When the Hispanic population of the eight-county metro area nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census, and when that population now makes up about 4.5 percent of Shelby County, you can bet that there are Hispanic artists around recording their experiences and feelings.
Dixon Gallery and Gardens takes a small measure of those experiences in the exhibition "Memphis Vive: Latino Art in the Mid-South," on display in the museum's Mallory/Wurtzburger Gallery through Sept. 16. The gathering of 18 works by 14 artists was organized by the Dixon's associate curator Julie Pierotti with the aid of such experts as Richard Lou, the chairman of the art department at the University of Memphis, and Kathy Barnes, a founding member of Centro Cultural Latino de Memphis.
The exhibition's other sponsor is La Prensa Latina, the purveyor of bilingual news and the Hispanic Yellow Pages.
"We had wanted to do a show like this for three or four years," says Pierotti, "and it has gotten a great reaction. In fact, our board is excited that we have the exhibition here,because it's a new area for the Dixon."
Finding the artists for the show was largely a matter of word-of-mouth and asking people who had contacts in the Hispanic community, Pierotti says, "and I'm glad for that because I had not heard of most of the artists."
Though "Memphis Vive" is compact, it offers ecumenical diversity in subject, style and medium, as well as in the experience and professional level of the artist. That roster ranges from Fabian Lopez, a 10th-grader at Oakland High School, to Maritza Davila, professor of printmaking at Memphis College of Art. The exhibition includes photographs, paintings and drawings, ceramics, jewelry and printmaking, as well as multimedia works.
Stylistically, the show encompasses both the folk art-like effort of Gloria Gonvera's small painting "Ghosts by Mid-Day" and the highly conceptualized abstract constructions of Livia Oritz-Rios.
In other words, the art produced by Latinos in the Mid-South cannot be contained under one theme or motivation.
"The work in the show is diverse," says Barnes, "as diverse as the artists, some of whom have notable experience and some of whom are emerging. What's important is to have the cultural traditions of the artists reflected back at them through a multitude of approaches and that the show redefines cultural production in the Mid-South."
Barnes is not Latina, though she has, she says, relatives who are. Moreover, her photography, such as "Woman in Mirror," her piece in this exhibition, focuses on events and issues in the local Latino community.
Perhaps some definitions are in order. What, for example, is the difference between "Hispanic" and "Latino"?
"Both words are Eurocentric," says Lou, whose heritage is Chinese on his father's side and Mexican on his mother's, "and based on European languages. 'Latino' has come to be the preferred term because it recognizes the indigenous presence of the Americas."
Lou pointed out three ways in which "Memphis Vive" is important to the local community.
"First," he says, "there's the aspect of collaboration between institutions. Then, there's the sense of asset-mapping, meaning that planning the exhibition helped us find artists, which means that we can help and support them. And third is the role of the Centro in expanding and highlighting the Latino presence in the city."
Lou says that though he does not personally favor one aspect of his family's dichotomous heritage over the other, in his photography, installation and performance work "the ideology of that framework is Chicano."