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This document is an essay by Amalia Mesa-Bains in which she argues in favor of developing a new critical language for the evaluation of Chicano and Latino art rooted in the formative experiences of the artists throughout the communities from which they emerge. She suggests that mainstream institutions have long denigrated the artistic contributions of Chicanos and Latinos because their works do not often align aesthetically or thematically with accepted standards for what is considered “fine” or “high” art. Mesa-Bains argues that Chicano/Latino art exhibitions that have been attempted by major museums perpetuate stereotypes of these cultures or present a confused view due in large part to a lack of sufficiently knowledgeable curators in this matter and working in these institutions. Mesa-Bains proposes that—in order to counteract the negative view these artistic practices currently garner in the mainstream art world—a new kind of criticism must be developed that emerges from within Chicano/Latino culture rather than from outside.
Amalia Mesa-Bains is an artist, curator, and cultural critic who wrote extensively on Chicano/Latino art. This essay was written for publication in the fall 1989 issue of Visions Art Journal, during the height of the push for multiculturalism in education and cultural institutions across the United States. Her report sets out to define certain terms and conditions that Mesa-Bains sees as the most appropriate and effective tools for enabling a broader appreciation for the intricacies and varied layers that inform Chicano and Latino artistic production. The goal is underscoring the validity of these kinds of practices and challenging entrenched prejudices that threaten the potential for such artists to attain success outside of their own communities.