In August 2020, a Pew Research Center poll discovered that just three percent of the Hispanic population in the United States identifies as Latinx. The director of race and ethnicity research Mark Lopez explained that their rejection of the word had nothing to do with its inclusive framework, but rather its the limited means to describe the population as a whole. The outcome, he said, “reflects the diversity of the nation’s Hispanic population, and the Hispanic population of the U.S. thinks of itself in many different ways.”
The below list of Latinx artists is anything but a monolith: These artists hail from all over the Americas, stretching as far down to Argentina and as north as New York, and bring forth an array of cultural archetypes, histories, and experiences that are carefully deconstructing persistent colonial power structures and demanding liberation from their grasp. Many of these artists are self-taught, raised on freestyling and graffiti, and powered by the sense of community that permeates daily life. From painting and collage to sculpture and installation, these artists dive into relational and conceptual territories unique to their cultural milieus, churning out provocative works of art that tell their stories with authority.
We’re including here only the ones from the Caribbean basin. For the whole report by Nicole Martínez for Artsy click here.
B. 1981, Santurce, Puerto Rico. Lives and works in New York.
Angel Otero truly reimagines the possibilities of oil paint, creating works of art that involve layering the material onto a glass surface until it dries, then scraping it off to create what he’s dubbed as “oil paint skins.” He painstakingly collages these skins in large-scale abstract works, resembling fierce forces of nature that could swallow you whole.
Otero’s intentional warping of material nods to his exploration of memory, a primary subject matter that persists throughout his oeuvre; through his work, one might reflect on how the shapes, sensations, and structures of our histories are distorted by outside forces. The paintings, however, are also personal in nature for Otero, and generally reflect on his childhood growing up in Santurce, Puerto Rico. Lately, everyday objects like tablecloths, chairs, or curtains have found their way into his work.
B. 1979, Puerto Rico. Lives and works in New York.
Glendalys Medina wants to rewire your brain. Her practice is fueled by the work of inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, who posits that human pattern recognition is so well attuned that we can detect even the tiniest disruption, shifting our perception and, perhaps, even altering our behavior. Armed with those findings, Medina investigates patterns and reframes them, embedding them with iconography drawn from rhythms, movements, motifs, and gestures.
Born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Bronx, most of the symbols in Medina’s work are drawn from cultural vernacular that swirls around her history and daily life, from the cadence of hip-hop rhymes to the fluid signatures of graffiti writers, or traditional Taíno motifs. Medina sees her geometric works as an exploration of new forms toward instilling a broader, more loving perspective of the world around us.
B. 1990, New York. Lives and works in New York.
Throughout the early 20th century, Caribbean women were exoticized and fetishized in advertising images across America and Europe, positioned as playthings for vacationing white men. Joiri Minaya, a Dominican artist who was born in New York and raised in Santo Domingo, repositions this gaze by deconstructing fragments of the female body, suspending them in air against tropicalia backdrops in illusory ways. Her figures, often obscured or blending into their backgrounds, operate as a mechanism from which Minaya liberates Caribbean women from a patriarchal, colonial framework, while alluding to the artist’s own experience of living between the Dominican Republic and the United States.
Some of Minaya’s most powerful works, incorporating performance, wallpaper, digital collage, and sculpture, include wrapping colonial monuments in cities like Miami with her tropical cloaks—the same ones she will often wrap her own body in before photographing herself in public spaces.
B. 1981, Philadelphia. Lives and works in Philadelphia.
A ceramicist, activist, and poet, Roberto Lugo is a Philadelphia-born and -based artist whose work underscores how European art history has surreptitiously upheld class structures. With porcelain as his primary material, Lugo fuses both Asian and European historical influences generally reserved for the affluent and the royal with the images and icons of his upbringing. Street style motifs are prominently displayed on vases, bowls, and plates that combine both careful, traditional etchings with images of Lugo’s family, friends, and icons, like the Notorious B.I.G.
Like many of his contemporaries, Lugo’s career began with graffiti, and shifted to this more formal approach after the artist completed a formative residency at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia. Aptly calling himself the “Ghetto Potter,” Lugo is the first ceramic artist to win the Rome Prize, through which he plans to recreate every single piece in Napoléon Bonaparte’s almost 200-object ceramic flight.
B. 1981, Managua, Nicaragua. Lives and works in Miami.
Self-taught Miami-based painter Farley Aguilar depicts a corrupt underworld of conservatism in the United States, rendered in grotesque figures whose faces are often masked or obscured. Drawing inspiration from antique found photographs, Aguilar’s figures have an eerie, glob-like quality to them, as they often blend into a chaotic abstract backdrop that signals the turbulent relationship between society and the individual.
Born in Nicaragua, Aguilar lacks any formal artistic training, though both of his paternal grandparents were artists. Aguilar’s work, driven largely by his own experiences as an immigrant in the United States, is meant to be haunting and invoke terror. Incorporating both raw graphite and colorful, thickly layered oil paint, Aguilar’s paintings reflect on issues of social justice, and structural and institutional violence—spotlighting anything from the prison industrial complex to the economic barriers facing Black and Brown people in America.
B. 1974, Guatemala City. Lives and works in Guatemala.
Quite possibly one of the most exciting performance artists in a generation, Regina José Galindo is entirely unafraid of taking her work to the utmost extreme. Performances she’s devised have seen the artist be waterboarded, carved, and molested in pursuit of her ideas, which center around the authorship of individual destiny.
Galindo, an autodidact and self-taught artist, shifted from writing poetry to making “visual poetry” in the 1990s, after her native Guatemala emerged from a period of unrest. She, alongside her contemporaries, took to the public sphere to create art that focused on engaging and activating Guatemalans around the critical social and political issues they were facing at that moment. Her work very much still leans in this direction—most of Galindo’s interventions happen in the streets or otherwise out in the field, and are rooted in extensively researching the history and nature of a place to find commonalities with her own background. Ultimately, Galindo is interested in uncovering how human beings—no matter where they’re located—have a foundational relationship that’s far stronger than any geographic border.
B. 1973, Miami. Lives and works in Brooklyn.
José ParláCity and Time, 2018Ben Brown Fine ArtsContact for priceJosé Parlá’s paintings, sculptures, and mixed-media works are living archives of place, tracing the eastern coastline of the Americas and drawing from his experiences as a New Yorker, Miamian, and Cuban. “My work really resembles the region and the stories and the effect it’s had on our trajectory as immigrants,” Parlá has said.
Living between Miami and Puerto Rico, and later New York, exposure to underground hip-hop culture fueled Parlá’s early experimentation with writing—a practice that would become a meaningful part of his work in the years to come. Fusing the style of cave paintings with graffiti, he creates abstract paintings from photographs of walls, streets, and cityscapes, embedding the works with a memory of the attitude it holds.
Like the cave paintings and street writing that inspired his earliest work, Parlá’s abstractions leave a record of fleeting moments in history, ones that define our humanity and our creativity.
Header image: Joiri Minaya, “Container #6,” 2020.