Prologue: My Asian Women Writer’s group took a field trip to the Hammer Museum to see “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985.” It was a vast, impressive exhibition unfolding in seven sprawling chapters. In our time there, we barely saw three chapters, and a trip back for the full exhibit may be in the making.
I was most taken by the explosive, larger-than-life video shot in 1978 and projected onto a huge wall just inside the front door. As you enter, Afro-Peruvian poet Victoria Santa Cruz ignites the “Radical Women” exhibition with her powerful spoken-word poem “Me gritaron negra.” It is a purging of her pain as a lonely 7-year-old who was shunned by playmates after a blonde white girl refused to play with her because her skin was black.
Hers is a commanding, unforgettable performance backed by a chorus of three women and three men, one with a cajon, a wooden box drum, who drives the rhythm. With African-rooted choreography and body language, her pain and anger are heightened into rhythmic clapping and intensified chanting of “Negra” or “Black” until it ultimately becomes a chant of “Black” liberation. There is no revolution without evolution, Santa Cruz says.
1960-1985 was a key period in both Latin American history and in the development of contemporary art. Fifteen countries are represented in the exhibition by 120 women artists and collectives, with more than 280 works in photography, video and other experimental medium. The works that we saw were very reflective of the political and social change during those years. A fascinating and comprehensive wall text offered a 25-year timeline of political and social events in all 15 countries; each list began with the date women won the right to vote. Interestingly, Uruguay was the first country.
“Radical Women” is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA (Latin American & Latino Art in LA), the citywide Getty initiative. It is free and runs through Dec. 31.