Frank Romero, "Death of Ruben Salazar," 1986
“SAAM is committed to having a collection that reflects who America is,” says E. Carmen Ramos, curator of Latino art for the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Ramos was hired in 2010 to assess SAAM’s Latino art holdings and consider ways to grow it and raise its profile. The results of her efforts are strikingly evident in SAAM’s new exhibition curated by Ramos: “Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art.“
“I took a historical approach to the Latino art category, which really was intensely forged during and after the civil rights era. The exhibition primarily focuses on artists working since the 1950s, including vets who had served in the war and began to think about their place in the national culture that they’d been defending,” Ramos says.
This moment in American history, she explains, was a defining one for Latino artists, many of whom were activists engaged in the social issues of the day. “But there are many others whose work wasn’t about that alone. They were also exploring their place in American culture.”
Olga Albizu, "Radiante," 1967
“Our America” includes 92 works by 72 artists, 63 of which have been acquired by SAAM since 2011. The artists featured in the exhibition reflect the diversity of Latino communities in America, with their roots in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, among other places. “Latino art is as varied as as any snapshot of modern and contemporary art,” Ramos says. “Many reframed American history in a way that incorporated their experience and culture. Others retooled contemporary American art’s classic genres—such as pop art—putting their own personal stamp on it.“
Ramos is convinced that visitors to “Our America” will come away “with the idea that there’s no single American culture. I hope they will realize that [Latino artists] are part of a larger national conversation of who we are. Latinos are part of and belong to the American experience.”
Written by Cecelia Reed, The Smithsonian Associates.
Visit americanart.si.edu for more information.
Luis Jimenez, "Man on Fire," 1967
Emilio Sanchez,"Untitled, Bronx Storefront, 'La Rumba Supermarket,'" late 1980s