Marina Perez, a contemporary Indigenous arts PhD student at the University of New Mexico, struggles with the concept of the art world.
The art world often creates barriers for communities of color, which makes it harder for them to enter it, Perez said. It produces a binary between fine arts and community arts, contemporary arts and ancient arts. The separation, they said, often makes it hard for people of color to participate in the art world.
“The art world is a colonial construct. To even think that we need to construct a completely different world away from our everyday lives … Communities of color don’t have access to be able to enter the art world,” Perez said. “Our knowledge is not embraced or acknowledged.”
Perez attended “In Context: New Mexico in the Art World” as a panelist. The event was co-hosted by Southwest Contemporary and 516 Arts on July 13. Perez said they saw their role on the panel as a graduate student representing the next generation of the New Mexico art scene.
The talk centered around the relationship New Mexico has to the art world and the hierarchies present within the local art scene, Perez said. They are working to use their past art experience to start to break down those hierarchies – a topic that they wanted to focus on during the event.
“A lot of my work revolve(s) around community arts, and I'm trying to figure out (in) what ways that we can integrate this fine arts world with community arts. I do see that as one of the challenges currently,” Perez said.
516 Arts, a contemporary art museum, focuses on public programming and does not charge admission for their events, according to Daniel Ulibarri, the education and engagement coordinator at 516 arts.
“We want to bring contemporary art and contemporary artists to everyone, to make it available to everyone … Every chance that we have to engage with the community is really great,” Ulibarri said.
The gallery worked with Lauren Tresp, the publisher and editor-in-chief at Southwest Contemporary – a contemporary arts and culture magazine – to assemble a panel of art educators and professionals that are active and knowledgeable of the art world, Ulibarri said.
Tresp moderated the event and said that the goal was to examine and think about New Mexico art as an economy, community and as its own art world. The panelists were challenged to define and question the “art world.”
Nancy Marie Mithlo – a UCLA professor in gender studies and American Indian studies – spoke about the connotations and feelings that the term “art world” often creates. The art world refers to something we are outside of – something we are arguing with – Marie Mitho said.
“Usually it is used in a negative fashion … It usually is something that you are not, and maybe you want in. It does stand for institutions – it stands for power and there’s a lot wrong with that,” Marie Mithlo said.
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The panelist addressed how New Mexico is often thought of as a time capsule – thinking of art created here as inherently old as well as romanticizing and exploiting native life, even when the art is contemporary. This makes it seem as though New Mexico is “removed” from the traditional art market, both spatially and intellectually. Perez said that these ideas are rooted in colonial logic and legacy.
“This construction of a myth that New Mexico is somehow removed completely from communities and art ecosystems … We need to start reframing or rethinking the way we talk about the art market here in New Mexico because it's very localized,” Perez said.
The art world requires a redesign, Marie Mithlo said. Many of the legacies and stereotypes that it upholds don’t support communities that want to enter it or are excluded.
“We need to outgrow a lot of the systems that we have normalized – that are pathological, unhealthy. They are built on unsustainable systems,” Marie MIthlo said. “I think the sooner we get to that conversation, the better.”
Addison Key is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @addisonkey11
Addison Key is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo and served as the Summer 2023 culture editor. She can be reached on Twitter @addisonkey11.