As Black History Month drew to a close in February, Univision organized a panel titled “Real Talk! Celebrating AfroLatinx Authors and Artists.” As the largest provider of Spanish-language content in the United States, Univision often receives critique for promoting a Eurocentric image of Latinidad, causing skepticism among many viewers of this panel in general.
However, the remarkable group of panelists — which included artist, activist and historian Djali Brown-Cepeda, curator Naiomy Guerrero, anthropologist and curator Dr. Ariana Curtis, and artist and author Reyna Noriega — had no issue making it clear that this typically monolithic portrayal of such a highly diverse people is rooted in racism.
A recent study found that among collections in major U.S. museums, Black artists represent only 1.2% of the works. Meanwhile, Latinx artists represent only 2.8%. Yet the anti-Blackness that affects Latinx culture strips many Afro-Latinx artists, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and, more recently, Pop Smoke, of accurate representation — and their rightful place in our shared history. A reliance on the racial binary erases the plurality of these artists’ identities (Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Panamanian, respectively), a disservice several panelists attributed to white institutions.
“Who controls the narrative?” Guerrero, an independent curator in New York City, asked. Dr. Curtis, the first curator of Latinx Studies at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, echoed this point. As an anthropologist, Dr. Curtis says she channels activism through curation by asking: How are we pushing our communities to have different conversations?
Black artists have shaped culture throughout history, utilizing forms of self-expression to influence change — continuously tackling systemic racism. “When you are a Black artist, you are an artivist,” Djali Brown-Cepeda, founder of digital archives BLK THEN and Nuevayorkinos, both of which preserve New York City’s Black and Latinx history and culture, told a captivated audience.
Each panelist, all Afro-Latinx womxn, embodied the adage, “The personal is political.”
“I didn’t see myself,” artist Reyna Noriega said, as she explained her drive to create work centering Black women and women of color. “Having women see themselves in my work achieved my goals of providing positive representation.”
Noriega recently had a mural installation displayed in the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place’s façade this year. But she noted that despite her success, a lack of access to traditional art spaces like galleries and museums persists.
Though the digital landscape democratizes the industry slightly, there is still a need for substantive change. “Representation without any access to power is hollow,” Dr. Curtis told moderators Yarel Ramos and Edwin Pitti, speaking to the responsibility of institutions — from universities to television networks — to acknowledge and eradicate oppression and erasure.
Likewise, she noted that much can be done by the individual to support Black artists. “Be intentional about what you share [on social media],” Dr. Curtis said. “Showcase objects that are only on view in museums. Make sure people get credit for their work, and are paid [with money] as often as possible. Share the artist, share the collective, share the love. Uphold each other in these ways.”
Due to minuscule representation, simply finding Black creators to uplift can be a daunting task. Rather than elevate Black artists to high-level positions as decision makers, the work of historicizing BIPOC art is often delegated to white curators. But Jasmin Hernandez, the Black Latinx founder of Gallery Gurls, an indie art website dedicated to documenting the work of BIPOC creators and providing access to community, has compiled decades of intel into one beautiful book, We Are Here.
“By 2018, many things were shifting in the culture, incrementally, exclusively by Black and POC artists and cultural producers. Many of whom are my friends and who I’ve long admired for years,” Hernandez told In The Know. “Seeing Derrick Adams work on Insecure or seeing Hiba Schabaz being featured in Paper Magazine’s annual feature Paper People, were indicators that these artists were influencing mainstream pop culture. It was very very important for this moment to be documented, for Black and POC artists and art workers to be canonized beyond a magazine cover or a magazine profile.”
Bound in black, titled in bold violet type alongside vibrant images, We Are Here is visually stunning. The true technicolor, however, is found within its pages. Spanning 50 contemporary Black and brown creatives in art and nightlife, Hernandez takes you into the studios and creative minds of today’s true influencers.
“We were getting very comfortable with listicle culture — ‘10 Black artists to follow on Instagram’ or ‘10 Latinx artists to follow on Instagram.’ A collected cultural history is needed in book form,” Hernandez said. “There are 50 subjects interviewed in We Are Here with exclusive imagery that will never be seen anywhere else, (shot by Black and WOC womxn photographers, Jasmine Durhal and Sunny Leerasanthanah).”
Hernandez hopes that these unique stories will inspire young BIPOC creatives to find an entry point in the art world.
“There is space for you, and here are 50 ways to teach you. We Are Here in many ways can be a guidebook or sourcebook for that,” she said.
As we cycle through the nationally recognized Black History Month and Women’s History Month, funneling wokeness through catchy memes and colorful infographics, let’s take a moment to pause at the intersection of the two. Rather than waiting for an arbitrary, commercially-driven timeframe to celebrate diversity, consider the creators — and support Black artists, femmes and womxn of color all the time. Picking up a copy of We Are Here is a great place to start.
If you liked this post, check out 5 Black-owned skin care brands that need to be on your radar.
More from In The Know: