SALT LAKE CITY — In a small but impactful exhibition at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA), independent curator María del Mar González-González brings together the work of four stylistically divergent Latina/x artists.
Beyond the Margins: An Exploration of Latina Art and Identity succeeds in two critical respects. First, it demonstrates the simple fact that not all Latine artists make work exclusively about their own ethnic experience. Second, identity-based art may seek not simply to destroy the Western canon but instead to exploit contemporary art’s lexicological familiarity with Western art history to disrupt, complicate, or expand audience associations with this canon.
The term “Latina/x” denotes “both a femme and gender-neutral term for a person of Latin American origin or descent who now lives in the US,” according to a museum didactic label. The exhibition features work by Nancy Rivera (Mexican-American), Tamara Kostianovsky (Argentinian-American), Frances Gallardo (Puerto Rican), and Yelaine Rodriguez (Afro-Dominican).
Rivera is a celebrated artist and arts administrator based in Salt Lake City. Her 2018 series Impossible Bouquets: After Jan van Huysum features striking inkjet photographs of lush floral arrangements, inspired by 17th- and 18th-century Dutch still life tradition. With flowers set atop boldly colorful backgrounds, these works relish in academic and formal properties of artmaking.
Hanging from the ceiling beside Rivera’s photographs is Kostianovsky’s “Every Color in the Rainbow” (2021), a sculpture of a turkey carcass that harkens from the same visual Dutch tradition of still lifes and market scenes as Rivera’s. The work, made from discarded fabric, exudes a haunting quality, linking the corporeal mechanized destruction of factory farming with the wasteful mass consumption of clothing often overflowing in landfills.
Gallardo’s “Carmela” (2012/2022), from a larger series, is an utterly spellbinding paper collage that’s as fascinating visually as it is conceptually. With intersected patterns based on meteorological data such as rainfall and wind speeds, Gallardo combines layers of paper cut to a painstakingly detailed and mesmerizing effect.
Rodrigez’s striking multimedia fabric portraits “Saso” (2021) and “Yaissa” (2022) feature Afro-Dominican artists whose work highlights the debt owed to the African voices in Dominican culture, and who, despite the monumental cultural influence of African diaspora, have been long neglected from historical narratives.
Such narratives are noteworthy in their own respect, but especially given Utah’s overwhelmingly White population (92% according to the 2022 U.S. Census Bureau). Importantly, Utah’s Latino community is included in the state’s second largest ethnic demographic at 12.7% and this demographic is projected to constitute the greatest numerical increase by 2065, according to research from the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
Some may argue hosting such an exhibition within a contemporary art museum in Utah’s most liberal city is preaching to the proverbial choir. Yet, there is something powerful about visualizing each artist’s creations mere steps from the gallery’s entrance, as if to solemnize that these figures and the communities they descend from are here to stay, equipped to situate themselves within an art historical trajectory that transcends contemporary art’s focus on identity as art and on a more inclusive view of what we know as American history.
Beyond the Margins: An Exploration of Latina Art and Identity continues at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (20 South West Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah) through March 4. The exhibition was curated by María del Mar González-González.