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Wolf Songs for the Dead, 2020. Vincent Ramos. 
Wolf Songs for the Dead, 2020. Vincent Ramos. 

A Contemporary Art Show criticizes Paramount and fights stereotypes

This year's edition of Frieze Projects, which will be held on February 14 in Los Angeles, strikes a blow against Hollywood stereotypes.

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“There was a period during the ’30s and ’40s with Lupe Velez, where Mexicans were leading men and leading women,” Vincent Ramos tells the LA Times

The artist has spent many hours digging through Paramount's archives of old film footage for an installation on how Latinos, especially Chicanos and Mexicans, have been represented in Hollywood throughout history.

"You had Dolores del Rio, Leo Carrillo, Ricardo Montalban, Anthony Quinn, Gilbert Roland," he mentions as if he were talking about a football lineup. Ramos believes this is largely due to the popularity of the mid-century Westerns, but their presence began to wane in the 1960s.

The piece he will present at the Frieze, which begins on 14 February in Los Angeles, assembles those old pictures with drawings and is entitled "Wolf songs for the Dead". It is a tribute to the silent movie "Wolf songs" (1929), a romance starring Gary Cooper and the legendary actress Lupe Vélez, who spends the entire movie with a comb in her hand and dressed in a huge shawl. At that time, recalls LA Times, Spanish motifs were used to evoke Mexicans in the theater. 

The message that Ramos seeks to encapsulate in the work is clear: to contrast reality with fiction, similar to Frieze's curators, Rita Gonzalez and Pilar Tompkins Rivas, who have chosen this international art show not only has a commitment to culture but also to the city of Los Angeles and how its people are represented by media.

“There is a terrific allure to Paramount,” Gonzalez says. “But I was also interested in selecting some artists who might have something to say beyond just thinking of it as a backdrop. ... There is a lot going on in terms of discussions of equity and representation with #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo and Time’s Up.”

An idea that came, according to Tompkins Rivas, on the sidelines of the El Paso massacre last August and made them think even more about the responsibility of film in how Latinos are represented –often as poor, isolated or criminal. 

"(In art fairs) there is a power dynamic of the haves and have-nots," Rita Gonzalez.

Also working on representation is Pasadena artist Gabriella Sanchez, whose installation entitled "Hommes, Homes, Homes" explores the changing meaning of words depending on the typography used. For example, "home" written in Helvetica may indicate a house, but in Old English, it seems like Chicano slang for "homeboy."

Mobile phone towers turned into palm trees and tributes to forgotten Afro-American films will be presented by Sayre Gómez and Gary Simmons, who will join 14 other interventions, some of them by Latin American artists.

Brazilian Jonathan Andrade investigates the nature of the artifice in "Voyeuristic", a 2018 video in which he asked pedestrians to open their bags to film their contents, a wink to the money that moves art fairs "where there is a power dynamic of the haves and have-nots," concludes curator Gonzalez. "People who are there for the exchange of goods." 

Or people that, as it often happened in the westerns, are omitted because others have taken their place with opaque brown makeup.

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