Latinx art today

In a bodega, a corner store in New York’s East Harlem, Lucia Hierro is re-discovering food relics from her childhood, like the coconete (coconut pastries from the Dominican Republic), and the Takis (rolled tortilla chips from Mexico). It’s a shared experience in many barrios – Latino neighborhoods – throughout America.

For Hierro, who has a Master’s in Fine Art from Yale University, the bodega is a beacon for inspiration, transforming bags of chips into larger-than-life creations.

For her 2019 work “Racks,” artist Lucia Hierro found inspiration in the bags of snacks sold at neighborhood bodegas.  CBS News

Her objective is to appreciate what’s often overlooked  … that the products, the people that make them, and the communities that consume them, matter.

“The work could be seen as sort of cutesy bodega art,” Hierro said, “and then we look at who are the people that are working to make these Fritos? Who are the people that are actually behind selling them in these bodegas? And wonder how the economies are like and how they are shifting.”

Big, small, playful and provocative, Hierro’s art is among works of more than 40 Latinx artists participating in Manhattan’s El Museo del Barrio’s triennial show.

Co-curator Susanna Temkin (right) shows correspondent Lilia Luciano a work by Raelis Vasquez, a painting of his family in the Dominican Republic. Vasquez is the youngest artist represented in “Estamos Bien – La Trienal 20/21.” CBS News

Correspondent Lilia Luciano asked, “What is the intention of this show?”

Co-curator Susanna Temkin replied, “It’s a survey of contemporary Latinx art, but there is a lot of different subject matter that I think audiences – I hope – they read into it, whether that’s issues of race, of family, of commodities and consumption.”

Temkin noted, for example, the abundant presence of food.

“Black Jack 8” (2008), a mixed media on canvas work by Chicano artist Joey Terrill.  Joey Terrill/El Museo del Barrio

On display: a celebration of color, culture and identity.

Los Angeles artist Patrick Martinez’s “Defeat and Victory” (2020), a representation of a neon-decorated wall covered with “For Lease” signs, suggests gentrification taking place in the neighborhood. CBS News

There are snapshots of everyday life, seen in photographs and paintings. 

“Tía Chia in the Dryer” (2010), by Groana Melendez, a photographer who was raised between New York City and Santo Domingo.  Groana Melendez/El Museo del Barrio

And there are also deeper themes, and darker ones, such as a series of works by Vincent Valdez titled “Strange Fruit.” “They’re meant to evoke the Mexican-Americans who were lynched over the course of U.S. history, a part of our history that gets overlooked,” said Temkin.

Vincent Valdez’s series “Strange Fruit,” as seen in the exhibit “Estamos Bien – La Trienal 20/21,” at New York City’s El Museo del Barrio.  CBS News

A force of reckoning weaves through many of the pieces. That thread has existed at the core of El Museo del Barrio since its founding half a century ago by a small group of people who sat in a cold, darkened basement.

Hiram Marinstay recalled: “We could see our breaths, and we were talking about building a museum. And we asked each other, ‘Well, who knows anything about a museums?’ And everybody looked and said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know.'” 

Marinstay was among El Museo’s early directors, and in time, he helped build one of the nation’s leading Latino cultural institutions. 

“We were bringing our best artists to train our children,” he said.

Marinstay is also an acclaimed photographer who was born and raised just a few blocks away.

Luciano asked, “What is el barrio to you?”

“El barrio is where I grew up,” he said. “It’s what I know. It’s what I’m comfortable [in]. I feel it. It’s my home.”

From the moment he picked up a camera, Marinstay was rebelling against a narrative of how Puerto Ricans and Latinos were depicted. “Most of the images of us were when we were handcuffed,” he said. “Most of the images of us were [when] we engaged in some kind of act of violence, or an act of violence against us.  So, I was very, very angry about that. And I was also very naïve, but I thought that I could balance it. I could give a different representation of it, and I could show us that we’re not that. We are this. And I’m still at it.”

As are artists like Lucia Hierro, fulfilling a mission of a museum and a culture.

Luciano asked, “What do you hope the next generation will get from seeing your art?”

“That their stories are important,” she replied. “That everything that they’ve experienced and seen is worth, you know, making art about, and, you know, sharing that with the world.”

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Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Carol Ross.