Traveling Art Exhibit Explores the Latino Immigrant Experience

From the birth of the United States, immigrants have journeyed to our shores to chase their dreams and build a better life. The struggles and triumphs of these individuals and their families, generation after generation, are an integral part of our nation’s history and identity. So it is important that the stories of immigrants and their descendants not only be documented, but celebrated – and a traveling exhibit on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum featuring art from the Latino community is designed to highlight the impact of the immigrant experience on our cultural fabric over a span of six decades.

Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art has most recently arrived at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, and will be on display through May 29, 2016. The exhibit features works by more than 70 artists of Cuban, Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Dominican descent, as well as other Latin American groups, in a variety of media. A range of styles is represented, from 1950’s-era abstract expressionist works to contemporary minimalist and conceptual art. Heather Campbell Coyle, curator of American Art at the museum, recently noted in an interview with that the exhibit is a departure from the type of art usually selected for display by the staff. And this is precisely what makes it so intriguing. “It’s outside of what we normally do, it’s outside of our expertise and outside of the specialties of our collection … it’s painting, and sculpture, and video, and installation work, photography, drawings, you name it. It’s really visually an exciting show.” [See New Delaware Museum Exhibit ‘Outside of What We Normally Do, by Shirley Min, Newsworks.Org, 16.Mar.2016.]

The exhibit reflects an important turning point for the Latino immigrant community in our nation, by featuring works from the 1950’s, which is when “the idea of a collective Latino identity began to coalesce in the U.S.,” explained Coyle. The explosion of art that spoke to the Latino experience during this time period was precipitated by the MexicanAmerican War of 1848. After the war, a victorious United States annexed huge portions of the Southwest that were originally part of Mexico and Latin America, including areas that today comprise parts of California, Texas, Nevada, and New Mexico. The populations of these areas slowly assimilated to life in the U.S. over generations, but retained their strong Hispanic heritage and traditions. As the 20th century dawned, art schools began to establish themselves in cities like New York, attracting Latino immigrants from a variety of countries to study their craft. The result was a vibrant artistic community devoted to exploring Latino immigration and migration to the United States, and the blending of those two distinct cultures. [See Art in American is Story of Immigration, Cultural Exchange, Delaware Online, by Margaretta, Frederick, 31.Mar.2016.]

Today, contemporary artists such as Christina Fernandez, Maria Brito, and Muriel Hasbun continue to explore the impact of the Latino community on our nation and are featured as part of the Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art exhibit. But their stories are constantly evolving, as is our nation as a whole. The immigrant experience and the history and cultural identity of the United States will always be intertwined, and hopefully, a new generation of artists will continue to celebrate our incredible diversity.


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