Author Archives: Rosalia Romero

Rosas Blancas para mi Hermana Negra

Rosas Blancas para mi Hermana Negra, Mexico, 1970

This film begins with Laura (Libertad Lamarque), a white singer and mother, reassuring Roberta, the dark-skinned daughter of her best friend Angustias (Eusebia Cosme) that “in this country, racism does not exist.” Throughout the film, this statement is refuted, revealing the issues of racial prejudice in Mexican society. Laura’s daughter, Alicia, falls in love and wishes to marry Ricardo, a black medical student. When she presents him to her mother, Laura reveals her latent racism and forbids the relationship. Laura seeks advice from Angustias but the two fight after Laura shouts that she does not want a negro in her family. Soon after, Alicia grows ill and needs a life-saving heart transplant, while her boyfriend doctor stands by her side. Roberta gets hit by a car and suffers a fatal head wound after her boyfriend denies her in front of his boss. Laura must reconcile with Angustias and ask her for consent to transplant Roberta’s heart into Alicia. Angustias gives her consent saying, “It is a negro’s heart, but it is a heart none the less that will save your daughter.” The film ends with the two women saying their last goodbyes to Roberta at the cemetery.

Film still from “Rosas Blancas para mi Hermana Negra”

The film, directed by Abel Salazar, is set in 1970s Mexico against the backdrop of modern architecture and buildings from the colonial period. The plot resembles Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life, but has several plot changes and a lot more melodrama. The story is appropriated for Mexican culture and can function as a critique of racism in Mexico, but also distances and marginalizes the struggle of the Afro-Mexican characters. Eusebia Cosme’s, an Afro-Antillean actress born in Santiago, Cuba, character Angustias reveals that she fled from the United States to Mexico when her daughter Roberta was born so to raise her child in a society that would not treat her inferior to others. This marks her as not Mexican, but African-American and places her (and the ethnic group she represents) as a foreigner in the country. Her acceptance would defy the Mexican tradition of identifying itself as mestizaje, a mix between indigenous and European descent.

Chapter Entry: Looking for Empire in the U.S. Colonial Archive

Morillo-Alicea’s investigation into this subject is based on his research into the archives and collections of photographs taken in the early period of U.S. colonial rule in Puerto Rico. His article is not concerned with a formalist perspective of the photographs, but a critical look at what the “existence, collection, and preservation” of these photographs reveals about Puerto Rican history in the aftermath of 1898 and outcome during the Spanish-American War. Diving into the collection at the Bureau of Insular Affairs, the photographs he discovered tell the history of Puerto Rico as imagined by the United States, the colonizer. This research also offers inquiry into how the “colonial archive” and archival processes place the history of the United States as a colonial power in a global context. Morillo-Alicea explores census records, organizational models, education, and the role of bureaucrats in this new Puerto Rico to recognize the way in which power structures produced the visualization of the new colony.

Morillo-Alicea approaches the process of the first U.S. Census taken in Puerto Rico with criticality towards the imagined importance of state counting in this new colony and the role of the census as a “tool of empire.” When looking at a portrait of a group of enumerators for the 1899 Census, the first census taken as a colony of the U.S., his focus is not on personalizing the process of local counting by revealing the identities or social background of the sitters. The dominant male presence, except for one woman sitting in the center wearing black, is not mentioned. Rather the attributes of the photograph that are discussed are the staging of the portrait and the satchels that are worn by the sitters. The group stands and sits in front of a large American flag; a symbol of both the American empire and of the group’s recently acquired identity and status as members of that empire. To Morillo-Alicea, the satchels worn by the enumerator’s is a direct reference to their status as government employees and their responsibility to accurately gathering information on their community. The enumerator’s categorization of race is discussed in the photographic series of men of mixed backgrounds. Posed against the same background, each photograph depicts two male subjects wearing white working clothing but provides little information as to the identity of the subjects. In the back of these photographs the captions provide a glimpse into the system of categorizing race that was developed with the terms “Mulato”, “Type of ‘Niger’ not so clack in P.R.”, “Type of ‘Negro’ very black, Puerto Rico.” This method of posing is reminiscent of English biologist Thomas Huxley’s practice of photographing indigenous tribes in Australia while the text-image relationship suggests the influence of Spanish casta paintings. The content of these photographs, with both image and text, reveals the manner in which Puerto Rican enumerator’s explained and presented the communities that they lived in to the American audience.

