you’re kind of perpetually in between spaces,” Guerrero added.

And what’s more important than the term itself, for Guerrero, is the use of it as a way for Latinx individuals and the art community to “gather together and work through” systemic problems “in terms of creating sustainable opportunities for our artists, for our art professionals, how do we envision ourselves as worthy and capable and powerful to be contributors to this visual U.S. history, of art.”

“How can we make sure, how can we respond in this moment to make sure that we are being authentic to ourselves in that we’re building a more equitable future for ourselves,” Guerrero said of their focus.

That conversation has just begun.

To view the program and more about the conference, go to the Latinx Art Sessions website.

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