Open Letter to MOLAA

MOLAA's official policy stands in the way of this institution being true to the times and to its own reality

By Armando Dur??n
Published on LatinoLA: October 17, 2013

Open Letter to MOLAA

Dear Members of the Board of Directors of the Museum of Latin American Art,

I write to you to make a straightforward request: that the Board place on the agenda at its next meeting the following resolution:

Whereas the Board of Directors of the Museum of Latin American Art recognizes that the mission of this institution must evolve as it explores the art of Latin America and its many veins; Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the Mission Statement of MOLAA is amended to read: The Museum of Latin American art expands knowledge and appreciation of modern and contemporary Latin American and Chicano/Latino art through its Collection, ground-breaking Exhibitions, stimulating Educational Programs, and engaging Cultural Events.

Just as the museum has transcended its initial impulse to show only mid-century Mexican and Latin American modernism and now regularly highlights cutting edge works by vibrant Mexican and Latin American artists, it must now transcend that last barrier, which keeps its mission stuck at the southern border of artistic production. Indeed, MOLAA cannot now claim any refuge in outdated mission statements and founders' intentions; not when it has so consistently used the local Latino, especially the Chicano aesthetic, when it wants to draw audiences. A healthy museum-audience relationship is symbiotic.

Visiting the museum many times over the years has given me an appreciation of its many attributes. Groundbreaking exhibitions including Siqueiros Landscape Painter (2010), The Sites of Latin American Abstraction (2009) and the entire series in the MOLAA Project Room since 2010 are a testament to the vibrancy of its exhibitions. Yet I can't help but feel excluded from its ongoing dialogue; seeing myself only on the margins, as if I were an unwanted but necessary stepchild. I am a Chicano.

I see announcements for your annual D?¡a de Los Muertos Festival, a commemoration that in the form presented at MOLAA is a Chicano creation. I visited your latest exhibition Latino/US Cotidiano, a confused show about Latinos in the United States as photographed mainly by Latin Americans, and sponsored by the Spanish Embassy, among others. And I recall other recent shows and events, including MEX/LA Mexican Modernism(s) in Los Angeles, 1930-1985, the Latino comics expo last August and the recent screening of the PBS documentary Latino Americans. I see smiling children on the Educational Tours page of your website and lament the irony that those children born in this country who choose to become visual artists will be officially excluded as artists whose works hang on your walls. You feature Jesse Valadez Sr.'s Gypsy Rose customized 1964 Chevy Impala on your membership solicitation brochures. I also spotted works by Jos?® Lozano and Roberto Gil de Montes. No doubt, others have snuck in.

Over time the list of exhibitions and other events has grown exponentially, yet local Latino artists can't seem to get in the front door. It appears that according to MOLAA policies, they (and those children) would have to "go back" to the country of their or their ancestors' origin--as if they were applying to immigrate--and re-enter the museum as something they are not. This policy begins to look more and more not only as an anachronism, but as a not so subtle nod to the anti-immigrant movement and to those who choose to see Latinos as an exotic curiosity to be appreciated only when viewed from afar.

The inclusion of Chican@ artists in exhibitions and books as far back as Pasi??n por Frida (Mexico City, 1991), Latin American Art in the Twentieth Century (1996) and Retratos: 2,000 Years of Latin American Portraits (various cities in the U.S., 2004) serves as recognition that artistic influences and currents do not stop at the Mexican border. There are others who are exploring the influence of Chicano popular culture on Mexican artists and Mexican popular culture (Exit Mexico (2005). These currents cannot be stopped and MOLAA can ride the wave of their influence by updating its mission statement to embrace this reality. Your 2010 exhibition Manchuria: Peripheral Vision--A Felipe Ehrenberg Retrospective, touched on the matter and included Mi Hogar en Istelei (1995), a serigraph from Self Help Graphics.

Only MOLAA's official policy stands in the way of this institution being true to the times and to its own reality, embracing its neighbors (look across the street) and the Chicano/Latino communities across this country not only as viewers and visitors, but also as contributors of artistic output. All you have to do is add a few words: and Chicano/Latino.


Armando Dur??n

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