Weekender: ‘Artists Call’ at Tufts University Art Galleries promotes historical dialogue
For about five years, conservatives Abigail Satinsky and Erina Duganne worked on Tufts University’s new art gallery “Art For the Future: Artists Call and Central American Solidarities,” which opened Jan. 20 on campuses in Boston and Medford.
Wednesday afternoon, with the midday sun illuminating the gallery and its workSatinsky first explained the history of the exhibition to contextualize its main themes.
In the In the United States in the 1980s, refugees fled political violence in Central American countries such as Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. Additionally, Central Americans have participated in revolutions to protest brutal government policies. However, Ronald Reagan’s presidency and the fear of communism made the United States support right-wing oppressive governments, which meant that the United States was responsible for the violent repression of Central Americans by these governments.
“The artists wanted to talk about it, share information about it and raise awareness” Satinsky said.
So In 1982, “Luchar! An exhibition for the peoples of Central America » –– an exhibition on political conflicts in Central America — took place. Artist Daniel Ascencio Flores spoke out, pleading for greater resistance. The resulting campaign, “Artists Call Against US Intervention in Central America,” was a broader version of “Luchar! An exhibition for the peoples of Central America.
More than 1,100 artists from 27 chapters across the United States contributed to the campaign. The widespread political and artistic response of 1980s is the focus of the current Tufts exhibit, “Call of artists and Central American solidarity”.
The gallery displays a range of artworks. For example, two photos taken by Susan Meiselas hang at the entrance. The first, taken in Nicaragua in 1979, features a “street fighter”, a desolate environment in the background. The second, from El Salvador in 1980, shows two white hands on a red door — the death squad sign for murdered civilians.
Much of Meiselas’ work promotes awareness on human rights issues in Latin America. SSpecifically, some of his photos featured in The New York Times Magazine in 1978 helped educate readers about the uprising against the Somoza regime in Nicaragua. A lot of his photos of the Mozote massacre in El Salvador in 1981 have also been used to commemorate the victims and draw attention to the event.
Satinsky turned to three glass tables in the center of the gallery. Colorful documents, flyers and timetables adorned their tops. According to Satinsky, these archives, which come from the Museum of Modern Art, form the backbone of the exhibition.
Satinsky described how Duganne, his co-curator, discovered these archives at MoMA in 2015.
“They weren’t cataloged, they were sitting in boxes, … and that kind of set her on a quest to see how big ‘Artists Call’ was and how many people were involved.”
Satinsky continued, discussing a critical and shared conservative intent.
“Erina and I don’t have the lived experience of being… from Central America,” she said. “So we invited a range of artists, who have diverse experiences, to think about what the archives tell them.”
Satinsky and Duganne ordered five artists to respond to the archives. A catalog that accompanies the exhibition presents the ideas of the artists.
Billboard artist Josh McPhee is part of Boston’s SMFA Exhibition “The call of the artists”. Satinsky said his catalog item was intended to make MoMA’s archives more accessible.
Salvadoran artist Beatrice Cortez has challenged the original portrayal of Central America artists in “Artists Call”. His piece in the catalog inserts critical art of Central American history in the original “Artists Call” exhibitions.
Moving from catalog thoughts to art in space, Satinsky beckons to a raw canvas covering almost the entire right wall of the gallery.
“It’s quite a large work that we can have here,” she said, explaining that it was Leon Golub’s work “Napalm 1”, a reference to the Vietnam War.
“It’s a work that speaks explicitly to political violence and masculinity,” she said. “He makes it by mixing his pigments and… [using] a butcher knife to push the pigments. So even in the act of doing, it speaks to this kind of political violence.
Satinsky moved on, presenting At Muriel Hasbun’s art collection and noting that the section “enters into this idea of doing and community.” In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Hasbun’s mother ran the avant-garde El Laberinto gallery in El Salvador. From there, Hasbun curated a small collection of works from her mother’s archive for Tufts.
“I think when we talk about communities, they’re often controversial,” Satinsky said. “They are not homogeneous and they have their own relationships.”
Hasbun’s mother’s gallery and selected works currently on display express these more nuanced intentions of “Artists Call”.
In addition to a catalog part, artist Beatrice Cortez was commissioned to create a separate work of art for the exhibition. Cortez made a “geodesic dome” that viewers can climb inside. “Artists Call” archives hang on the sculpture. There are family photos, political clippings and other bits of history.
Satinsky then elaborated on this assortment, explaining Cortez as “creating this confluence”.
“She thinks of herself as a young person, like a young artist living in El Salvador when ‘Artists Call’ was performing,” Satinsky said. “But there was this gesture through time, so this structure is also meant to go through time.”
The final section, titled “Self-Determination and Sovereignty”, is at the bottom.
“One of the fundamental principles of ‘Artists Call’ was about the self-determination of the peoples of Central America and this is very much related to the self-determination of the natives,Said Satinsky.
To close the exhibit, Satinsky mentioned an artwork that comments on the pervasive nature of historical trauma. It’s a 2003 film by Daniel Flores that features interviews with descendants of “La Mantanza”, survivors of the January 1932 massacre that killed between 10,000 and 40,000 Salvadorans protesting the oppressive government.
“We’re ending with this piece because it’s about the cyclical nature of things,” Satinsky said. “It speaks to the kind of complexity of experiences and how we tell stories.”
The exhibition certainly speaks to the complexity of history and the importance of the stories that run through it. “Art For the Future: Artists Call and Central American solidarity” is an impressive demonstration of this complexity of experience. Open until April 24, it is sure to spark important dialogue and commemorate victims of atrocities.