Exploring Latinx Stories in American Art | Smithsonian Voices

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Carmen Lomas Garza, Camas para Sueños, 1985, gouache on paper

Smithsonian American Art Museum, museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool and the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program, 1995.94, © 1985, Carmen Lomas Garza

I get an explosion of excitement every year during Hispanic Heritage Month. This is the time in the calendar when the United States turns its attention to the rich cultural achievements and contributions of the Latinx community. Encompassing many different regions and cultures, the celebration is an opportunity to reflect on shared experiences and honor the distinct roots that make up the Latinx identity. Meanwhile, we go deeper – beyond great food and entertainment (although we certainly celebrate those things too) – and explore the scientific, economic, and artistic achievements, among others, that have made an indelible impression on United States.

An oil painting of a woman breastfeeding a baby.

José Campeche y Jordán, Nuestra señora de Belén, late 18th century, oil on copper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Teodoro Vidal Collection, 1996.91.7

SAAM’s rich collection of Latinx art is an exploration through time, region and genre. From colonial-era religious works to abstract expressionist paintings and contemporary installations, the collection spans the diversity and depth of the Latinx experience of artists of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and Dominican descent, as well as other Latin groups. – Americans with deep roots in the United States.

An abstract painting in white and green.

Carmen Herrera, White and green, 1960, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen endowment, 2011.27AB, © 1960 Carmen Herrera

I feel a sense of gratitude to see my own community reflected in these works. I am drawn to artists such as Carmen Lomas Garza, whose folk-style scenes document the lives of Mexican Americans and often portray the memories of her family in South Texas. Her stories echo my own grandmother’s childhood in the same border region and seem timeless, experiences that span generations.

An oil painting of a group of Mexican men standing behind a barbed wire fence.

Domingo Ulloa, Braceros, 1960, oil on Masonite, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Eugene Iredale and Julia Yoo, 2014.20

Beyond exploring their individual lived experiences, Latinx artists also use their work as a platform to shed light on the challenges they face and to confront some of the uglier sides of the Latinx experience. American. Ulloa’s Braceros explores the guest worker program after World War II in which Mexicans and Mexican Americans suffered racial and wage discrimination and substandard working and living conditions.

A sculpture of a red bicycle.  It has two front ends, joined together at the back.  Above, a neon light sculpture says "Pa-lan-te."

Miguel Luciano, Double Phantom / EntroP.R., 2017, 1952 Schwinn Phantom bikes, flags, Smithsonian American Art Museum, museum purchase made possible by Marianna and Juan A. Sabater, 2020.25.1, © 2017, Miguel Luciano

Photo by Jason Wyche

that of Miguel Luciano Double Phantom / EntroP.R. signifies the time of the constitution of Puerto Rico and the beginning of its Commonwealth status. It has two front sides and one back side. As the artist says: “That’s the paradox… We can’t move forward without going back too. If two opposite sides try to move at the same time, it gets nowhere.

I encourage you to discover more rich stories told by Latinx artists. Discover the new Google Arts & Culture feature based on the SAAM exhibition Print the Revolution! The rise and impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to the present day or read a comic book about Carmen Herrera’s inspiring career. Find something new in SAAM’s collection not only during Hispanic Heritage Month, but year round.


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