Dissonant Communities in Contemporary Latinx Art
These three essays on U.S. Latinx art address a dynamically expanding archive that troubles monolithic notions of the relationship between nation, identity, race, ethnicity, and language, inviting a comparative approach. The very rubric of “U.S. Latinx” itself (a gender-neutral alternative to Latina/o and Latin/a) is contested as a panethnicity, as it refers to a range of heterogeneous groups. Much contemporary Latinx art follows the tradition of critiquing ideologies of nation and belonging—a tradition forcefully articulated in the Chicano poetry integral to the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The genesis of Latinx art is based in migration and displacement, and its history, like the history of Latinx identity more broadly, is inseparable from the history of U.S. interventionism in Latin America.
The essays featured in this special section are drawn from three fields: literary scholarship, visual art practice, and ethnomusicology. They focus on the circuit between Puerto Rico and the mainland U.S., on the Mexico-U.S. Borderlands, and on the staging of [End Page 157] Brazilian cultural performances in globalized urban spaces. What emerges from this work is a pointed set of critical tools for thinking about contact zones and the process of mutual cultural transformation that Fernando Ortiz memorably called “transculturation.” In “‘The Shuffle of the City Finally Becomes Us’: The Corporality of Place in the Poetry of Urayoán Noel,” Emily Maguire uses the term “dissonant communities” to describe the urban flux of diasporic bodies, languages, and mistranslations in the poetry of Puerto Rican poet-scholar Urayoán Noel. She examines the construction of lyric and bodily subjectivity through the poetic encounter with cityscapes, analyzing Noel’s intertextuality, performative gestures, and multilingualism in his “interzone” of punning and (self-) translation. Noel identifies as a “stateless poet,” and Maguire writes that in his work, “stateless” is a multi-faceted term that not only refers to Puerto Rico’s status as an unincorporated U.S. territory, but also to the idea that, more broadly, identity is not permanently tied to one’s place of origin. She maintains that for Noel, poetry is “an embodied enunciation, an act of errantry that in its plurality and diversity becomes seen as ‘damaged or ‘unmanageable.’”
William Nericcio’s “The Picasso of the Rio Grande Valley (Wait, or Is That Foucault?): Pondering the Wickedly Ciphered, Frontera-inflected Paintings of Izel Vargas, Artist/Painter & Television Kidnap Victim!” is, as its title indicates, at once rigorous and rollicking in its examination of the work of Border artist Izel Vargas. Vargas explores the oscillations of institutions and cultural practices (and the affective and archival territory of la frontera) by questioning the semantics of Dora the Explorer as a pop culture image. Nericcio formulates the term “Xicanosmosis” to refer to “what happens when the cultures and histories of the United States and Latin America combine, clash, fuse, and frolic.” He shows that in Vargas’s work, “the superficial and subterranean workings of the Mexican-American border come to life” in images that range from Jesus to taco trucks, La Migra (the border patrol), saints, comics, and popsicles but which are always “deformed, deranged, re-visioned, re-purposed, damaged, and perverse.”
Shifting from borderland icons to mass urban spectacles, Daniel Gough contends that Brazilian carnival is both a genre of cultural performance and a mode of urban social life. In “Re-contextualized Carnivals: A Brazilian Art Form in Global Spaces of Festivalization,” he compares the phenomenon of Brazilian carnival in the 2016 Opening Ceremony of the Olympic games in Rio de [End Page 158] Janeiro and at Planet Chicago, arguing that the performances demonstrated the significant links between identity politics, cultural performance, and the repurposing of strategic urban locations as entertainment zones in large cities throughout the world. Although the two performances engaged carnival musicality to indicate racial and ethnic plurality, Gough argues that they ultimately elided the structural racism and histories of migration that generated that plurality in these spaces of global contact.
Bringing these essays together is an effort to contribute to a hemispheric approach to Latinx cultural forms that is committed to comparativism, even as it is rigorously and sensitively attuned to the specificities of local contexts. The inhabitants of the Americas are inevitably intertwined, José Martí wrote, because of the history of colonization—which continues today under the imperialist policies of enforced neoliberalism and neo-colonialism. Understanding the interlocking political and cultural realities of the Americas, as illuminated through the perspicacity and provocations of U.S. Latinx art, is increasingly crucial in today’s political climate. [End Page 159]
RACHEL GALVIN is assistant professor of English and Latina/o Literature at the University of Chicago. Three books are forthcoming in 2017: Poetry and the Press in Wartime (1936-1945); a poetry collection, Lost Property Unit, from Green Lantern Press; and a translation of two volumes of Oliverio Girondo’s poetry, with co-translator Harris Feinsod, from Open Letter Books. She is the author of a collection of poems, Pulleys & Locomotion, and translator of Raymond Queneau’s Hitting the Streets, which won the Scott Moncrieff Prize. With Bonnie Costello, she co-edited a collection of essays, Auden at Work.