Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture has established a reputation as a digital platform where scholars and students, artists and activists can work within alternative art-historical methodologies while transforming traditional frameworks for organizing visual knowledge. The creation of new analytical methodologies has the potential to revitalize the academic study of art and visual culture, in particular when those methods of analysis are turned on “difficult objects,” like Latin American and Latinx visual art, that challenge existing ways of thinking about complexity and interconnectedness. While art history continues to grapple with reinforcing its disciplinary relevance in the twenty-first century, the articles and Dialogues presented in this issue of LALVC reshape disciplinary boundaries by engaging with new types of data, such as the film industry statistics and financial data presented by Carolina Rocha, and challenging scholarly assumptions about the possibilities and potentialities embedded within transdisciplinary visual culture studies research, as in the Dialogues organized by Tatiana Flores and Harper Montgomery. This art history does not shy away from cultural complexity; instead it establishes disciplinary relevance for visual culture studies as an intellectual space primed for the critical assessment of the most pressing issues confronting the region today.
Carolina Rocha's empirical study of collaborative film production between Latin America and Spain during the late twentieth century directs a transnational analytical lens on the relationship between Ibermedia and Uruguayan cinema produced between 1998 and 2018. Rocha gathers and scrutinizes a substantive amount of box office statistics, data on prizes awarded, and synopses of relevant case studies to support her argument that financial involvement from the Programa Ibermedia contributed to the creation of a 2008 film law and the foundation of the Ibermedia and Instituto de Cine y Audiovisual del Uruguay. Ibermedia is intended to foment the Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American film industries through creative and financial collaboration and coproduction, and in Uruguay the initiative has advanced the careers of two generations of film directors whose films have garnered significant nominations and awards. The evidence Rocha presents refutes claims that the program is a form of neocolonialism by demonstrating that over the past twenty years, Ibermedia has supported production of films in Uruguay and across Latin America. Funding from Ibermedia directly led to the creation of a national cinema in Uruguay and its subsequent expansion through a marked increase in film directors graduating from film schools with the ability to navigate the global film circuit, obtain funding from international sources for their projects, and screen their movies at global film festivals. As her research demonstrates, contemporary Uruguyan cinema has uniquely positioned itself in the portrayal of global phenomena, while also highlighting local concerns.
Drawing visual cultural parallels between the pre-Columbian past and contemporary popular culture, Geoffrey and Sharisse McCafferty explore the human preoccupation with natural predators of the mantis family. Based on their art-historical, archaeological, and ethnohistorical research at the southeastern frontier of the Mesoamerican culture area in Pacific Nicaragua from the late Postclassic Ometepe period, the McCaffertys present their findings gleaned from the analysis of Luna polychrome ceramics. Their essay suggests that praying mantis imagery predominated in funerary contexts because the powerful insect predator was revered as symbolic of female cultural authority manifest in ancient ritual shamanism. Visual evidence suggests that the praying mantis was a powerful symbolic force invoked in ancient Nicaraguan religious ritual to symbiotically link natural and supernatural forces for the benefit of humanity. When studied in this context, the madre culebra can be understood as shamanic spirit guides and guardians for the souls of the deceased.
Turning our attention to nineteenth-century Brazil, Alice Heeren's “Affective Rhetorics of Contagion: Augusto Malta in Belle Époque Rio de Janeiro” homes in on Malta's photographic production dating to 1904–29. Departing from previous arguments grounded in republican ideology, Heeren blends rhetorical analysis with affect theory in a fruitful methodological approach that demonstrates how Malta's photographs were instrumental in governmental defense of historic biopolitical violence. Malta served as the city photographer for Rio de Janeiro between 1903 and 1936; in this role, he produced photographs that do more than visually document Brazil's Belle Époque. As Heeren argues, Malta's photographs were active agents in the circulation of affect and the place where varied semantic and semiotic systems came together. Citing photographs depicting clean and dirty urban spaces, Heeren introduces the concept of a visual rhetoric of contagion that was used to support long-standing racist government policies targeting the city's poorest populations. Touching on issues as diverse as urban planning, biopolitics, modernity, brasilidade, and tropicality, this essay weaves together a history of Rio de Janeiro's modernization as a project designed to organize, control, and homogenize a perceived national diversity.
The Dialogues in this issue of LALVC, like the scholarly articles, began from a place of rethinking the idea of Latin America as a visual cultural category. Where does Latin America begin and end? Are former British or French colonies part of Latin America? How does Brazil fit into the geographical designation? Without a clear picture of where Latin America is, it seems tenuous to begin to confront an art history and visual culture labeled “Latin American.” Furthermore, within that context, the question of why and how certain objects are deemed worthy of study while others are marginalized or forgotten arises. Tatiana Flores and Harper Montgomery gather together five academically trained art historians and artists to report on how their work reexamines the complex realities of contemporary Latin/x America.
Essays by Amy Buono and Alma Ruiz begin the Dialogues with methodological reflections from the perspective of museums in Latin/x America. Buono, whose historical research on Brazilian visual culture covers multiple temporalities, highlights how the 2018 fire in the National Museum of Brazil contributed to the further marginalization and loss of indigenous and Afro-Brazilian visual culture. Ruiz draws on her experience as a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, where she purposefully built collections and staged exhibitions designed to nurture new art-historical epistemologies. The Mexican artist Laura Anderson Barbata offers a reflective statement in “Looking Back to 1992,” where she recalls how her relationship with the Ye'Kuana, Piaroa, and Yanomami communities in the Venezuelan Amazon informed the work of mapping her personal transformation in the visual arts. Erina Duganne describes her collaborative research on the 1984 campaign Artists Call Against the US Intervention in Central America. Framed in terms of ideological solidarity, Duganne's project resuscitated the history of Salvadorean artists by integrating their practice into the archives of Latin American art history. Tulane University academic Edie Wolfe presents outreach conducted in San Juan, Puerto Rico, between 2016 and 2018 as part of a course curriculum she created in collaboration with the university's Newcomb Art Museum entitled “Women, Community, and Art in Latin America.” Wolfe and her students interfaced with Puerto Rican artists and activists as they explored the possibilities of contemporary experimental practices that employed art as an agent of social change. Ana Maria Reyes closes the Dialogues with her reflections on how art can be used as reparations with the survivors of human rights violations in places like contemporary Colombia.
Throughout this issue's Dialogues, conventional methodologies and traditional conceptual frameworks, as suggested by Charlene Villaseñor Black in her editorial commentary, continue to come up short, pushing scholars to formulate alternative art-historical methodologies that are positioned to creatively investigate Latin American and Latinx art and visual culture from points of cultural and geopolitical specificity. In all of the cases, art-historical analysis and pedagogy, in addition to the creation of visual art, take on a contemporary activist mantle that empowers participants, educates readers, and establishes disciplinary relevance. This new art history grounded by a focus on Latin American and Latinx art and visual culture sluffs off the limitations of traditional art-historical methodologies and devises innovative, inclusive approaches (the fruits of globalization's “complex connectivity”). And so our work continues, imagining what an art history for the twenty-first century can be and, perhaps more importantly, what it can do.