Posted on October 24, 2014
October 24, 2014 An Open Letter To Gallery 122 at Hang It:
It has come to our attention that on Friday October 24, 2014 your gallery will host an opening reception for Afterlife Merriment — an exhibition with artists Jessie McNally and DC Ice scheduled to run until the end of November. We write this letter as concerned Latina/o artists and community leaders. We recognize that this is not an isolated incident, but reflects a larger pattern of injustice. We join in conversation with Latina/os across the country outraged by these issues.
The exhibit hijacks dia de los muertos iconography and invites guests to do so as well by participating in creating an ofrenda without any deep-rooted connection to or investment in the culture and history of the traditions. It is our understanding that no one involved with the exhibit self-identifies as Latina/o. Irresponsible journalism in recent write-ups by Camille Lefevre of the City Pages and Mary Abbe of the Star Tribute further heighten our concerns regarding this event.
Dia de los muertos is not a trending hashtag nor is it Halloween. It is a sacred ritual where the living remember and celebrate their beloved dead. Prior to colonization, indigenous people of the Americas practiced this tradition, which we continue today with our families and communities. Recently, we have witnessed the cultural appropriation of dia de los muertos. We see cultural appropriation as the taking of another’s cultural symbols, traditions, and rituals for individual benefit without the mutual exchange of resources or intentional collaboration. Cultural appropriation is violent and a form of continued colonization.
This exhibit is one example of cultural appropriation. We understand that artists may be inspired by dia de los muertos, but this present work is disrespectful and hurtful. There has been no effort to build relationships with Latina/o artists or the broader community. Those involved with this exhibit potentially will gain economic and social capital from this appropriation, while we as Latina/o artists continue to struggle for gallery space, media exposure, revenue opportunities, and acknowledgement as legitimate artists.
In Minnesota, Latina/o artists are undervalued. When we are invited to participate, we are often asked to donate our time, resources, or even our art. If we are paid, it is often at a lower rate than white artists for similar caliber of work. Nationally, white artists comprise 77 percent of all working artists compared to Latina/os who comprise a mere 8.3 percent.1 It is unjust for people to continue to purchase and exhibit culturally appropriated art.
However, we are not satisfied being invited to the table as your token Latina/o artist. If art galleries would like to showcase dia de los muertos art, it is their responsibility to research and build intentional relationships with local Latina/o artists. We invite non-Latina/o artists who wish to participate in dia del los muertos practices to collaborate with our communities. This means that you do not only acknowledge our existence during dia de los muertos or cinco de mayo, but all year long. Become knowledgeable about our social movements. Work as an ally to fight for immigrant rights, close the educational gap, stop gender violence especially against queer and tran Latina/os (among numerous other issues). To the journalists, we demand responsible reporting that does not rely on stereotypes that misrepresent our cultures.
In closing, we ask you to think more critically about the work exhibited in your gallery and invite you to support Latina/o artists in the future.
Marisa Martinez, Artist and Teacher
Jessica Lopez Lyman, Artist and PhD Candidate
Emmanuel Ortiz, Artist and Community Organizer
Alex Mendoza, Artist and PhD Candidate
Dougie Padilla, Artist and Cultural Activist ￼
1 BFAMFAPhD, Artists Report Back: A National Study on the Lives of Arts Graduates and Working Artists 2014.