Secret Histories | “Radical Women” Offers a New Frame for Looking at Latina Art

Photo: Paz Errázuriz (Chilean, b. 1944), La Palmera, from the series La manzana de Adán (Adam’s Apple), 1987. Digital archival pigment print on Canson platinum paper. 19 5/8 × 23 1/2 in. (49.8 × 59.7 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Galeria AFA, Santiago. Artwork © the artist.

Frida Kahlo is one of the most famous artists in the world, recognizable by face as well as name. But, when pressed to name another Latina artist, many would give pause, so underrepresented these women are in the history of art. The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, has taken strides to correct this with Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985, on view now through December 31, 2017.

Also: Wilfredo Lam Reveals the Artist as Revolutionary, Paintbrush in Hand

Presenting over 260 works by more than 100 artists from 15 countries, Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 is the first history of experimental art practices by Latinas including Lygia Pape, Ana Mendieta, Marta Minujín, Zilia Sánchez, Feliza Burztyn, Sophie Rivera, and Margarita Paksa, among others.

Marie Orensanz (Argentinean, b. 1936), Limitada (Limited), 1978. Photograph, edition 1/ 5. 13 3/4 × 19 11/16 in. (35 × 50 cm). Courtesy Alejandra Von Hartz Gallery. ©Marie Orensanz.

Marie Orensanz (Argentinean, b. 1936), Limitada (Limited), 1978. Photograph, edition 1/ 5. 13 3/4 × 19 11/16 in. (35 × 50 cm). Courtesy Alejandra Von Hartz Gallery. ©Marie Orensanz.

The exhibition centers on the politicization of the female body, which has long been a topic in both life and art where it has historically been treated as an object to be owned and controlled, more often than not. Perhaps this could be due to the absence of women from the spaces that created the rules and representations themselves—but with their arrival on the scene, the balance of power began to shift.

Women understand and depict their gender very different from men; the inner knowledge and wisdom that comes from its biology provides a vastly more complex, multi-layered, and nuanced understanding of woman-ness. Then, adding in the cultural, social, and political strata that Latin American histories provide, the critiques become infinitely more profound.

María Evelia Marmolejo (Colombian, b. 1958), 11 de marzo - Ritual a la menstruación, digno de toda mujer como antecedente del origen de la vida (March 11 - Ritual in honor of menstruation, worthy of every woman as a precursor to the origin of life), 1981. Performance documentation. Nine color photographs. Five sheets, 11 ¾ × 8 ¼ in. (29.8 × 21 cm) each; four sheets, 8 ¼ × 11 ¾ in. (21 × 29.8 cm) each. Courtesy of the artist. Artwork © the artist.

María Evelia Marmolejo (Colombian, b. 1958), 11 de marzo – Ritual a la menstruación, digno de toda mujer como antecedente del origen de la vida (March 11 – Ritual in honor of menstruation, worthy of every woman as a precursor to the origin of life), 1981. Performance documentation. Nine color photographs. Five sheets, 11 ¾ × 8 ¼ in. (29.8 × 21 cm) each; four sheets, 8 ¼ × 11 ¾ in. (21 × 29.8 cm) each. Courtesy of the artist. Artwork © the artist.

Forging new paths in photography, performance, video, and conceptual art, the artists featured in Radical Women use the medium to underscore and convey their message to the fullest extent. This is not the pretty-soft-sexy paradigm of so much male-created art, nor is it the shrew-harridan-gorgon paradigm that is offered when woman-turns-against-man. Instead, what is shown is something infinitely more intricate, something with depth and dimensions of a living, breathing, human being.

There is strength, there is pain, there infinite bravery in breaking away from the limiting paradigms of pleasure or punishment. This is the unpretty world that women know so well, the challenges of existence without the cosmetic packaging. Stripped of the facile facades that ignore the singular distinctions and difficulties of female existence, Radical Women goes straight to the bone, digging into the marrow of life and its iron core.

María Evelia Marmolejo (Colombian, b. 1958), Anónimo I (Anonymous I), 1981. Performance documentation. Four black and white photographs. Two sheets, 11 ¾ × 8 ¼ in. (29.8 × 21 cm) each; two sheets, 8 ¼ × 11 ¾ in. (21 × 29.8 cm). Courtesy of the artist. Artwork © the artist.

María Evelia Marmolejo (Colombian, b. 1958), Anónimo I (Anonymous I), 1981. Performance documentation. Four black and white photographs. Two sheets, 11 ¾ × 8 ¼ in. (29.8 × 21 cm) each; two sheets, 8 ¼ × 11 ¾ in. (21 × 29.8 cm). Courtesy of the artist. Artwork © the artist.

Here we discover something far more meaningful, a sensibility that reminds us: the personal is political. To hold fast in that which is woman-ness is an act of rebellion unto itself, for it forgoes that party line that says men get to define it for women. In reclaiming their power, they reflect it back to us, inviting us to question our assumptions about Latinas. What many of us just might discover is how little we know outside of the stereotypes and propaganda produced by someone who is not authorized to speak on their behalf.


Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.