Yesterday, I was in a bookstore and picked up a book about Mexican-influenced contemporary art.
One thing that stuck out to me rather quickly during my initial flip-through was the repetition of various elements (luchadors, sugar skulls, Frida) to the point of blurring together. What I noticed next was that many of the artists included in the book did not appears to have any ties to Mexico or to a general Latin@ identity at all.
One could have a very long discussion about what right such individuals have to Latin@ cultural iconography. I’m not particularly interested in going that in-depth, and in all honesty I don’t think it’s impossible for an non-Latin@ to approach the subject respectfully. What I do object to is that kind of repetitive meaningless, that mindless use of images and colors to create the illusion of artistic depth. What I see in the work of many of these artists is that they use Latin@ imagery in the same way many artists have used American imagery of the 50s. However, while use of 50s era imagery is often utilized to subvert the oppressive ideals of the era, the use of Latin@ imagery is mostly integrated in an apparently meaningless manner. Not all art needs to be meaningful, but if a non-Latin@ (particularly a white non-Latin@, particularly an American white non-Latino) is utilizing those images, it’s instantly political, no? What I get is a sense to eagerly purge the Mexican from Mexican imagery, reduce it to something bland and accessible and pseudoinclusive. These are attractive images, therefore we must find some way to squeeze the life out of them.
I doubt it’s a conscious impulse on most of their parts. When their work is set against those of actual Latin@ artists, its shallowness and lack of authentic roots because readily apparent. They lack proficiency in the culture, and rarely if ever use more the subtle and less graphic-friendly cultural symbols that Latin@ artists integrate into their work. They shy away from nuanced political messages. They generalize, rather than explore, ethnic identity.
Frankly, I’m sick of it. Sugar skull pinups and luchadors are boring, they’re flat, in the hands of artists who don’t understand their context. Do they make some pretty things? Certainly, but I’m not going to applaud them for it. It’s tiresome, and worse, it pushes actual Latin@ artists aside. They profit by gutting Latin@ images of their inherent dangerousness so they can be sold to a white supremacist society. The same society is therefore free to impose their own meaning upon them (for one example, see this excellent response to an anon wanting to dress as a Catrina for some vague “death is always close to us” blarghity blargh. You know who was obsessed with that idea? American Puritans! Why aren’t you rushing to reimagine their imagery, rather than attempt to force that meaning onto another culture’s? Is it because you might actually feel compelled to invest some thought into what you’re doing? Is it because bright colors make colonialism and racism that much more palatable.? If you love these images so much, why don’t you try to understand their origin or context, to the extent that it is possible for an outsider to do so?)
P.S. I am not interested in validating white artists, so don’t clog up my ask with your basic-ass questions when you could be reading up instead.