When people think about Latin American women artists, what names did they remember? This is a difficult question. They will probably remember just one name: Frida Kahlo. It is clear that most of the Latin American female artists are in an invisible corner of the art world. Just a few achieved to be known beyond the circle of art experts. In this post, I want to introduce to you 8 Latin American Women Artists (from past and present) that you should know.
Tarsila do Amaral
Tarsila do Amaral is the most famous Brazilian artist of 20th century, but t was only recently when her work started to receive attention out of Brazil. Only in 2017-18 she had a solo exhibition in the US at the Art Institute of Chicago and at the New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
She was a member of the São Paulo bourgeoisie, and she travelled to Paris in 1920, there she took lessons with Fernand Léger and met other avant-garde artists such as Picasso and Brancusi. Back to Brazil, she brought elements from modernist art to her painting but making them her own by mixing them with other elements from Brazilian culture. Her works are filled with vibrant scenes of Brazilian life, with powerful bodies of female figures.
Her most famous work Abaporu inspired the Anthropophagy movement, which prompted artists to define a uniquely Brazilian style by “cannibalizing” aspects of Western Art. She is one of the responsible by re-shape a postcolonial national identity in Brazilian art.
Teresa Burga has placed the female body at the centre of her Pop-inflected work. Her paintings and sculptures are playful, but at the same time they have questioned the females stereotypes as well as patriarchal art-world hierarchies. Her work implicates mass media and totalitarian rule as culprits of the chauvinism. She began her career in the 1960s, as political unrest in Peru escalated.
Burga was a founding member of the group Arte Nuevo, which helped introduce Pop art and Happenings in Peru, and her early work resisted dictator Alvarado’s nationalist preference towards indigenous art. In the 60s, her bright figurative paintings parodied sexist portrayals of women, while modular sculptures built from cubes depicted body parts and addressed commodification of the female form.
Other works needed more intensive research. For example, the Profile of the Peruvian Woman (1908-81), she and the psychotherapist Marie-France Cathelat researched the lives of middle-class women as fodder for a multimedia installation which explored the dissonance between real Peruvian women and the stereotypes placed on them.
Beatriz Milhazes is a Brazilian collage artist and painter known for her work large-scale works and vibrant colours, also for juxtaposing Brazilian cultural imagery and references to Western Modernist painting. She is considered the most successful Brazilian contemporary painter. Milhazes is predominantly concerned with the principle of collage, drawing from her combined knowledge of both Latin American and European traditions, however her work in influenced too by the decorative arts, fashion, and geometry.
Her work has been exhibited in a number of museums around the world, including the MoMA in New York and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Some of her works are port of the permanent collections of the MoMa, the Guggenheim or the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. Her work Meu limão was sold in 2021 for $2.1 million dollars at Sotheby’s in California, making her the highest-priced living Brazilian artist at auction.
Marisol Escobar, who is best known as just Marisol, was born in Paris to a wealthy Venezuelan family. During the 1960s, she began spending time in New York, soaking up the Pop art scene, which was emerging at the time. It is said that she received “more press and more visibility than Andy Warhol” in the 60s, but as it happens to many women artists, her influence was eventually eclipsed by her male counterparts.
Her playful, satirical sculptures blended influences as wide-ranging as Robert Rauschenberg’s assemblages and pre-Columbian folk art. the resulting totemic figures depicted not only famous figures, such as the Kennedys, but also everyday families, while incorporating elements shaped from her own body. This way, she combined the personal and the political, hinting at the nascent of the feminist art movement.
Lygia Clark was one of several artists during the 1960s in Brazil to pioneer interactive, immersive art, as an attempt to break down the boundaries between life and art. She began her practice by exploring geometric abstraction while the realism was still the dominant motif in Rio de Janeiro. Inspired by modernist artists, such as Léger or Paul Klee, she broke from their style by bringing hard-edged forms of her painting into a three-dimensional space. Then she started making angular sculptures, Bichos (Critters) with the intention of being handled by the viewers.
Among Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Pape, Clark founded the Neo-Concrete movement, which encouraged participation, experimentation, sensuality, and political discourse within abstraction. Later, because of her desire to bring art and life closer, her work gravitated towards film and performance art. Eventually, she began to focus more on her practice as a psychologist, from early observations of people playing with her sculptures, she developed methods in which patients interacted with objects as part of their healing process.
When her portraits and mystical Surrealist paintings of interiors began to make waves in Mexico City in the 1930s, María Izquierdo was a single mother of three children. She took classes at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes. From then on, she developed a practice that rejected the political art that prevailed at the time, in instead she mingled elements of myth and Mexican popular culture with content related to her own identity and emotions. In 1930, there was a solo exhibition of her work in New York, making her the first Mexican female artist to do so.
Her popularity among the artistic elite of Mexico City began to wane, however in 1940s Diego Rivera blocked her from receiving an important public mural commission for which she was a finalist (a rare achievement for a woman at the time). He said she was unqualified, thenceforth her career suffered. Along the way, her legacy became hazy, despite her influence on Surrealist and figurative painters.
Marta Minujín spent the 1960s settled among the artist of the Pop art movement, she occasionally collaborated with Andy Warhol. Her plush sculptures, environments strung with glowing neon, and public performances were nothing like Warhol’s. Her works invited active participation and physical contact.
In the 60s, she began to transform multicoloured mattresses into bulging forms that made reference to human body, sex, and rest. They became central elements of environments like Lachambre d’amour (1963) or ¡Revuélquese y Viva! (1964), in both she encouraged the participants to leave their inhibitions at the door and roll around in a sea of cushions.
Her work has also addressed political issues like totalitarianism and oppression. For La caída de los mitos universales, she erected replicas of famous monuments around the world using fraught objects, such as books banned by the former Argentine dictatorship. Once the structure was dismantled, its components were distributed to the public.
Beatriz González describes herself as a transgressor that didn’t fit in her time. González came of age during the dawn of the Pop art and a period of conflict in Colombia, known as La Violencia. She unified both influences into a body of work that present references from art history and the social and political unrest of her time.
The Sisga Suicides I, II and III (1965), she appropriated a photo reproduced in local newspapers; it presented the smiling faces of a deeply religious couple who committed joint suicide to absolve the woman’s sin. Beatriz González reinterpreted this image in a series of bright, and flat paintings that highlight the tragic end of the couple, and the disturbing media sensation it caused.
Some of her other works question mass production by reproducing famous art historical works onto everyday household objects.
More about Latin American Artists on the blog:
- Abaporu by Tarsila do Amaral
- The gardian of the black egg by Leonor Fini
- On this day… died Anita Malfatti
- Silly Woman by Anita Malfatti
- Self-portrait by María Izquierdo, 1940
- I wish your wish by Rivane Neuenschwander
- Palimpsest by Doris Salcedo
- Interview with contemporary artist Juliana Naufel