Saturday, May 03, 2008

Otras Américas

Exhibition poster (click to enlarge). Image found here.

[UPDATE: At the end of this post I've added a link to the work of one of the other exhibitors]

Last night I was privileged to attend the artists' reception for Otras Américas, an exhibition of photographs (both conventional and digital) from throughout Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean, taken by a dozen Kansas-area photographers. This exhibition will be in place at CityArts until May 24th; I hope that you local folks will find your way there.

I knew about this exhibit because my bloggy KC friend emawkc of Three O'Clock in the Morning was kind enough to point me to this post by Lucas Hutmacher, one of the photographers whose work is in the exhibit and whom it was my pleasure to meet and talk with for a while last night. Against all odds, Lucas has become a regular reader of good old Blog Meridian (I mean, really: who in full possession of their faculties . . . ?), but that's not why I'm posting about this exhibit. Lucas's pictures were taken in Peru, a place whose people, judging from his pictures, love bright, ostensibly-clashing color that shouldn't "work" but always manages to every bit as much as Mexicans do. Here are posts and pictures from Peru on Lucas' blog, when he went with a small group to supply labor for some renovation and farming projects and then play tourist at Macchu Picchu. Only a couple of these actually appear in the exhibit, which is a shame: some of these are quite good. Lucas tends toward shots with quirky perspectives, which fits well with what many people feel when visiting those "other" Americas for the first time. As one example, which I learned from his pictures: Who among you knew that in Peru you can buy "Kansas brand" denim jeans--or that they even existed, for that matter? Weird.

More below the fold.

Here, Lucas presents the motivation for the show:

The concept of ‘Otras Americas’ is that there are Americas other than the U.S. of A, it’s just that we were the only ones uncreative enough to put it in the name of our country. North America, Central America and South America contain a vast number of countries and diversity of people and that we are united by the geography of our lands. While we share the "American" surname with Latin Americans most honkies really don't know much about "other" American cultures in general or the differences and nuances between them. Most gringos tend to think of the Latino culture as essentially Mexican - whether out of racism or out of ignorance.

It's not dismissive to say that we "know" this already, precisely because, as Lucas implies, if we already "know" it, why do we have to keep on being reminded of it? I think part of it is that, as the pictures confirm (or remind, in my case), those other Americas are often difficult for us, in our prettified, freeze-dried, rough-edges-smoothed corner of the hemisphere, to recognize connections to. Widely-differing standards of living have something to do with that felt lack of connection, of course, but cultural differences figure into this as well.

One case in point is Ken Enquist's pictures of Semana santa (Holy Week) processions in a town in Mexico (which I neglected to note). Looking at their vaguely-sepia tones that make them look antique, even though such events still occur throughout Mexico and Latin America, I found myself thinking about several things: the posadas (processions held in the days before Christmas that symbolize Joseph and Mary's seeking lodging before Mary gave birth to Jesus) that I participated in in San Miguel de Allende a few years ago; the veneration of the Virgin of Guadalupe every December 12th; and the fact that in this country, the closest thing we have to such events is . . . Mardi Gras and St. Patrick's Day. Those are events that, I suspect, have lost much of their deep social and cultural resonance for the vast majority of those who participate in them. Whatever the cultural equivalent to secularization is--cultural homogenization?--we here are awfully adept at it.

To be sure, Otras Américas is a reminder that much unites the peoples of Latin America in particular: chief among them the still-strong cultural (if not spiritual) influences of Catholicism, a common language, and the pre-Hispanic indigenous peoples of these lands--a cultural homogeneity of a different sort, yes, but one very different from our own. "Otras," indeed.

UPDATE: Skippy Sánchez (and no, I don't know), Lucas' father, is also exhibiting his work in this show. Here is a nice selection of his pictures from various places in central Mexico, some of which are in the show.


Lucas said...

It was great to meet you as well. Thanks again for coming & for the kind words.

We all find it strange when people read stuff we write huh? Outside of family, i'm usually shocked myself.

At any rate, give a shout if you get up to KC and we'll grab drink or some cheap bbq.
- Lucas

R. Sherman said...

The concept of ‘Otras Americas’ is that there are Americas other than the U.S. of A, it’s just that we were the only ones uncreative enough to put it in the name of our country. (Emphasis Added)

I will be the first to concede a woeful ignorance on the part of many of our compatriots when it comes to knowledge of other cultures/places/people. Nonetheless, I find the above sort of statements exaggerate the case for the following reason.

At the time our country was founded there was an extraordinary tension between the individual colonies and their interests and the idea of a strong centralized government. See, e.g. the Articles of Confederation. Thus, the emphasis was on the individual States which, as we know, existed within the continents of the Americas. Indeed, until the Civil War the USA was a plural noun, i.e. "The U.S. are . . ."

The "of America" part of our country's name goes only to modify "United States" and distinguishes us from all the European empires which united various states and principalities under an absolutist Tsar or Kaiser.