Frank Romero’s painting “Death of Ruben Salazar” (above), which memorializes the police killing of the Chicano journalist in a bar he’d ducked into after covering a march against the Vietnam War, exemplifies why you should go to “Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art” at the Arkansas Arts Center. Not every piece in the exhibition is political — there is abstract work, portraiture, photography, posters — but much of it is, and the stories are as rich as the artwork.
The exhibition comes from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection of Latino art and includes works by 72 artists since the mid-20th century, “when the concept of a collective Latino identity began to emerge,” according to the Smithsonian. Like the “30 Americans” show at the Arts Center, which focused on work by African American artists, the exhibition does not sacrifice content for theme.
Another grand piece is Maria Magdalena Campos Pons’ “Constellation,” 16 individual photographs that feature her dredlocks emanating — or emigrating — through the photos, creating fine abstraction viewed individually or as a single work. The work by Campos Pons, a Cuban of mixed cultural heritage, can be read to express the diaspora of Latino/Afro people. I normally dislike divided artwork; here, however, it is about separation and movement and thus makes sense.
I was entranced by “West Side Story Upside Down, Backwards, Sideways and Out of Focus (La Maleta de Futriaco Martínez),” by ADAL, a Puerto Rican artist in New York who has created a video of scenes from the movie — a stereotypical view of Puerto Rican culture — interspersed with other film and placed the screen inside a suitcase.
Among the political posters (there are also wonderful calendarios), “Boycott Grapes,” a kingly Latino-Indian image squeezing grapes dry, is a standout. Carlos Almarez’ “Night Magic, Blue Jester” has the fluidity of a Cezanne in a Fauvist palette.
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock, which is showing work by Mexico City native Marianela de la Hoz (“Speculum Speculari), has joined with the Arts Center for a Sunday film series featuring the six-part documentary “Latino Americans: 500 Years of History.” Coming up are Episode 3, “War and Peace, 1942-1954” on Nov. 1; Episode 4, “The New Latinos: 1946-1965” on Nov. 8; Episode 5, “Prejudice and Pride, 1965-1980” on on Nov. 15; and Episode 6, “Peril and Promise, 1980-2000” on Nov. 22 All are screened from 2-3 p.m.
On Dec. 10, Einar and Jamex de la Torre, brothers who collaborate in glassworks, will give a talk at 6 p.m.