The Museum of Nebraska Art — or MONA — sits on the main drag of the small, central Nebraska town of Kearney. This winter, it has featured work by the state's Latina artists in the first show of its kind.
The show, called Mujeres (“women” in Spanish), features work from five contemporary Latina artists. MONA prides itself on representing the state’s history and culture for diverse audiences. A few years ago, the museum's curator, Teliza Rodriguez, organized a huge retrospective of African American artists. Her goal, she said, has been to expand the concept of what constitutes a Nebraska artist.
“When you have histories that maybe have not been captured as they should have been captured, it is a responsibility for an institution to gather those histories, hold them up, hold them in regard, and then you put them back in their proper place in history,” Rodriguez said. “But if you don't regard them in the first place, then you have to go back and amend that.”
Nebraska’s Hispanic population doubled between 2000 and 2010. Rodriguez says she wanted to feature these women to highlight their commentary about today’s world. Most of the artists created original works for this exhibition; art that reflects political, social and environmental issues.
“This exhibition will woo you with all the beauty, but don't be mistaken — it has teeth,” Rodriguez said.
In the center of an exhibition hall was an installation by Claudia Alvarez: A ghostly-pale woman and child, sculpted from clay, sitting on a wooden bench. Two other clay children lay on the floor in piles of flowers, one at the base of a blackened tree.
“Everything is like creamish-colored, with tones of peach and then black, which makes you think of burning. I think at first glance there can be a real macabre feel to it,” Rodriguez said.
Alvarez was born in Mexico, and now lives and works in New York and Omaha.
“When we talked about this work we talked about how, well that's how motherhood is, it's all at once beautiful and endearing and tender but fierce and scary at the same time,” Rodriguez said.
Though most of the artists didn’t know each other before the show, Rodriguez said nearly all the works share common themes.
“The physical world, the spiritual world, femininity, masculinity, conflict, history, present day, our connection to the land. And they all do something that's kind of this hand working, bordering craft,” Rodriguez said.
Visual artist Nancy Friedemann-Sánchez is originally from Colombia and moved to Lincoln five years ago. She has been working on a large body of work she likens to a visual novel. “Cornucopia," at MONA, is the first piece of chapter four, she said. Cornucopia is a lush, colorful painted collage on a black backdrop. A vessel on the bottom overflows with plants, flowers and animals while tiny men with guns move in from the edges.
“My work is feminist at its core, my work is also about migration. So I wanted to make a piece that is very clear in its message,” said Friedemann-Sánchez. She said this work will tell part of the complex story of migration and the transcultural experience many Americans live every day.
That resonates with Sandra Williams, a Cleveland-born artist of Peruvian descent.
“It's like you're not Spanish enough for one group but then you're not American enough for the other, you're sort of in-between. And you inhabit this sort of borderland,” said Williams, associate professor of art at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her piece for the MONA exhibition uses intricate cut-paper works to tell a Peruvian folktale about the Ukuku, or Bear Prince.
“It’s sort of the opposite of a western fairy tale. Really it's a story that's about bias,” Williams said.
Williams said even though each woman brought her own unique Latina heritage to the art, all the works shared threads of narrative. Curator Rodriguez said even she was surprised how well the diverse pieces worked together.
“There are such similarities that run through the entire thing, and I knew that innately, but I didn't realize what the deep, deep-seated overlap of who they are as women and as Latinas, what type of collaboration would happen in the exhibition,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the show reinforced these women’s place in Nebraska’s larger artistic heritage, and the museum will continue to present the diverse perspectives of Nebraskans in the future.
Mujeres, through February 12 at the Museum of Nebraska Art, 2401 Central Avenue, Kearney, Nebraska, 68847; 308-865-8559.
This story is part of Artland, a public-radio collaboration reporting on creative efforts that build community in unexpected places throughout the Midwest.