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Latina/Latino American Art  
 
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Latina and Latino art is an important component of a vital cultural tradition in the United States--the contributions of Americans of Hispanic ancestry, including emigrés, exiles, and those born in the United States. But the very diversity that characterizes the people who helped shape this tradition makes it difficult to generalize about them or the art that they have created. The umbrella terms Latina and Latino comprise a multiplicity of cultures, skin colors, immigration patterns, and even languages.

Not only are Americans of Hispanic descent too diverse to permit easy generalizations, but so is the art that they have produced, utilizing a multiplicity of media and styles. Nevertheless, a number of contexts have been very important to glbtq Latina/Latino American art.

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These include urgent social realities such as poverty and discrimination, the power of Church and family, and, above all, the legacy of machismo, a very polarized gender differentiation found in most Latin American cultures. These influences have helped shape the art created by American gay men and lesbians of Hispanic ancestry.

But perhaps most significant of all is the hybrid nature of Latina/Latino artists, who are heirs to a number of cultural traditions and conflicts. That is, these artists have often grown up in families in which the Latin American cultural traditions are paramount, but they have also been exposed to European cultural traditions and to the dominant American society and its values, as well as to the inevitable clashes between these traditions. The result is a vital but often conflicted art with a vast range of expression.

For gay and lesbian artists, these clashes may be especially formative, given that Latin American attitudes toward sexuality in general, and homosexuality in particular, tend to be conservative. These attitudes may severely constrain the expression of , though some artists react to this social conservatism with imagery more oblique than explicit, while others more directly challenge negative attitudes toward homosexuality in the Hispanic community, even as they challenge racism and heterosexism in the majority American culture.

The artists discussed below are only a few of the many artists of Hispanic ancestry who have made significant contributions to American art in general and to glbtq art in particular.

Alma López

Contemporary artist Alma López (b. 1966) was born in Mexico and reared in Los Angeles. She grew tired of hearing that, because she is a lesbian, she participates in acts that are perverted and sinful. To the contrary, she believes that love itself is Heaven.

To express this idea, she created a photo-based digital print titled Heaven in which a young woman rejects the institutionalized patriarchal system as she gazes at her female lover's image in a golden heart brought to her by an angel.

López created this image in the tradition of a retablo, a Mexican painting that functions as a special prayer asking for a miracle or that gives thanks for a miracle that has been received.

López informs her art with personal interpretations of sacred subjects and themes. She focuses on female images in an effort to broaden Latin American visual history and to create a more complex identity for Latinas. She attributes some of her ability to see beauty and strength in women to the fact that she is a lesbian.

Our Lady, a photo collage, challenges the Latin American notion that women are either sexual beings or virgins. The image presents the typically demure Virgin of Guadalupe, a symbol of empowerment for Mexican and Mexican-American Catholics, as a strong, contemporary Latina. (The model for the Virgin is performance artist Raquel Salinas.)

She wears a bikini made of roses since it is this flower that she makes appear as proof of her apparition. Our Lady's head tilts up and back as she gazes defiantly at the viewer. A buxom, bare-breasted angel (modeled by cultural activist Raquel Gutiérrez) holds her aloft.

Ester Medina Hernández

San Francisco artist Ester Medina Hernández (b. 1944) also creates images of strong women. Hernández, one of six children of California migrant farm workers, is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. She depicts the dignity, strength, experiences, and dreams of Latina women through printmaking and pastels.

The pastel entitled La Ofrenda II (1998) shows the bare back of a Latina woman looking over her right shoulder. With her short punk hairstyle, shaved in stripes and dyed pink over the ear, she does not fit the mold of a demure female. A tattoo of the Virgin of Guadalupe covers her entire back.

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