“La Onda Chicana,” a vivid new exhibit highlighting contemporary Latino artists, opened Sunday at the Mattatuck Museum at 144 W. Main St. in Waterbury. The exhibit joined “Femicide Florals,” a large-scale installation that opened in February memorializing the murders of Argentinian women in 2019.
Even though both exhibits use different mediums to explore different topics and time periods, both expand the understanding of how contemporary Latino artists reflect the modern day.‘La Onda Chicana’/ ‘The Chicanx Wave’
“La Onda Chicana,” known in English as “The Chicanx Wave,” features artwork by over 30 artists and combines a number of different mediums including photography, sculpture, silk screen printing, pottery and even a child-sized Lotería table strategically placed in a corner.
The exhibit highlights contemporary Latino artists and draws inspiration from the counterculture of the 1960s. South of the border, the exhibit was inspired by La Onda, a multidisciplinary artistic movement that grew out of the Mexican avant-garde. North of the border, the exhibit was inspired by the Chicano Civil Rights movement, especially in workers’ rights and school desegregation.
Chief Curator Cecelia “Keffie” Feldman said many of the works were lent to the Mattatuck from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in partnership with the Art Bridges Foundation. Others were strategic loans from area institutions, private lenders and artists themselves.
“It has also just been an incredibly rewarding opportunity for me to get to know these artists and create a sense of partnership and community with them,” Feldman said at the exhibit’s opening.
Yolanda Vásquez Petrocelli is one of the artists featured in “The Chicanx Wave.” She left her home in Mexico City over 40 years ago, moved around a bit and now lives in Read’s Artspace in Bridgeport.
“Connecticut taught me to get in touch with nature and have solitude in art to create,” she said.
Even though many of the other works in the exhibit share the bright colors of Mexican sarape blankets, Vásquez’s contribution is a set of somber black-and-white photographs that explore the relationship between herself and her mestiza heritage. Particularly striking are a pair of self-portraits where Vásquez stares directly at the camera, almost as if defying it to capture her likeness.
Alicia Cobb also works at Read’s Artspace Bridgeport, and attended the opening to support Vásquez and draw inspiration from other artists.
As a mixed-race visual artist and fine art body painter, and also being arts-educator born, Cobb said the themes of identity and insider/outsider status throughout the exhibit resonated with her.
“I take any chance I get to see the work of other artists,” she said. “People from Latin Art have a lot to offer. If you’re not white European, you’re an outcast.”‘Femicide Florals’/ ‘Flores de Femicidio’
In a nearby exhibit room, “Flores de Femicidio,” known in English as “Femicide Florals” is a collection of 327 paper flowers to form a visual calendar of the 327 femicides that occurred in Argentina in 2019 including five trans women.
Artist Natali Bravo-Barbee said she is a survivor of domestic violence and created the florals after she got help, turning shame into inspiration.
She was born in Córdoba, Argentina, and immigrated in 1980. She now lives in Queens, New York.
“I needed to tell the story of women that weren’t as fortunate as I was that didn’t have the help that they needed that didn’t serve their situation,” she said.
Femicide is generally understood to involve intentional murder of women because they are women.
According to a fact sheet from the World Health Organization, femicide is usually perpetrated by men, and is different from male homicide.
Most cases of femicide are committed by partners or ex-partners, and involve ongoing abuse in the home, threats or intimidation, sexual violence or situations where women have less power or fewer resources than their partner.
Because of its heavy subject matter, the work took artist Bravo-Barbee about two and a half years to complete. Bravo-Barbee began the project in January 2019 by researching each woman’s story and gathering an archive for each victim — including media coverage and traces found on social media.
She said the information-gathering was the most difficult part of the project, and she sometimes had to take a break to create the flower petal patterns.
“Sometimes I had to take some time away because it was too heavy,” she said. “Creation was a savior.”
Beautiful and delicate, the cyanotype flower patterns are reminiscent of fine china and contrast with the violent theme of the exhibit. Bravo-Barbee explained that Cyanotyping is a process halfway between photography and painting, as treated paper forms monochrome patterns after exposure to UV light.
Bravo-Barbee individually cut, painted and exposed every petal to reflect the unique nature of every victim of femicide.
She added that the colors were chosen to reflect the colors of the Argentinian flag, and the tag of every flower and its striped-air-mail string resemble forensic tags.
Moving forward, Bravo-Barbee hopes to amplify the project on a wider scale and continue to break taboos surrounding conversations around generational violence.
“When I created the femicide florals, even though [I was] holding the magnifying glass in only one country, Argentina, domestic violence and femicide happened worldwide,” she said. “By all of us becoming aware of how we can help and becoming safe spaces to have these conversations, we can save even just one life.”
”La Onda Chicana”/ “The Chicanx Wave” is on display at the Mattatuck Museum until May 28, 2023, and “Femicide Florals”/“Flores de Femicidio” is on display until April 30, 2023. The museum also plans on hosting La Onda Chicana Block Party on Saturday, April 29. As a family program, it is offered for free to Waterbury Pubic School Students and will featurie Mexican food trucks, a Mariachi band and a community mural project. For more information, visit https://www.mattmuseum.org/
Latino Communities Reporter Lau Guzmán is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation at https://bit.ly/3Pdb0re, To learn more about RFA, visit www.reportforamerica.org.