Morillo-Alicea goes on to reveal how information was organized within this archive and modeled after British policies and how that shaped the image of Puerto Rico in the United States’ “archival imagination.” To demonstrate how power structures were at work in the new colony, the education of young children is probed by looking into the visualization of the educational narrative: “The photos of children tell the story of Puerto Rico’s modernization, of the U.S. narrative that assured islanders and the world that they were being moved out of barbarism and into modernity”[1].  Creating the school as institution through the construction of new buildings, enforcing the English language inside the classroom, the knowledge and perspectives taught in the classroom, and making young children dress in costume from the American colonial period all contributed to the assimilationist policies put into place by the U.S. government.

Morillo-Alicea delivers his investigation into this subject through the method in his writing, which invites the reader to come along the research journey with him. The reader is offered an article where the research process is revealed and the story behind the discovery of materials is told alongside the analysis. In his text, Morillo-Alicea engages with the work and framework of post-colonial theorists Arjun Appadurai and Homi Bhabha. He cites Appadurai in his discussion on the method of the census as used to promote and reinforce colonial power and the role of the “number in the colonial imagination.” The work of Ann Stoler is used to look at the archive as a way to investigate the manner in which “epistemologies for interpreting the colonial situation are embedded in forms of knowledge colonialism itself produces“ [2].

Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla (Puerto Rico), Body in Flight (Delta), 2011

In my own engagement with this text, I would like to fast forward to present day depictions of U.S.-Puerto Rico relations and move from dissecting archival photographs to contemporary installation art. Critical outlooks on the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico continue to resonate in the art world, both from within the island and out. In 2011, Puerto Ricans Jennifer Allora (born in the United States) and Guillermo Calzadilla (born in Cuba), a husband-wife artist team based in San Juan, represented the United States at the Venice Biennial. This moment was the first time that artists living in Puerto Rico had been chosen to exhibit in the American Pavilion. The artists were chosen by the Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibition and were presented by the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Lisa Freiman, chairman of the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s contemporary art department, proposed and commissioned the project. Allora and Calzadilla’s exhibition, titled Gloria, included six installation works with an interactive and performative function. The exhibition crossed the definitions between installation, sculpture, and performance with works that included two or all of these characteristics. Former U.S. Olympic gymnasts soared, balanced, and flipped on top of two sculptures of airline seats. A U.S. ex-Olympic runner ran on the treadmill that was installed on top of an upturned over military tank outside of the pavilion entrance. Yet the sculptures in themselves possessed the character to stand on their own as commentary on American cultural values. Airline seats were made of wood and looked worn, tired, and uncomfortable. The tanning bed where a classical female figure, the U.S. Capitol’s Statue of Freedom, attempted to lay down in was not large enough for the statue and remained open with its lights flashing its neon blue hues. A church organ that dominated the center of a room functioned as an ATM machine, playing its church music whenever a gallery visitor made a withdrawal.

Looking into the history of Puerto Rico in the American imaginary, which Morillo-Alicea sets us off on, enlightens the experience in viewing Allora and Calzadilla’s installation in the American Pavilion. The exhibition acts as a critique on American cultural values and the fading veil of American imperialism. The tank flipped over could be interpreted as a comment on the backwardness of militarism. The society’s value on appearances is present in the prevalence of treadmills (gym culture) and tanning beds. Money and its relationship to religious elements, or money and its attribution to a religious experience are seen in the church organ with built-in ATM. Earlier this month, a referendum on the political status of Puerto Rico, which has been classified as an “unincorporated territory”, was issued giving citizens the chance to vote for territorial status. The second question on the referendum asked to indicate the preferred political status: statehood, independence, or sovereign nation [3].


1. Looking for Empire in the U.S. Colonial Archive by Javier Morillo-Alicea, pg. 138

2. Looking for Empire in the U.S. Colonial Archive, pg. 130



Pinboard #6: Daniel Tisdale

Daniel Tisdale, Rodney King Police Beating, from “The Disaster Series,” 1991.

