TEDx Talks. (2018, July 5). Expanding the Spectrum of Mexican Art [Video]. YouTube.
When you imagine Mexican art, what do you see? Do you think of traditional images like the Virgin of Guadalupe, or do you envision the brightly painted skeletons of La Calavera Catrina marching in a parade for Día de Muertos? Perhaps the stoic self portraits of Frida Kahlo comes to mind, with her infamous unibrow? For years, Mexican art like this has been made popular due to its cultural imagery and its political nature. It has become what many think of as the epitome of Mexican art because it carries with it a loud message about Mexican and immigrant identity politics, iconography, and culture. However, the world of art is broad and ever changing.
Mexican-American artist Esperanza Rosas, better known by her artist pseudonym, Runsy, wants the world to know that this does not, and should not, define Mexican art. In her talk given at TEDx U of I Chicago entitled, Expanding the Spectrum of Mexican Art, Rosas discusses the presumptions surrounding Mexican artists and how they can be reimagined to include a much larger spectrum of styles and inspirations.
Rosas initially became interested in reimagining the Mexican artist when she realized that Mexican art didn’t get very much recognition in the first place, and whatever notice it did have was often a generalized version of it.
“I remember being in college and not hearing anything about Mexican artists aside from that there was white artists that were often recognized that over-shined artists of color and when the teachers would speak about artists of color it was almost always referencing black artists, and many times I didn’t hear about these Mexican artists within the curriculum” (Rosas, 2018, 0:52-1:16).
From there, Rosas set out to change how the world views Mexican art and artists as well as to begin a journey of self-discovery through the development of her own art. Throughout her talk, Rosas questions why it is that Mexican art must speak specifically on culture or politics in order to receive recognition.
Rosas notes that, “As a Mexican artist my existence is inherently political, and by extension so is all of my work” (Rosas, 2018, 5:06-5:13).
Although she recognizes that this is the case, she doesn’t accept that as her only identity as an artist. There’s so much great work out there that deserves to be seen and talked about, not just because it’s made by Mexican artists, but because it’s fantastic art.
Rosas notes that her art “should not be held to a lesser standard than someone creating work about the proposed border wall” (Rosas, 2018, 5:16-5:21).
If an effort is going to be made to include more Mexican and minority art in the discussion, then examples should be used from a range of artists varying in style, medium, tone, and message. Not just ones with a political agenda. Although politically inspired work is important to see and discuss–especially due to the current political climate surrounding people of color and immigrants–the pervasiveness of this type of Mexican art leads to what Rosas calls “the loop” (Rosas, 2018, 7:09).
The loop begins by Mexican artists being underrepresented, so to combat this they create their own institutions where their art can be displayed. Art that is filled with iconography, identity politics, and cultural imagery is showcased, and that creates demand for that type of art, which then leads to more of that art being made. While Rosas recognizes politically and culturally charged art as an important sub genre within Mexican art, it isn’t the only genre. There’s more to Mexican artists than their Mexicanidad.
“I view my identity through a variety of lenses. I’m not just a Mexican-American artist but I’m also an artist who has a great sense of humor and who just enjoys self care and healthy eating, and I’m also into these other great things––I’m a Southsider, I’m from Chicago––and all of these things are going to influence my work” (Rosas, 2018, 7:57-8:20).
Over time, Rosas has found a way to explore the many facets of her identity through her art–whether discussing her Mexican-American ethnicity, her role as a female artist, or her Southside, Chicago roots. She hopes that people will come to think of Mexican art on a spectrum that includes work that’s minimalistic, abstract, and has a purposefully limited context, as well as iconography and politically relevant pieces. By doing so, art from all types of sources can truly become equally appreciated and celebrated–as it should be.
Rosas closes with a strong and simple statement, “So the next time you view art made by the Mexican artist I suggest that you remember that the point of art is expression, and the point of art is to do what makes you feel good, and the point of art is to project what you feel in your heart visually” (Rosas, 2018, 11:36-11:52).
In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, check out these other artists and their amazing work!
Natalia Anciso is a Chicana-Tejana visual artist and educator from Weslaco, Texas. Her focus is in drawing and painting, and her art has been recognized by several distinguished sources such as The Huffington Post and Latina Magazine.
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Jaume Plensa is an artist and sculptor from Barcelona, Spain. He explores many different kinds of artistic genres including etchings, drawing, sculpture, and installation art. Plensa has received a lot of recognition in his field, especially for his art in public spaces.
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Rodell Warner is a Trinidadian new media artist and photographer. He has been the recipient of the 2011 Commonwealth Connections International Arts Residency and has been exhibited at The Whitney Museum of American Art in the 2016 Dreamlands exhibition as part of the collective video project Ways of Something.
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Juana Molina is a singer-songwriter, born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She grew up in a very musical home, and that is what inspired her to pursue her career. Her music is a unique mix of indie, electronic, and folk style.