By Ivan Cazares
“A Decolonial Atlas” is a striking and insightful exhibit at the Vincent Price Art Museum that brings up questions about colonialism by drawing context from Latin American history.
The collaboration between Yreina D. Cervantez and the VPAM will highlight 40 years of the artist’s work and showcase the work of several other Latino and Latina artists until July 22. Many might recognize Cervantez’s mural, “La Ofrenda,” located under the First Avenue Bridge in Downtown Los Angeles.
The mural was painted in 1989 and depicts the first female Mexican American union leader, Dolores Huerta.
“I think it’s important (to portray women of color in art) because there weren’t many positive portrayals of Chicanos and Chicanas when I was a young women, but particularly Chicanas.
The images you did see were very stereotypical. You almost didn’t see any people of color at all in the media,” Cervantez said.
Cervantez’s work is politically charged and is a prime example of the art that emerged from the Chicano art movement that started in the ‘60s. She has been involved in several feminist movements, social justice movements and currently teaches Chicano studies at the California State University, Northridge.
“An artist like (Cervantez) is very important to our community,” VPAM director Pilar Tompkins Rivas said. “A lot of the artists in this exhibit are looking at long periods of time and a deeply rooted colonial past in their work,” Rivas added.
Rivas said the topic of colonialism is still relevant today.
She elaborated by saying that resistance movements, like the Stand With Standing Rock movement, have their roots in America’s colonial past.
Standing Rock received international media attention when a coalition of Native American tribes and supporters from around the world protested a project to build an oil pipeline on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
Though the movement failed to stop the building of the pipeline, it inspired a surge of interest in the struggles of indigenous peoples.
The exhibit displays a variety of vibrant paintings that draw inspiration from Meso American art. Rivas said the art selected complements the VPAM ’s permanent collection, which includes several art pieces, sculptures and pottery produced by Meso American cultures.
There is also an elaborate collage of decorated axes and other items that draw inspiration from botanicas. Botanicas are small shops that sell herbs and traditional remedies.
They also sell charms, incense, candles and other items used in spiritual and religious rituals.
Even with advancements in modern medicine, botanicas are still popular among Latin American communities and have a deeply rooted history.
The first floor of the exhibit is dedicated to Cervantez’s work.
The second floor focuses on videos that portray life across Latin America.
Some videos visually narrate the destruction of cultures by colonialism and conquests through war. One in particular, by Guatemalan contemporary artist Naufus Ramirez-Figueroa, depicts a collision of different periods of architecture in Guatemala.
The video uses music and performers in rudimentary costumes of buildings to create a brief but impactful narrative of the country’s colonial history.
The images and sounds are odd and thought provoking. None of them use a traditional story telling structure.
A Decolonial Atlas continues the museum’s tradition of hosting intriguing exhibits.
Visiting should be on everyone’s to-do list, especially East Los Angeles College students’. The VPAM is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from noon to 4 p.m. It’s open on Thursdays from noon to 7 p.m.
For more information, or to schedule a tour, call (323) 265-8841.