The series of black and white photographs captures four men in black clothing surrounding one man who is lying on the floor in front of a parked car. This image suspends the moment in which one of the standing men is about to kick the man on the floor. The haziness of the image creates unrecognizable figures whose professional titles or skin color has been obscured only to leave an image of an assault for the viewer to reflect on. Daniel Tisdale has taken an image from an iconic videotape shot by George Holliday of Rodney King being beaten by LAPD officers following a car chase in 1991. The same image of the assault is duplicated twelve times, described by Lauri Firstenberg as a “Warholian silkscreened grid by which the formation of stereotype through repetition is demonstrated.” Through this grid, the work echoes the progression of a film reel, with movements frozen in time.  The flaws in mechanical reproduction process are revealed in the upper half of the shot that duplicates the car ceiling and heads of the figures.

The significance of the role of the videotape in the infamous trial highlights the nature of the interpretation and framing of the footage. During the trial, the defendant’s lawyers interpreted the video in a manner to justify the amount of force by the accused police officers. This refers back to the status that photography carries as a purveyor of truth. In Gonzalez’s opening statement to her essay Morphologies, she states “the medium of photography has always been allied with truth claims: as evidence in courts of law.” I would also link this work to Nicholas Mirzoeff’s essay on Race, Photography, and the Index where he states in respect to New York States’ decision in 2002 of accepting digital photographs as evidence in domestic violence cases, a reinforcement of the idea that  “Photography did not die. Rather it has become clear that photography has always been and remains a medium susceptible to a range of external interventions.”


Pinboard #5: Memín Pinguín

Memín Pinguín stamps, issued in Mexico, 2005

Memín Pinguín is the cartoon character of a popular Mexican comic book created by Yolanda Vargas Dulché and Sixto Valencia. The cartoon’s protagonist, Memín, is a young black boy drawn with large ears, bulging eyes, and plump pale lips. He is usually drawn in casual garb of a striped red t-shirt, blue jeans, and a baseball cap. The caricature represents an Afro-Mexican and he is drawn so his features resemble that of a monkey, this is heightened further by the difference in how other characters in the series are portrayed. His mother is a prominent character in the series and is depicted as a stout black woman, who wears a housedress and bandana, a reference to her Afro-Caribbean roots. First issued in the 1940’s as part of the comic strip Almas de niño, Memín got his own comic strip in the 1960’s and has since become one of the longest running comic books in Mexico [1].

In 2005, the Mexican government issued a series of five Memín Pinguín stamps in which Memín is drawn in various stances and activities. In one stamp, he wears a three-piece suit and bolero hat while offering the viewer a flower. In a separate stamp he is in a loud white tuxedo with red trim. The stamp showcasing Memín in front of an artwork strengthens his place in the visual culture of Mexico. These stamps stirred a controversy in the United States for its depiction of “racial stereotypes.” The U.S. government condemned the stamps making then White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan state: “Racial stereotypes are offensive no matter what their origin. The Mexican government needs to take this into account. Images like these have no place in today’s world”[2]. Mexican officials responded in defense of Memín Pinguín and the character’s history in Mexican culture. The mobile nature of the stamp and its access to travel across the countries transformed them from mere postage to cultural agents that spoke of Mexico’s long history and current struggle with race relations.


1. Redrawing the Nation: National Identity in Latin/o American Comics. Ed. Hector Fernandez L’Hoeste and Juan Poblete.


Only Skin Deep: Part III

Imitation of Life (1959)

We started our discussion of the third section of Only Skin Deep with Lauri Firstenberg’s text, Autonomy and the Archive in America, which deals with the discourse of images from historical archives and the contemporary artists’ response to this archival system. This particular text provided a framework for looking at the other essays in this section, whose focuses deal more with specific cases and artists.

Firstenberg begins her essay with the idea that the photograph served as an unmediated and objective recording process and Barthes’ myth of photographic verity.  This idea is in line with Jennifer Gonzalez’s opening statement in the essay Morphologies, in which she writes that photography has always been allied with the “truth effect.”

