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Latina art collective Electric Machete on the Guerrilla Girls and mainstream feminism


At Hyperallergic, Kari Mugo speaks with Rebekah Crisanta and Jessica Lopez Lyman, two of the five Latina members of the Minnesota art collective Electric Machete Studios, which describes itself as a “collective of artists, musicians, dancers, stylists, producers, film makers, fashion designers, curators, teachers, and community organizers.” Electric Machete is one of many art organizations participating in the project Guerrilla Girls Twin Cities Take Over, organized by the feminist art-activism group. While Electric Machete professes an admiration for the Guerrilla Girls, they also point out how racially tone-deaf some of their work can be. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

KM: Let’s talk about partnering with Guerrilla Girls for “Intervention.”

RC: I have a lot of respect for them. But I think their message missed the mark a lot in terms of whom they’re representing. So that was part of our idea too — we’re going to insert ourselves into the narrative of women artists who are excluded from the “art scene,” but also show how Latina artists are missing or being misappropriated even in the Guerrilla Girls’ message.

JLL: I think what’s hard is we have these contradictions when we have multiple identities. One half is like, “Okay they’re women and we have to support this,” but at the same time you’ve got some white woman calling herself Frida Kahlo. One of my home girls got an opportunity to interview the Guerrilla Girls and she asked them about the name of Frida Kahlo and the woman responded, “Well, I don’t know, maybe my grandmother’s Latina or something, I need to look into that.”

Mainstream white America is more racially conscious now that at least folks know that it’s not okay to appropriate in that way, so they have to justify by saying they have a lineage of some sort. Which to me is also very disheartening and problematic because for many Latinos in particular, the forced assimilation that folks have had to go through, the stripping away of indigenous language first by the Spanish and then the stripping away of Spanish by the British — these are generations of traumatic assimilation stories and so to just “try on” an ethnicity is a mockery of our very livelihood.

I don’t want to outright dismiss their work, but I think it’s very problematic when their voice is the only alternative voice or challenge to mainstream arts institutions.

RC: I’m really uncomfortable that one of them calls herself Frida Kahlo. What the Guerrilla Girls do brilliantly is to open up the conversation. Where I think they can go a little bit further is in actually giving a platform to communities to speak from their own voices.

Image: Installation view of Tania Galaviz De Espinoza’s “Concha” (2016). Via Hyperallergic.