Mission Cultural Center turns 40 – Q&A with exhibition curator
In celebration of its 40th anniversary, the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts’ (MCCLA) upcoming exhibition, “Here Now: Where We Stand,” will pay tribute to the community institution’s role in providing historically marginalized artists with an alternative space to present their work. Former San Francisco supervisor, Green Party vice presidential candidate and current chief attorney at the public defender’s office, Matt Gonzalez, sat down to discuss the exhibition with its curator, Anthony Torres.
MG: There have been many so-called “Latino art shows” in the past. What makes this one special?
AT: It is not a “Latino Art” exhibition … In general, the exhibition is concerned with moving away from any simple notion of art made by Latinos and expanding what may be considered pertinent to Latino experiences.
To my mind, it is always a matter of looking at the work and how the work speaks to issues of particular artists. The exhibition is about the individual works and the work of particular individuals and finding linkages between the works, artists and social histories.[…]
I have been very conscious of selecting certain artists who have a history with the center [MCCLA], or who raise issues in their work that connects, in one way or another, with social issues that address race, class, gender and ecological defense of the planet.[…]
If there is something special about this exhibition, it has to do with a particular constellation of objects and what they say as an integrated whole within a shared space—a dialogue that develops between the artworks.
MG: Most Latino art shows present art that is filled with well-known imagery. Can you say something about this? Does it marginalize Latino artists when collectors expect this from them? What happens to the Latino art that isn’t immediately recognizable as such?
AT: I think it is an open-ended discourse that has issues to address related to Latinos, which is pretty wide open, and related to multiple, interconnected and overlapping histories. Certain imagery was used as a means of redefining for certain people, who they are for themselves and reclaiming traditions, histories, and iconography, such as images that reference Days of the Dead, Virgen de Guadalupe and others, some of which appear, but mainly as a way of acknowledging an early aesthetic social strategy.
As for collectors and what they want, I think it depends on the collectors and their motivations. As far as artists whose work does not fit into someone’s definition of “Latino art” — that for me is a terrain that needs to be negotiated by artists, collectors, and audiences.
MG: The Mission is changing rapidly. How does this show address or respond to gentrification issues?
AT: There are multiple issues and themes that are alluded to and referenced in this exhibition—some more directly than others. Gentrification is about money, power, displacement, among other things, and of course resistances. There are references to this process directly and indirectly through the work on display.
MG: The Mission Cultural Center has been around now for decades. Does this show reveal any new direction in programming or is it focused on presenting a historical retrospective?
AT: The exhibition definitely tries to honor, in a small way … [the MCCLA’s] history based in cultural struggles for social equality and inclusivity.
MG: Can you talk about any of the individual artists who will be exhibited? Are they making exhibition-specific work, or are they showing older pieces?
AT: Some of the artists and their work have a long and specific history with MCCLA, and some individual works reference their involvement — people like Juan Fuentes, Andrea Gomez, Art Hazelwood, Ester Hernandez, Yolanda Lopez, Calixto Robles, Michael Roman, Patricia Rodriguez, Jos Sances, Rene Yañez, and many others. There will be a range of artists and work.
MG: You’ve had a long history in the arts. Can you say something about that?
AT: I did art as child. It was a mode of inexpensive entertainment and pleasure. Over the years I have worked in academic institutions and art organizations as a curator, university educator, art administrator, and independently as an art appraiser. In these capacities, I developed symposia and educational programs, delivered public talks, and curated and traveled numerous exhibitions. I see the exhibitions I do as cultural interventions concerned with raising and addressing a range of issues centered in art as a form of “humanizing” creative labor.
MG: What can the community do to support your efforts and make this show a success?
AT: There are several ways to support nonprofit organizations, Michael Krouse/Pops Bar made a contribution to support the curatorial effort, the MCCLA is currently looking for volunteer docents, gallery prep people, and of course, the public can attend, appreciate, and enjoy the exhibition,
“Here Now: Where We Stand,” opens on May 5 at 7 p.m. at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission St., San Francisco, and will run through June 24. For more visit MissionCulturalCenter.org info call (415) 821-1155.