Through the image of Glenn Ligon’s Self-Portrait Exaggerating my black Features/Self-Portrait Exaggerating my White Features (1998) juxtaposed with a photograph of a South Australian Man according to Thomas Huxley’s instructions (1870), we discussed the archive and critical responses to the archival form by contemporary artists. This led to commentaries on photography’s role in the production of racialized subjects (or “others”) and as defining whiteness as non-raced/the standard.

We looked at examples of passing for a certain race embedded in contemporary depictions of blackface, as seen on the television series Mad Men which is set during the Civil Rights Movement, as well as in the film Imitation of Life (1959). These ideas also resonated with Sally Stein’s essay on Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother.

In Caroline Vercoe’s essay on Postcards from the South Pacific, she brings up Baudelaire’s claim that photography is more an agent of forgetting than remembering. This notion can be connected not only to GI’s image souvenirs from the South Pacific, but also Toyo Miyatake’s photographs of Manzanar for the yearbook, Our World (1943-1944) in which the reality of an unjust incarceration is both masked and revealed through the work of the photographer.

For a wonderful clip from Imitation of Life (notice the role of the mirror in this scene) click link:


Image Post #2

Montoya, Delilah. La Guadalupana. 1998. Installation.

Delilah Montoya’s (b. 1955) La Guadalupana, is a 15-foot photo-mural and installation, whose photograph is made up of large square tiles that cover the gallery wall. At the centerpiece of the installation is a photograph of a handcuffed man with his back to the viewer as he faces a web of metal bars. He stands shirtless before the viewer as he exposes a large tattoo of the Virgin of Guadeloupe, a religious and iconic Catholic figure. The photograph is in black and white, with the exception of the brightly colored tattoo of the Virgin. Around the large image are smaller color photographs of different mens’ arms and backs that represent the same subject of the Virgin in a variety of poses and styles with red roses surrounding the frame. At the base of the photo-mural, Montoya has assembled a Mexican-American ofrenda  (alter), which includes a hand-woven blanket, rosaries, votive candles, and red roses. Small statues with the image of the Virgin are made out of nopal (cactus).  At the corners of the altar are small flags that represent the countries of the United States, Mexico, Spain, and Cuba. The New Mexico state flag is also present.

Through this installation, Montoya is showcasing the different means and mediums in which the religious icon of the Virgin of Guadeloupe is represented in Mexican-American culture. Montoya evokes the mediums of photography and installation to document the tradition of devotional practices, through symbols and home altars. In Women Boxers: The New Warriors, Ondine Chavoya writes of La Guadalupana: “the image effectively channels the sacred and the profane and transforms the physical space of a prison cell into a sacred space and the body of the inmate into an ofrenda or altar.” In this way, the body acts as a temple (or alter) in which to worship this religious figure through the tattoo art practice.

The photomontage is a reference to the traditional depiction of the Virgin, in which she stands on a crest moon dressed in a green robe of stars, surrounded by rays of heavenly light. At her feet is a young angel carrying the train of her dress. In Montoya’s interpretation, the central focus is the Virgin tattooed on the back of the inmate surrounded by graphic metal bars. He is framed by images of red roses. Roses are symbols directly connected to the Virgin, for the miracle that she is attributed to is the rose covered cloak that revealed her now iconic image.

The cultural iconographic significance of the Lady of Guadalupe in Mexican culture is also embedded in independence movements in the country’s history. During the Mexican War of Independence (1810) and the Mexican Revolution (1910), revolutionary leaders led their armies with flags emblazoned with images of the Virgin. In 1914, Emiliano Zapata led his army into Mexico City with Guadalupan banners to aid in their fight for land reform. Nobel Prize winning Mexican author Octavio Paz wrote, “the Mexican people, after more than two centuries of experiments, have faith only in the Virgin of Guadalupe and the National Lottery” [1].

