Central American Artists Unite in ‘CARAVANA’

A new traveling exhibit highlights complex Central American diaspora stories.

It might be an impossible task to encompass all of Central American art into one exhibit, but that’s not what the curators for “CARAVANA” are trying to do. Instead, Fátima Ramírez, Mauricio Ramírez, and Josué Rojas hope to highlight a new generation of artists from the Central American diaspora. The themes are expansive, dealing with geography, mass migration, family separation, activism, and U.S. intervention. But they center on a unifying theme: Central American solidarity. 

“As we curated this exhibition, we kept meeting more Central American artists across the nation,” Mauricio Ramírez wrote to SF Weekly in an email. “We were astounded and excited to have met so many Central American artists and learn about the critical work they’re creating in their local communities and cities.” 

Josué Rojas, Fátima Ramírez, and Mauricio Ramírez are Salvadoran curators raised in the U.S. after their parents fled the Civil War. Courtesy photo

The curators focused on finding second or 1.5 generation artists who might not have had the fortune of press opportunities or exposure. But in the process, Mauricio was reminded of how there was still “more work to be done” to improve visibility and representation in the U.S. art world.

“It’s so rare to see art exhibitions by Central American artists or to see Central American curators creating spaces for Central American art,” Fátima Ramírez says. She notes how sensationalized headlines about violence in Central America and the exclusion of Central American voices don’t just contribute to erasure — it enables racial violence towards this diaspora through “increased border security, the prolonged detention of immigrants, and the separation of families.” That, combined with the homogenization of Latinx art, can be “frustrating” for many artists.

“One of the goals of curating an art exhibition that predominantly features Central American artists is to showcase the complicated nuances among people of Latin American ancestry in the United States,” Fátima wrote in an email to SF Weekly. For example, an artwork entitled Paleta y El Paletero, is a larger-than-life orange popsicle — a “sculptural intervention” to working-class narratives made by Oakland-based artist Rebeca Abidail Flores. The piece “wonders at the sense of joy exchanged between consumer and vendor, while acting as a pop-art-inspired nod to the labor of food workers.” “I’d like to believe that one day our lives will not be measured by the expectation of labor but by our joy,” Flores writes in her artist statement.

“CARAVANA” also features photographs of the PLACA murals that decorate the city’s iconic Balmy Alley, where artists in the 1980s gathered to make work in solidarity with Central Americans and in protest of U.S. intervention. “We looked locally to exhibit the rich tradition of solidarity that has existed in the San Francisco Bay Area,” Mauricio said. That work still is, unfortunately, extremely relevant in 2021. 

“We hope that we will mobilize visitors to feel a greater empathy with Central American migrants, because if they can put themselves in their shoes for a moment, they can recognize their humanity and challenge their prolonged detention in the United States,” Fátima said. 

“CARAVANA” is a traveling exhibit, and the curators hope to bring the work to Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. For now, it’s found a home at the SOMArts Cultural Center through April 15, where you can view the art online in a virtual gallery or through an in-person timed ticketed session. There are also various programs for the public, including a storytelling opening event on March 11 at 6 p.m., a two-part art workshop that starts on March 26, and a virtual screening of Las Madres de Berks on April 13. 

March 10 to April 15 | Free-$20
SOMArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan St.
415-863-1414 | somarts.org

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