In Conversation with Carmen Hermo: Landmark Exhibit about Latin American and Latinx Women Artists Comes to Brooklyn
Carmen Hermo, Assistant Curator, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the
Brooklyn Museum, talks to Gallery Gurls about the landmark exhibit, Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985. Previously as the Hammer Museum, the exhibit comes east to Brooklyn, and serves as a wonderful follow-up and companion show to the 2017 exhibit We Wanted a Revoution: Black Radical Women, 1965-1985. Hermo enlightens and shares revelatory insight into this iconic exhibit about Latin American and Latinx women.
Gallery Gurls: Talk to me about the Brooklyn edition of this exhibit, how has it expanded since showing at the Hammer Museum?
Carmen Hermo: It’s a dream to present this important feminist project—resulting from nearly ten years of research by curators Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Andrea Giunta, with Marcela Guerrero—at the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. We added monumental portraits of Nuyoricans by Sophie Rivera and a candid sculptural self-portrait by Marta Moreno Vega to present New York narratives, as these artists documented and organized Latinx and Afro-Latinx communities, respectively, beginning in the 1970s. We also added political prints by Chicana artist and activist Ester Hernández from the 1980s, which are really an antecedent to a lot of work being made today.
During its run, films, artist talks, art making, and in-gallery education expanded engagement with the exhibition’s themes for all our audiences. But our Cuerpxs Radicales series, presented with the Hemispheric Institute, moved beyond the scope of the show to present performance by femme-identifying and gender-nonconforming artists from a wider range of backgrounds and diasporas. It makes a statement about the legacy of the “Radical Women” and their transformative, political use of their bodies: strategies alive and well, updated and fierce and urgent, in the work of so many Latinx artists emerging in our infuriating, crushing times.
The video piece by Afro-Peruvian artist Victoria Santa Cruz, 'me gritaron negra', is obviously such a seminal piece and serves as an anchor in the show. It cements the presence of black women in Latin America, who have long been minimized and marginalized. Can you expand?
As it opens the show, Santa Cruz’s call-and-response poem-performance immediately sets the terms for how artists can subvert, challenge, and refuse dominant and oppressive narratives—which you feel coursing throughout the work of the 123 other artists that follow.
Santa Cruz evokes her life—from childhood to “de hoy adelante”—to narrate her experience of racial taunts, shifting from a child’s confusion, to adolescent discomfort, to a rejection of disempowerment and a total, resolute embrace of her blackness. Though it’s autobiography, it’s also a structural history of how people of African descent have been marginalized and made to feel “other” than Peruvian, than Brazilian, than Latin American, than Latinx... This is enforced interpersonally, as Santa Cruz recounts, but also systemically through political and cultural institutions. It urges us all—cultural workers, artists, viewers—to recognize and challenge anti-blackness and white supremacy across the Americas.
"As it opens the show, Santa Cruz’s call-and-response poem-performance immediately sets the terms for how artists can subvert, challenge, and refuse dominant and oppressive narratives—which you feel coursing throughout the work of the 123 other artists that follow."
Another standout work are the photographs by Paz Errazuriz, who documented queer and trans life in 1980s Chile during Pinochet's regime, which I felt was so essential. Can you talk more about this?
Errazuriz’s photographs in the exhibition document sex workers in transgender brothels, capturing quietude in lives lived at risk and under attack by Pinochet’s regime. Initially backed by the U.S., from 1974 to 1990 the Chilean government executed, imprisoned, tortured, and exiled political foes, while economic inequality worsened and surveillance and control of citizens grew. Errazuriz documented that which the regime did not want documented—lived existence-as-resistance at the margins of acceptability, from the sex workers in the show, to institutionalized individuals with mental illness and homeless people. In the U.S. of 2018, these images remain unforgettable as we continue to seek greater visibility for historically marginalized communities, and to stave off forces that want to push them back into the margins of society.
What were some "aha" moments you had during the preparation of the Brooklyn show? What discoveries did you make that made a personal impact?
Organizing the Brooklyn presentation with Sackler Senior Curator Catherine Morris, I had to “catch up” to the years of research and work by the original curators. Though I’ve studied and written about Latin American and Latinx artists since my undergrad days, many names and artworks were new to me. That process of learning was revelatory.
I got to know Cecilia and Andrea and their incredible stories of intensive research, studio visits, and digging into archives. For me, the “aha” moment was hearing that many photographs and videos had to be printed or prepared—some even for the first time—for the exhibition. It underscores the importance of archives, but also, for me, speaks to the unique power of many works in the show, those that were not made for art fairs or collectors, sometimes not even for galleries or museums—but rather, made to convey a message and a moment.
I love spending time in the galleries, and it was amazing to experience how this show, in its huge range of artists and practices and approaches organized by themes—such as Feminisms, Resistance and Fear, or Body Landscape—seemed to shift with every visitor and every news cycle.
"I love spending time in the galleries, and it was amazing to experience how this show, in its huge range of artists and practices and approaches organized by themes—such as Feminisms, Resistance and Fear, or Body Landscape—seemed to shift with every visitor and every news cycle."
What are some takeaways you hope museum audiences walk away with?
I know visitors are leaving with a real sense of how the fearlessness and experimentation of the 123 artists in the show contributed to the development of contemporary art as we know it. I hope many of us in the art world are taking note of artists, movements, and histories we need to get to know in more depth, through focused projects and solo exhibition and more research to take the radical research of Radical Women forward.
Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 will be on view through July 22, 2018 at the Brooklyn Museum