E. Carmen Ramos is new SAAM Curator for Latino Art
The Smithsonian American Art Museum has appointed E. Carmen Ramos as its curator for Latino art. Ramos will be responsible for acquiring artworks for the museum’s permanent collection and producing a major exhibition and catalog based on the museum’s Latino holdings for fall 2013. She begins work on Oct. 12.I'm a little confused by Ms. Broun's comment. It seems to set a niche for what Latino artwork will be collected, specifically those "who transform personal experiences and cultural heritage into vivid artworks."
“I am thrilled that E. Carmen Ramos is bringing her expertise and insights here to help us feature Latino artists who transform personal experiences and cultural heritage into vivid artworks,” said Elizabeth Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “These stories are culturally specific, but also American and universal.”
As I've discussed many times in this blog and many other places before, I am not a big fan of segregating artists by race, or as in this case, by ethnicity.
And if I understand the current meaning of "Latino" these days, it attempts to define people of ancestry links to one of the Latin American nations south of the border and in the Caribbean, while excluding all the nations of British, Dutch or French colonial ancestry (even though the French are technically "Latins"). I'm still a little confused if a "Latino" is an American with Latin American ancestry, or if it also includes people from those Latin American nations. In other words, are Uruguayans "Latinos" or Uruguayans, or both? Certainly Spaniards, Portuguese and Italians (who make up most of Argentina) are not Latinos, since they're Europeans, right?
This is a silly label which falls apart very quickly when truly examined, and actually reveals the huge cultural ignorance that we have about what constitutes and makes up ethnicity and race as opposed to nationality. So if you're born in a Latin American nation, then you're a Latino under this uniquely American ethnic label.
Never mind if your parents were born in Japan and immigrated to some South American nation (there are more Japanese immigrants in South America than in the US), or born in Wales and immigrated to Argentina (there are more people of Welsh ancestry in Argentina than in Wales). Or my personal favorite, the millions of Native American tribes, who find themselves labeled as "Latinos" in the US instead of Maya, or Inca, or whatever Native American nation they belong to.
But that's another issue.
Back to collecting "Latino artists who transform personal experiences and cultural heritage into vivid artworks."
I'm pretty sure that Ms. Broun didn't really mean it the way that this came out, but to me it shows an immensely limited view or expectation of the artwork produced by we have labeled in this nation as "Latino" artists. As a stroll through any major Latin American museum reveals to the most casual observer (just like any museum in Europe or the US) Latin American artists explore all sorts of things for the inspiration for their work, and not all deliver "vivid artworks" and not all use their "personal experiences and cultural heritage" as a driver for their artwork, at least all the time.
Not all Latino artists are Frida Kahloesque in their artwork, and certainly not all Latino artwork is "culturally specific." I'm having a hard time finding a personal experience, or cultural heritage, or even any vividity in the work of (for example) Guillermo Kuitca (soon coming to the Hirshhorn - October 21, 2010 to January 16, 2011).
I know I am being pedantic, but statements like this do reach a niche in my consciousness that tend to bug me more than they should. It is driven by a firm belief that museums should collect artwork based on the merit of the artist and the art, and not on the artist's ethnic, sex or racial background. And I really think that the statement from Ms. Broun have the unintended consequence of revealing a rather galvanized and incorrect view of what drives artists.
I'm not sure if I have made my point clear, as it is a confusing issue. Perhaps the best way to showcase this issue is to pretend that SAAM was hiring a new curator for Nordic art. This would immediately cause some confusion in defining Nordic (as there is confusion in defining Latino). Are Germans Nordic or Teutons? How about Finns? certainly not Laplanders, but they are also Finnish. And Ms. Broun's statement would read:
“I am thrilled that E. Karmen Ramosdottir is bringing her expertise and insights here to help us feature Nordic artists who transform personal experiences and cultural heritage into brooding artworks,” said Elizabeth Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “These stories are culturally specific, but also American and universal.”In any event, F. Lennox Campello welcomes E. Carmen Ramos to the DMV.