Correcting Oppression

This autumn, Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum offers the vision of over 100 radical Latin American women artists, ranging from established figures such as Lygia Pape and Marta Minujín to those whose output is largely unknown outside their own countries. The exhibition, which focuses on experimental practices in the period 1960-1985 and features photography, performance, visual and conceptual art, is the first of its kind.

In the mid to late 20th century, ongoing struggles against repression gave rise to a wave of exploration into the politicisation of the female body – this is a central focus of the show. Ann Philbin, Hammer’s director, describes the artworks as “heroic acts,” explaining that many were produced under extremely turbulent social and political conditions. In this respect, she says, the artists “gave a voice to generations of women across Latin America and the United States.”

Providing exposure is achieved in this case by placing well-known pieces together with the work of artists who remain essentially anonymous outside of their own country. Lygia Pape (1927-2004) is often described as one of the most influential Brazilian artists of the century. Here, pieces by Pape sit alongside those made by women such as Leticia Parente (also from Brazil), Narcisa Hirsch (Argentina) and Pola Weiss (Mexico). The latter three, all of whom produced pioneering video work that engages with issues around freedom of expression, are given an international platform for the first time by co-curators Dr. Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Dr. Andrea Giunta.

A sensitive curatorial approach means that the experience of Latina and Chicana artists working in the United States are acknowledged as distinct – yet at times parallel – to those of women working in their own countries. American second wave feminism at this time often had limited sympathy for the struggles faced by women of colour. Patriarchal politics is presented here as an overarching, major oppressor across these very different settings. By responding to this with creative, critical feminist agendas, the practitioners featured here were truly groundbreaking.

Radical Women also looks set to have ongoing impact: in the process of acquiring material, Fajardo-Hill and Giunta have amassed an impressive range of archival sources. Displaying these forward-thinking pioneers is certainly an important step, but by opening up the resources to future researchers, Hammer Museum goes beyond this to offer a vital longer-term corrective to previous art historical neglect of this fascinating body of expression.

Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, USA: 15 September – 31 December. Find out more:

1. Sandra Eleta (Panamanian, b. 1942), Edita (la del plumero), Panamá (Edita [the one with the duster], Panama), 1978-1979. Black and white photograph. 30 × 30 in. (76.2 × 76.2 cm). Courtesy of the artist. Artwork © the artist.