Some works of art hang from the ceiling of VCU’s Institute of Contemporary Art, interrupting the viewer’s field of vision. Others are mounted on the walls, overlooking passers-by. All plays openly tell a story full of gender-based violence and patriarchal oppression.
“Aquí Me Quedo / Here I Stayfeatures the work of Costa Rican artist Sila Chanto and Dominican artist Belkis Ramírez. The exhibition, which opened at the ICA on May 6, confronts societal issues through printmaking. This is the first international showcase of the two artists‘ work since their deaths, but the collection is the first of its kind in more ways than one.
ICA executive director Dominic Willsdon says he is finding creative ways for the museum to connect Richmond to the rest of the world. When he met art curator Miguel A. López in California about five years ago, Willsdon saw a chance to connect Richmond with Latin America.
“[The ICA] is interested in the wider Americas because there has been too little dialogue between art in North America and art in Latin America,” says Willsdon. “That has changed in recent years, and Miguel is one of those who changed it.”
López was invited by Willsdon to propose a curatorial project for the ICA. “I thought maybe now was the time to bring these two artists that I deeply admire into one space and see what happens,” López says. Soon, he became the first guest curator to host an exhibition at the ICA.
He was motivated not only by his admiration for Chanto and Ramírez, but also by his dedication to remembering Latino artists and their work. With the help of the Chanto and Ramírez families, curatorial friends and other collaborators, López was able to create the first international exhibition of the two artists’ work since the deaths of Chanto in 2015 and Ramírez in 2019. The exhibition is also the first exhibition of the ICA presented based on the engraving.
Both artists creatively broke their own contexts by manipulating traditional printmaking into other forms such as sculpture and woodcut. Chanto and Ramírez have used their artistic talent to highlight the patriarchal shadow cast over society.
“They were introducing what I would call feminist research, which is basically a way of asking questions, a way of challenging a set of normalized patriarchal values,” López says.
The artists’ bold, powerful and uncensored pieces make the message impossible to avoid. “De MaR en peor/De la mer au pire” by Ramírez features sculpted and painted wooden figures of women suspended from the ceiling. These life-size figures appear to be floating, but closer examination reveals a hook piercing every woman. The installation presents different women as bait on the surging sea of human trafficking and patriarchal violence. Chanto’s “Retrato de grupo erótico homofilial/Portrait d’un groupe érótico homofilial” by Chanto depicts silhouettes of male soccer players embracing each other captured on cotton fabric using woodblock print. In the large-scale work, men’s shorts are replaced by the leather pattern of a soccer ball. Chanto’s work highlights homosexual repression and challenges normative masculinity.
López says he hopes visitors will see the commonalities between North American and Latin American societies. “I think it’s important to understand the patriarchal structure not as a national issue but as a global situation,” he says. He also wants people to accept the vulnerability as reflected in the exhibit. “I think we live in a world that asks us to be strong,” says López. “We have to accept vulnerability because it’s one of the things we all have in common.”
“Aquí Me Quedo / Here I Stay” continues at VCU’s Institute of Contemporary Art through Sunday, June 19. Free.