The examination of the body and the body politic, resistance, repression, the maternal, the erotic… There are many corridors one could stroll along to think about two major exhibitions that took place in Los Angeles in 2017 – Anna Maria Maiolino, Museum of Contemporary Art, and Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985, Hammer Museum – whose themes, without doubt, go beyond the frame of the exhibitions themselves. The importance of both exhibitions, included in Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA (an initiative of the Getty with arts institutions in Southern California), cannot be underplayed at the current stage of US history.
The current administration’s language of violence and legitimization of abuses towards the body (especially black, brown and working-class bodies), the questioning of women’s reproductive rights, restrictions of borders and a re-defining of boundaries, not to mention the irascible perspective shouted from the presidential pulpit of the imaginary US/Mexico wall that garnered so much controversy during the 2016 US election – to have this backdrop in a city with growing populations of people from countries of South and Central America and their descendants, of which the 2010 Census estimates as 49%, is especially poignant.
It is important to see the rather diverse artists featured in both exhibitions in a broader art historical context. At the same time, their impact on Latin American politics and in particular women’s and queer identities is undeniable. In the 1960s and for several decades on, with state-sanctioned violence, turbulent shifts in regimes and powerful resistance in several Latin American countries, feminism, art practice and militancy fought alongside one another. The Mexican artist and writer Mónica Mayer remembers: “In my experience, there was no way in those years to be an artist without being a Leftist.” That is to say that the generation of artists in the Radical Women show are investigating and challenging the relationship of power, class, gender and identity in their lives and in their countries, as Andrea Giunta, co-Curator of the Radical Women show, noted in the Hammer Museum’s “The Political Body” panel: “In many ways, it’s a queer approach, of de-framing the idea of maternity.”