Phoenix Art Museum's "Hidden Histories" Is a Political Wake-Up Call

“Hidden Histories in Latin American Art,” currently on view at Phoenix Art Museum until August 23, 2015, brings together distinct perspectives and methodologies that address the personal and the political. The works in this exhibition, by artists from Colombia, Guatemala, Argentina, Mexico, and the United States, are engaged with history, the urban landscape, and the sociopolitical issues of our time. Though the exhibition is small (too small, if you ask me), it makes a sound attempt to bridge the gap between the work of international Latin American artists and American artists whose works deal with the systemic injustices currently facing people of color in America.

When I first viewed the exhibition, it was immediately following an excellent artist talk by Argentine artist Graciela Sacco. Her work consists of urban interventions and photo-based sculptures and installations that function politically. Enfrentados (which translates to Confronted), from her Tensión Admisible series, is a photographic inlay on wood of an image of Argentine protesters in conflict with police that she found in the newspaper. Though the image has a direct relationship to local historical events, Sacco presents it in such a way that gives it global significance. The image becomes a symbol that moves beyond language and locale.

La búsqueda (The Search), by Mexican artist Teresa Margolles, roars through the exhibition, both in terms of space and sound. Three glass panels, transported directly from Ciudad Juárez, a city across the border from El Paso, Texas, are installed in the gallery. With them is the recorded sound from a train that travels through the city. As the viewer examines these towering panels, they’re momentarily transported to this urban space. The panels, covered in missing persons posters for women, are encoded with loss and detachment.

In the museum context, these panels become a record of turbulence. These women are lost in the noise — of the city, of the many others who are missing — and the installation translates that feeling to us. For several of the works in the exhibition, this gallery doesn’t seem like the ideal space. For Margolles’ work, however, the dark and narrow hallway in which it is installed amplifies the feeling of walking through the city and emphasizes those on the margins.

The works of Annie Lopez and Vincent Valdez exist in this strange auxiliary space next to Margolles’ work, installed next to an elevator and a fire extinguisher. Both of Lopez’s works, Sighting Mexicans in Phoenix and Naturalized Citizens, speak directly to the problems surrounding undocumented status in Arizona. The former addresses the racial profiling that plagues people of color, while the latter addresses the tiresome need to defend legal status. Lopez responds to “show me your papers” by literally printing her family’s legal status onto a dress made out of tamale papers that could very well be activated by the body. Within the context of the other work in this exhibition, these issues that have been affecting people of color in the U.S. become global in scale.

As a whole, this exhibition establishes an international dialogue, drawing connections between the local and the global, along with the personal and the political. The only problem I have with this exhibition is that it’s so marginalized within the institution itself. I don’t know if hiding these “hidden histories” in a claustrophobic crevice of the museum was a part of the curatorial vision or not. If so, that might be commendable or at least intriguing, but I’m not so sure that’s the case. The excellent works in this exhibition operate in spite of this, but when I reached the end of the hallway and saw a glimpse of Warhol’s expansive show down below, I blurted out “wait, that’s it?”

“Hidden Histories in Latin American Art” continues at Phoenix Art Museum through August 23, 2015. Annie Lopez will give an artist lecture on June 24, 2015 at 7 p.m.

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Mikey Estes
Contact: Mikey Estes