This piece also acts as an institutional critique of the prison and the incarceration of Latinos. The photographic subject’s stance facing the metal bars with his hands handcuffed behind him, all of which are symbols of incarceration and submissiveness by force. The man, whose photograph is the centerpiece of this installation, was Felix Martínez, an inmate at Albuquerque’s South Valley being held under arrest for a drive-by shooting. A year after this photo was taken, Martinez was found dead in his prison cell.  In 1999 the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico purchased La Guadalupana. It was at this exhibition site where the piece turned into an altar for the memory of the deceased inmate when his relatives frequented the museum to leave offerings at the foot of the installation [2].

What is most striking about this piece is that there are no overt racial signifiers present to make out the race of the subjects. The black and white photographs obliterate the ability to make out skin color, which is how race is usually presumed, and all facial features are turned away from us. Instead, it is through cultural and religious symbols that we deduce his nationality, as the Virgin of Guadeloupe has been identified as the symbol of Catholic Mexicans. This work brings up the issue of race and religion and how religious symbols act as cultural signifiers to identify with a certain nationality or group.



2. Kuusinen, Asta.  SHOOTING FROM THE WILD ZONE: A Study of the Chicana Art Photographers Laura Aguilar, Celia Álvarez Muñoz, Delilah Montoya, and Kathy Vargas. Helsinki University Press. Doctoral dissertation.  2006

Pinboard Entry #4

Kienholz, Edward. Five Car Stud. 1969-1972. Installation. Source: Artstor

Walking into Edward Kienholz’s installation, Five Car Stud, the pristine tile floors of the gallery have been replaced with sand. It is dark all around as four cars and a truck encircle and shine their headlights onto the scene of a violent, racially motivated attack. Life-size grotesque figures of white men, wearing masks to disguise their faces, are pinning a black man to the ground as they hold his legs and arms and begin to castrate him. The victim’s torso is made of a rectangular pool of water, which holds a floating alphabet whose words spell out “Nigger.”  In the pick-up truck, a white woman (perhaps the victim’s girlfriend) weeps as a masked man stands by the car door observing the scene with a grin on his face.

Through the interactive nature of this tableau installation, viewers are allowed to immerse themselves in this discomforting scene. The experience is further heightened by the dirt floor, which helps create a different environment in the gallery and adds to the realism of the piece. The scene depicts one moment in this attack as the movements of the cast are frozen in time. The mid-century cars act as markers dating the piece to a period in recent American history. Five Car Stud is a social commentary on the history of violence acted upon African-Americans and race relations in the South during the Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968). The presence of a young boy looking from inside one of the cars, echoes the mechanism of instilling racist values onto future generations.

Edward Kienholz (1927-1994) is an American installation artist and sculptor. Five Car Stud was first exhibited in Los Angeles in 1971 to mixed reviews. The following year the piece traveled to Kassel, Germany to be a part of Documenta 5. For 40 years, it has been in a private collection in Japan only to be recently exhibited in 2011 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.


Pinboard Entry #3

Gonzales-Day, Ken. Erased Lynching (1935). 2005. Chromogenic print. Source:

A pitch-black sky reveals a crowded night scene, where men and women have gathered for what seems to be a community organized function. The men and women at the foreground of the photograph are bleached-out by the flash of the camera, which emphasizes their white skin. The fashion dates the photograph to the 1930s as men are dressed in suits and wear fedoras and women wear furs. Children gather amongst the crowd. The focal point of the photograph is a bare and naked tree, whose significance in the image appears arbitrary. The crowd’s attention is scattered, some viewers gaze up at the tree while others socialize among their groups. One man looks directly at the camera while smoking a cigarette.

This image is part of Ken Gonzales-Day’s Erased Lynching series (2002-2011), which seeks to expose the history of lynching in the American West through appropriated historical photographs and archival materials from 1850 to 1935. In these images, the lynched body is obliterated from the scene and the viewer is forced to focus on the spectators present at the gathering, predominantly White American men and women. This omission raises the issue of the lynching event as spectacle, by revealing the similarities to a performance and entertainment event: the crowd, the cameraman, and the main attraction. Gonzales-Day creates a powerful commentary on the erased and forgotten history of the practice of lynching Latinos, Native-Americans, and Asian-Americans in the American West. In Gonzales-Day’s book, Lynching in the West 1850-1935, he argues that during this period in California, Latinos were lynched more than persons of any other race or ethnicity [1].


