Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985, on view at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City, April 13-July 22, 2018
In a 1972 article, anthropologist Sherry Ortner famously asked, “Is female to male as nature is to culture?” Taken another way, what’s different about the relationship of men and women to public expression? Historically, men have controlled the realm of the creative, given agency to invent, improvise, and express, while women have been relegated to the role of passive caretaker, their only approved form of creation being childbirth. But in times of political upheaval and economic instability, women have been able to break through, finding new modes of inclusion in public life and expression, often through art.
Running through July 22, Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985 at the Brooklyn Museum considers one such period of uncertainty. Focusing on a quarter-century span in which Latin America saw rapid industrialization and development accompanied by worsening poverty and class polarization, the exhibit showcases the work of 123 artists from fifteen countries who use various mediums to reflect on their changing identities in societies rife with contradiction and injustice. While the show is divided into a series of nine themes, such as “Self-Portrait,” “Resistance and Fear,” and “Performing the Body,” the use of the female body as an agent of social change is underscored throughout.
Second-wave feminism spread across the United States through the 1960s and ’70s, but the term “feminism” was regarded in many Latin American circles as too bourgeois. Unlike many American women, women in Latin America faced widespread violence, hunger, and political corruption, the combination of which compounded their lack of agency. As a result, many artists featured in the show either ignore feminism or overtly reject the label, focusing instead on specific instances of systemic oppression.