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'De lo que soy/Of What I Am' and 'Taino Treasures'…Latina Art Compelling, Inspiring

Art In Review

`De lo que soy/Of What I Am' and `Taino Treasures'

March 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved.

Lehman College Art Gallery
250 Bedford Park Boulevard West
The Bronx

First exhibition through May 12; second through May 2

The art galleries at the various campuses of the City University of New York are among this town's little-explored treasures. And the year-round program at Lehman College gallery, under the direction of Susan Hoeltzel, is a particularly ambitious program, as two shows on view there now suggest.

"De lo que soy/Of What I Am" is a survey of contemporary self-portraiture by 22 women of Latin American or Caribbean descent, which takes the genre beyond Kahlo-esque narcissism. In Patricia Villalobos Echeverria's photographic "Terremotto-Earthquake Series," the artist's face appears, but only as a half-obscured symbolic element. Elsewhere, the first-person presence is only obliquely in evidence.

The Peruvian-born Kukli Velarde, re-examines her conflicted feelings about her own past through videotaped reminiscences by her father. Mari Mater O'Neill asserts a fantasy of self-empowerment in a print of two comic book Wonderwomen who farm the land, keep evil at bay and end their day in a torrid mutual embrace. Josely Carvalho contributes an excerpt from a visual diary composed of natural and spiritual forms with which she identifies. In a painting by Lydia M. Negrón, images of an American eagle, Baroque architecture and Taino sculpture offer a prismatic look at a Dominican heritage.

Taino sculpture, created between the 10th and 15th centuries A.D. by the indigenous people of the Caribbean, is the subject of a show in Lehman's second gallery. The history of this fascinating art has attracted extensive attention only fairly recently, and largely thanks to the pioneering work of the archaeologist Ricardo E. Alegría, to whom the show is dedicated.

Organized by Irvine Rafael MacManus, it includes 50 objects – bowls, amulets and ceremonial instruments – on loan from three public collections in Puerto Rico that Dr. Alegría helped to establish, and it provided the occasion for a scholarly symposium in March on Taino culture, past and present. Events like that, along with exhibitions like these at Lehman, are exactly the thing that this Latino city needs more of.


Latina Art Compelling, Inspiring

Christopher M. Singer

April 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.

A colorful, compelling and challenging art exhibit called "9Latinas One Spirit" runs through Cinco de Mayo -- May 5 -- in the Bagley Housing Art Gallery.

The show celebrates Women's History Month with 44 works in several media by nine women from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico and South America.

One artist of Mexican heritage, Darcel Portillio Deneau, paints the urban experience. Her portrait of a wrinkled, red-faced, bearded old man on a street in Hamtramck shows a certain dignity in old age. He wears layers of shirts, sturdy working man's shoes and a baseball cap with an indecipherable logo. Did he work at Dodge Main? Or was he a baker? Is he a widower?

Deneau's compelling picture of an old woman portrays a confident beauty -- not cute, not pretty, but she must have really been something special when she was younger.

Deneau began painting six years ago after her parents were murdered in their Livonia home. "I felt an urgency to do something that was important to me," she explained.

Deneau says her work connects her with her father, Francisco Portillo, who grew up in southwest Detroit. "I have paintings of Mexicantown and Corktown. Both are places I visited with my father," she said.

Color Paloma, a Lansing muralist, shows a watercolor called "Feather Mask" with vivid, jewel-like colors. She credits it to her Mexican heritage.

"There is a lot of use of color in Hispanic art," she said.

She also shows a haunting portrait in red and gold over black called "Tonantzin of Tepeyac," the Aztec lunar goddess and goddess of the harvest and fertility. Paloma said the goddess was Christianized into Our Lady of Guadalupe.

"I used gold to honor her and a touch of red for her fertile blood," the artist said. "These colors are used over black, for out of the darkness comes life."

Paloma has color-filled murals in Detroit, Pontiac and Ann Arbor. One brightens the rest room of the Avalon Bakery in the Cass Corridor.

Photojournalist Elsa Otero, born in Colombia, has six works on display that challenge assumptions.

One shows a young, smallish red-haired woman crucified on an American flag. A second shows a woman and barbed wire, along with lines about the inevitability of death taken from a poem Otero wrote.

Is the woman a revolutionary willing to risk all? Or does the photo show the traditional Catholic view that life is a transition to home in heaven.

"Struggle marks you," Otero said. "What I think you can see is a rich portrait."

'One Spirit'

Site: Bagley Housing Art Gallery

Address: 2715 Bagley at St. Anne in Mexicantown area of southwest Detroit

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, 1-4 p.m. Saturdays

Dates: Through May 5.

Phone: (313) 964-5942

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