1. Gonzales-Day, Ken. Lynching in the West. Duke University Press 2006

ASCO Images

“Spray Paint LACMA”, Asco, 1972








“Instant Mural”, Asco, 1974








“Chicano Cinema”, Asco, 1976


Imagen de Yagul

Ana Mendieta, Imagen de Yagul. 1973. Source: Artstor

In an open Zapotec tomb in the ancient city of Yagul, Mexico, Mendieta’s naked body lays within the formation of rocks that encapsulate her. Her body is covered with white flowers and green leaves, whose density increases around her chest and face, making it difficult to discern her facial features amongst the cluster of flowers. Mendieta leaves the viewer with only the outer contours of her body, arms and legs to discern. This image, Imagen de Yagul, is the first in a series of silhouette portraits in which Mendieta traces the outline of her body in different locations between Mexico and Iowa. This particular piece differs from the other works in the series, in that her body is fully present here, rather than just represented as an ephemeral silhouette that marks where she once was. These locations are significant as they trace a personal journey between places that she identifies with. On a trip to Oaxaca she identified with the region’s “mixture of indigenous and European cultures with her own hybrid Cuban heritage “and she developed an appreciation for pre-Colombian iconography [1].

Ana Mendieta (1948-1985) was born in Cuba and immigrated to the United States with her sister at the age of twelve. As an artist, she plays a large role in the history of feminist art. Her work crossed multiple categories including land art, body art, and performance and her work addresses the ideological struggle of gender and race. Mendieta herself described her work as “earth-body work” and “earth-body sculptures”[1]. Her early work as a student at the University of Iowa addressed issues of gender formation, as in the performance Facial Hair Transplants (1972). In 1992 an exhibition featuring Mendieta’s widower (and accused and acquitted of her murder), Carl Andre, sparked a protest outside of the Guggenheim Museum on the exclusion of female artists in exhibitions and lack of women in powerful positions in art institutions. Protestors held signs reading, “Where is Ana Mendieta?” My own decision to write about the Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta is an expression of interest in addressing the underrepresentation of minority women in Gender and Art and the lack of focus on female artists who address issues of race more specifically in this publication.

Jane Blocker describes Imagen de Yagul as dealing with the “themes of death and rebirth staged in an earthen, womb-like cavity. Here, the category woman is sanctioned by the first woman, by Mother Earth, by the biology of childbirth.”[2] Mendieta uses her body as a channel to address issues of life, death, and regeneration, themes that she alluded to throughout her career. [3] The female body is represented in unison with nature, as creator and created. It is from her body that flowers sprout and flourish, symbolism that could be interpreted as a sign of fertility. Also significant is that Mendieta positions her body inside of a Meso-American tomb in Yagul, not far from the ancient city of Mitla that was designated in Zapotec culture as the place for the dead to rest.

What I find most intriguing about Mendieta’s work in general and about this piece specifically is the manner in which it identifies with a geographic identity. Ana Mendieta, represented as a Cuban-American artist, spent her early childhood in Cuba and was exiled to the United States, where she spent years bouncing from foster homes before settling in Iowa. Below, she speaks of her experience and feelings of displacement and the urge to connect to the earth:

I have been carrying on a dialogue between the landscape and the female body (based on my own silhouette). I believe this has been a direct result of my having been torn from my homeland during my adolescence. I am overwhelmed with the feeling of having been cast from the womb. My art is the way I re-establish the bonds that unite me to the universe. It is a return to the maternal source. [4]

Not identifying with one nation, Mendieta ventured to form a connection to the earth. In channeling Meso-American civilization, she was connecting to her roots through contact with the land, which created a deeper connection to the body. This physical involvement in the creation of her work is inseparable from the work itself. The strength in her works lies in its power to relate to and its ability to interact with the viewer. That the viewer cannot make out her face in this portrait allows for one to automatically situate herself in her position.


2.Blocker, Jane. Where Is Ana Mendieta? Duke University Press, 1999. Pg. 37


4. Perreault, John. Ana Mendieta: A Retrospective. Exhibition catalogue. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1987. Pg. 10