Guest curated by independent curator and art historian Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, the exhibition examines the dynamics of exclusion and violence affecting Latinx and Latin Americans, as well as artists’ strategies to embody justice and creative and personal freedom. Scheduled to open on June 9th, 2021 Absence/Presence will feature artists from twelve different countries, diverse ethnicities, and multiple generations in a conversation around three intersecting themes: affectivity, justice and self/being.
Taking a decolonizing approach, Absence/Presence presents works by 36 artists from the Caribbean, Central and South America, as well as artists of Latin American/Caribbean descent born or residing in the U.S. Challenging conventional representations of Latinx and Latin American identity, the exhibition examines the system of forced absence and conditional presence, as well as a history of creative and poetic presence beyond societal restrictions. In addition to documenting violence and oppression, Absence/Presence highlights the participating artists’ shared legacy of political activism, artistic experimentation, and their search for alternative, decolonized futures.
Addressing absence in its most literal sense, some artists in the exhibition denounce the policies of deportations, family separations, incarceration and other forms of state violence deployed against Latinx and Latin American communities. Sandy Rodriguez’s Borderlands No. 2: They almost got me (Pajarita Wilderness), 2019 and Regina Galindo’s Carry Your Dead, 2018 confront viewers with the plights of migrants risking their lives to enter the United States. An equally powerful example of this type of denunciation can be found in Ken Gonzalez-Day’s At daylight the miserable man was taken (from the series Searching for California's Hang Trees), 2002. Based on the artist’s research on the history of lynching in California, At daylight is a poetic reminder of America’s violent racial struggles. Alluding to recurring incidents of police abuse, Josely Carvalho’s Anoxia, 2019 is an olfactory work that suggests the scent and sensation of oxygen deprivation.
In other works, “absence” is understood as “invisibility.” In recent photographs, William Camargo honors the various generations of anonymous workers that represent the backbone of local economies. Other artists such as Jay Lynn Gomez (formerly Ramiro Gomez) and Narsiso Martinez bring visibility and celebrate the humanity of underrepresented laborers such as pool cleaners, housemaids, farmworkers and undocumented workers performing essential labor.
While many of the artists in the exhibition challenge discrimination, racism, and violence in relatively direct ways, others affirm their presence through desire and affectivity, as well as a focus on the body and the self. Early examples of this approach can be found in Claudio Perna’s 1976 homoerotic self-portraits, as well as Hudinilson’s Xeroxes of his own body, made in the context of the 1980s homophobia. That is also the case of Laura Aguilar’s self-portraits, taken in 1996 in the California desert when the artist grieved the death of a close friend (the poet Gil Cuadros) lost to AIDS, and Guadalupe Maravilla’s exuberant altar-like structure Disease Thrower #10, 2021 made with anatomical models and medicinal materials used by the artist in his recent fight against cancer.
Like Aguilar, artists such as Delilah Montoya, Patssi Valdez, and Martine Gutierrez defy restrictive patriarchal notions of gender by celebrating brown women, trans, and indigenous bodies in realms where they have traditionally been excluded, such as boxing and fashion magazines. While others, such as Sophie Rivera’s multiple exposure photographs of children, and María José Arjona’s performance-based photos blur the space that separate and divide individuals in an affirmative act of unity and dissolution of differences.
As Estrellita B. Brodsky comments, “ANOTHER SPACE was founded on the mission of bringing awareness to the art of Latin America and artists of Latin American descent in the United States. I am very pleased to present this exhibition curated by Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, a leading authority in the field and a curator whose work I have long admired. This exhibition not only underscores the relative ‘absence’ of Latinx and Latin American voices from the art historical canon, but also encourages a long overdue discussion about issues of racism and discrimination. Absence/Presence highlights the critical role artists play in shaping this conversation to one of inclusion rather than exclusion.”
As Cecilia Fajardo-Hill notes, “At a time of increasing polarization and heightened racial tensions, this exhibition proposes a much-needed dialogue around representation, participation and inclusion. While it deals with injustice and oppression, it also looks at poetic justice and the beauty to counter it. Latinx and Latin American artists don’t only share a history of violence and a colonial past, but also a sophisticated and ongoing legacy of artistic experimentation and political imagination. With this exhibition, I am interested in exploring some of these experiments with resistance, decolonization, and existential and creative freedom.”