Excluded Histories: A Visual Exploration of Identity over the last 40 Years

Since 1974, En Foco has been dedicated to promoting cultural diversity in the field of photography. While its efforts were originally focused on Latin@s* in New York, En Foco soon expanded its mission to include photographers of African and Asian heritage in the United States and Native Peoples of the Americas and the Pacific.

Over the last 38 years, En Foco has acquired nearly 700 prints from many of the photographers who have taken part in the programs En Foco offers. These prints encompass a variety of subject matter, points of view and photographic styles. Many have historically been excluded from mainstream institutions, such as museums, galleries and in academic settings for a variety of reasons, including structural and institutional racism.

Featured artists such as Adál and Charles Biasiny-Rivera dissect the intricacies of their Latin@ identity through their photographs, while Lola Flash deconstructs racism, sexism, and homophobia through her compelling portraiture. The exploration of identity becomes a critical guide for the inner-workings of an external perception of self and the construction of a contemporary artistic community.

Adál, Conceptual Jibaro Art, 1990.  **
Charles Biasiny-Rivera, Child God, 1998. **
Lola Flash, Kinky D, [sur]passing series, 2003.  **

Some of the earliest work in the collection is primarily represented in a documentary style of photography that emerged during and directly after the civil rights era. This work is the transition between outsider’s cultural representation/interpretation of inner-city life of Latin@s and African Americans to a form of self-representation, as the emerging photographers were those living and understanding the complexities of life in these neighborhoods. These photographers became a crucial aspect in the political and social movements of the time. One example of this earlier work is Louis Carlos Bernal‘s Dos Mujeres, Familia Lopez 1978. Louis Carlos Bernal captures the souls of the Mexican American communities of the Southwest.

Louis Carlos Bernal, Dos Mujeres, Familia Lopez 1978.

The second part of the collection and exhibition is the beginning of the 1990’s when a multicultural discourse is set in place. These photographs and photographers span multiple cultural and ethnic voices, promoting an inclusive nature to En Foco as well as a safe space for artists who have historically been excluded from this medium’s history.

The photographs that stem from the beginning of the 1990’s to present day explore in-depth discourses surrounding otherness, identity and socially constructed ideologies of self. For example, Gerald Cyrus, Los Angeles born, moved to NYC and began photographing on the streets of Harlem capturing a vibrant music scene that reflected the rich cultural discourse of the 1990’s. He brought the jazz scene in African American communities to the visual forefront of America, creating impeccable and nostalgic photographs. His work not only included the musicians but the dancers, bartenders, barflys, hustlers, lovers and others that were prominently part of the jazz scene as well. His photograph, St. Nick’s Pub, Harlem, 1995, is a perfect example of the eclectic community members and scenes he captured.

Gerald Cyrus, St. Nicks Pub, Harlem, 1995.  **

The final part of the exhibition examines the more contemporary works of art from 2000 to the present day. The contemporary work in this collection is not only that of the digital era, but these pieces of work are critical of the contemporary art scene and explicit in their visual analysis of their cultural histories today. Terry Boddie’s series, Residue of Memory 2000/2007, is an investigation of the relationship between documented memory and individual and personal memory in the Caribbean. The juxtaposition of the black and white photograph with the bright yellow hues in the piece, School Days**, reflects the tension between both kinds of memory as well as history and myth, and remembering versus forgetting.

Ana de Orbegoso’s series, Urban Virgins, is, as quoted in her artist statement, “ [a culmination of] colonial paintings, revised and reinvented to reflect contemporary realities and ideals”. Her photograph, La Virgin del Norte, is an example of the transformation from analog photography to digital photography. Here, Orbegoso provides a visual confrontation of colonialism and the transformation of art as propaganda to convey a different message then the Spanish colonizers originally intended with their religious paintings in Peru. Orbegoso re-establishes these images as ones that strengthen the value of Peruvian women, instead of imposing and binding western religion, stereotypes and ideas onto them.

Each and every one of these photographers have not only created visually stimulating pieces of artwork, but they have challenged us to alter our preconceived notions of belonging and speculative spaces, inspired us to embrace our multi-faceted and layered identities and to explore in-depth the discourses surrounding the misrepresentation of our histories. These prints and others by Jane Tam, Larry McNeil, Sama Alshaibi, Kunié Sugiura for example, are all extremely valued not only for the impressive and creative elements but for the resonance of power and state of reflection they so generously provide.

Please join us for the Opening reception at Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art on Thursday June 28th, 2012 from 6-9pm. We are so lucky to have this inspiring exhibition so close to New York City where many of these artists reside! For the full list of artists in the exhibition, click here.

There will also be a Curatorial Panel on July 10th featuring Deborah Willis, Curator, Educator, Photo Historian; Brendan Wattenberg, curator at the Walther Collection; Elizabeth Ferrer, Curator of En Foco/In Focus and Director of Visual Arts at BRIC/Rotunda Gallery;  and Miriam Romais, En Foco Executive Director.

And an Artist Talk on July 17th featuring Terry Boddie, Lola Flash, and Samantha Box.

Both the Curatorial Panel and Artist Talk will also be held at Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art, 591 Broad Street, Newark, NJ 07102.

Terry Boddie, School Days, 2000/2007.  **
Ana De Orbegoso, La Virgin Del Norte.  **

*The “@” symbol is used in order to create gender inclusivity in this context.

** This print, or a similar one by this artist, is available as part of En Foco’s Print Collectors Program.

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