Gustavo Ramos Rivera, “Alto Grito Amarillo”, acrylic on canvas, 2006.
THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL
by Anthony Torres
I view my curation and art criticism for the popular press as an educational cultural interventions aimed at addressing how art and exhibitions embody historical and ideological discourses, concerned with how contemporary artists utilize diverse formal means as personal aesthetic social strategies. As such, I am concerned with addressing linkages between art practices and the complex social structures that inform the content of the work through myriad forms.
In the past, I was particularly interested in politically motivated art, and art as a politics of articulation, in which images and aesthetic strategies — drawn from an international reservoir of ideas and discourses formed from histories of cultural contact and conflict — constituted a counter-hegemonic cultural social discourse.
This resulted in identifying political art as: work having an overt or accessible political message often aimed at demystification; issue identification aimed at inciting political action; the transformation of consciousness as a vehicle for social transformation; the creation of solidarity centered in political identification; and more inclusively, as a means of affirming the “human” in an otherwise alienating world in which people are separated from nature, from each other, and from themselves in processes of social reification.
This led to developing and refining a tactically based criticism centered in specific goals, questions, and issues:
1. Addressing and analyzing how artistic practices that serve as a means of addressing social histories through self-representation and political identification, are connected to, but not wholly informed by, Euro-American institutional standards of “quality,” “value,” or tradition.
2. Addressing the potential of “identity politics” to degenerate into ethno-nationalist sentiments, and conversely de-legitimizing Euro-Americentric characterizations of “othered” artists as exotic, and challenging simplistic characterizations of artists with agendas that challenge the hegemony of mainstream art institutions by addressing issues related to address race, class, and gender.
3. Recognizing and addressing the diversity and complexity of Latino, African American, and various “ethnic artists,” in an effort to combat essentializing and simplistic view of artists who have been “othered” because of race, class and gender.
4. Recognizing the social and culturally syncretic nature of “ethnic” artistic practices as constituting a complex range of artistic practices, and to challenge and undermine the schismization/segregation of “ethinic” art from a legacy of Euro-american art, since this simplistic division along nationalist/ethnic lines, marginalizes certain artists and militates against a more complex understanding of their work and its potential for cross-cultural communication, and an inclusive and expanded redefinition of “American” art.
5. In all cases, to connect a range of diverse artistic practices to present, living, historical and contemporary cultural discourses, via a discussion of the complex specificity of the each work or artist under discussion.
My focus over the last few years has been to translate and apply a range of theoretical discourses — cultural studies, semiotic theory, post-colonial theory, into accessible language, and make it available to the general public through a free community based street press. This orientation has in one way or another conditioned all the reviews I have written, based on the dictates of the particular tasks and issues I hope to address in the reviews.
This essay previously appeared in As It Ought To Be, July 23, 2009.