Los Angeles is home to a huge Latin American population, with the 2010 United States Census reporting that almost half of the city’s residents are from a Hispanic or Latino background.
While their history is as long as the city itself, beginning with its settlement in 1769, it was only in the first half of the twentieth century that a real sense of identity began to come to fruition.
Fast forward to today and the legacy of that is a vibrant culture that shapes what LA is today: “A shiny city of reinvention … a perpetual in-flow of dreamers, go-getters and hustlers primed with unabashed optimism.”
Lonely Planet certainly captures that spirit, doesn’t it? It is no surprise to learn then that Los Angeles is home to the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), one of the most authoritative institutions in its subject area.
Relatively new in comparison to other art establishments, MOLAA has come a long way since it was founded in 1996. Precocious, committed and passionate about Latin American art, the museum is the definitive space for this categorisation of art. In fact, there is no other competition.
The roots of Latin American art go way back to the indigenous cultures that flourished on the continent before curious, voracious European explorers/conquerors declared this to be the New World they were looking for.
New identities emerged with the meshing of disparate cultures (specifically American, African and European), resulting in the core nucleus of every Latin American style that has since emerged – mestizo.
During the colonial period, Europeans began to promote their doctrines of the Christian faith, as part of their mission to save the world from sin. As a by-product ofthis, naturally, there was an influx of imagery native to the continent, and so it was that Indochristian art emerged.
The Curzo School (sixteenth to eighteenth centuries) was a more deliberate movement, often referred to as the first establishment of European style painting in the Americas. Again, as with above, the main aesthetics emerging from this were religious and therefore originality was sparse to say the least.
It would only be in the twentieth century that Latin American artists began to feel confident about taking charge of their own destiny and to challenge the dictums prescribed to them over the years.
Constructivism, which can be understood here to be art for social reasons, had a particular resonance with Latin Americans, with artists such as Joaquin Torres Garcia helping to promote the philosophies of this movement.
Latin American muralism – largely Mexican – represented another monumental sea of change, with artists like Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros (dubbed the big three) heralding in a new form of expressionism that was highly desired (for social, political and cultural reasons).
Surrealism also flourished in twentieth century Latin American art, best characterised by the work of Frida Kahlo, whose enigmatic portraits of herself revealed a crashing pathos. She once said: “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.”
In more recent times, Latin American art has reflected the zeitgeist, with, for example, figurative art coming to the fore in the sixties (as an indictment of the hardships endured by many) and conceptual art growing in popularity, principally because it allowed artists greater freedom to explore and present an idea without being restricted by realist and conventional representations.
Today, Latin American art, on the back of the changing geopolitical landscape – first with BRICS and now with MINTS – is the most popular it has ever been. It has been a long time coming.
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