Latino/a Art Exhibit Fills Campus Cultural Gap

Robin Wasserman

A wooden stick figure sits inside a glass jar, head in its hands, oblivious to the colorful paper cranes that explode from its prison. A second wooden figure climbs onto the jar, peering down into it.

“Flight,” according its the creator, College sophomore Krista LaFentres, was inspired by memories of when she was younger and “felt on the other side of things.” The sculpture currently resides in La Casa Hispánica as part of a student art exhibition for Latino/a Heritage Month.

LaFentres began organizing the exhibition last April after she was unable to participate in a similar project that year. Finding the Art department inaccessible and wanting to get more involved in La Casa Hispánica, LaFentres decided to organize her own art exhibition. “I really like to make art, and I know other people who are doing art but not in class, but there’s not a way to get out and show it,” she said. She perceived an emphasis on dance and film within the Latino/a community, and “wanted to see what people were doing. … Latino and Latina art is not a big presence on campus, especially in visual art.”

College junior Amanda Gracia, who is on the Latino/a Heritage Month Committee, exhibited an abstract mesh of swirled colors that she painted with stolen art supplies in high school. Its message may not be directly related to cultural issues, but according to Gracia, that is part of the point. “I think people are intimidated by the fact that it’s ‘Latina’ art. I want to break that stereotype,” she explained.

College senior Santino Merino displayed a series of three photographs taken in Hickory Springs, Ohio, about an hour away from Oberlin. “I wanted to capture that ’80s nostalgia, Steven Spielberg feeling,” Merino said. “This woman, her face looks so interesting. … Whenever her daughters came over, she had this look of joy, and I thought ‘which one is it?’” One of his more striking photographs frames an exhausted woman sitting in the middle of a restaurant strung with Halloween decorations, looking off to the side of the photograph.

The exhibition also includes series of photographs from Peru and from Venezuela, which capture the natural elegance of their respective landscapes, and paintings by two artists from Arizona. The skeletons that spring from Emma Gardner’s paintings are surprisingly lively, dancing together, serving food and even striking rather come-hither poses. The faces in each of Cha Gutierrez’s paintings stare defiantly from backgrounds of lime green, directly challenging the viewer.

LaFentres said that she hopes the exhibition will encourage students to attend more Latino/a Heritage Month events. “Latino/a Heritage Month puts on a lot of great events. There’s not always a lot of recognition. I want to encourage people to come out and get interested in the different events we do,” she said.

The exhibition will be open for viewing until Oct. 11, from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. each day.