Identity in Art: Constructions and Negotiations of Race

Friday, February 6, 2015
10:30am – 11:45am
Rechler Conference Room, Lavin-Bernick Center (LBC)
Moderated by: Dr. Mia Bagneris, Department of Art History, Tulane University

The Other Shore: reviewing the exodus of Cuban visual artist within the Mariel boatlift
Jimena Codina, Tulane University

In 1980, between the months of April and October, about 125,000 Cubans emigrated legally from Cuba to the United States through the port of Mariel. This event impacted not only the history of Cuba but also the history of Cuban immigration, and the relations between the United States and the island. Among the thousands of Cubans who emigrated, many were artists: writers, musicians, and visual artists (mainly painters). Some of these visual artists became visible in the context of galleries, art exhibitions and journals in the United States, specifically in Miami. Despite the differences in the background and scope of these artists, and despite the contrasts in their respective careers once they emigrated to the United States, they were bound together by the common experience of immigration to the U.S. through Mariel, they all came to form the Generation of Mariel, and this, in turn, impacted the content of their work and their artistic career. Considering the processes and effects of the Mariel boat-lift on the Cuban artist community will help to understand better the intersection of grand historical processes and the production of culture, and how these artists negotiate both the grand historical narratives and their own migratory experiences through their work.

100 Years of Lies: Images of Brazil’s Unified Black Movement
Briana Royster, Ohio University

Using posters created by Afro-Brazilian activists in 1988, this presentation will provide a preliminary investigation into the U.S. influences on the Unified Black Movement (MNU), while revealing Brazil’s unique history of race relations and how activists captured that history within its political posters. Scholars have studied the U.S. Civil Rights Movement from many perspectives, including its leaders, the role of women and students, and its place as a catalyst for later movements in the U.S. like the Women’s Rights Movement and the Chicano Movement. Less studied are the transnational effects of the Civil Rights Movement in other countries such as Brazil. Brazil and the United States have a history of cross-cultural exchange, one that includes the social and political movements of people of African descent. African American activists in the United States were one inspiration for the Unified Black Movement (MNU) during the last quarter of the twentieth century in Brazil. Brazil’s contemporary black movement began in the 1970s in an effort to end the myth of Brazil as a “racial democracy.” A key component to the MNU’s strategy involved visually representing the importance of black heritage and culture. With a reliance on their rich African history and images from the US Black Power Movement, Afro-Brazilian activists created posters and artwork to foster a consciousness about the racial problems in Brazil. Although motivated by what they saw in the United States, activists also remained aware of many other movements, including African independence movements. The MNU developed an artistic campaign unique to Brazil’s history of racial hegemony and worked diligently to improve the conditions of Afro-Brazilians. Using interviews and artwork (mostly in the form of posters) this presentation will elaborate on the similarities and differences between the two sets of images, giving rise to an analysis of the movements themselves.

Dissecting Identity through Dissolution: Guillermo Gomez-Pena and the Performance of the Poetic Overstatement
Alexandra Santana, Tulane University

The purpose of this project is to examine how contemporary performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña uses a mixture of invented language and aesthetic media as deconstructive instruments in his artwork in order to question rigid notions of social identity. The project is also an examination of his use of the internet as an aesthetic medium, both literally and figuratively, in his performances. The use of the non-identity (or anonymity) of a digitized subject in his work allows for a more reflective examination of subaltern and marginalized social identities, and thus provides a possible space for the mobilization of marginalized artistic audiences. More specifically, however, I question if the conceptual fracture of social identity through digital means truly attempts to “fight against cultural, artistic, and political isolationism”? (La Pocha Nostra) Through a formal analysis of several key performances, I argue that Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s use of an imagined, yet recognizable poetic cyberlanguage dissolves the borders, both physical and intangible, between traditional boundaries of cyberculture and social identity.