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A Latina In Museums' Is Smashing Stereotypes In The Art World

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Karen Vidángos has always had a passion for the arts, but as a Latina she rarely saw herself represented in the cultural institutions she visited. So she decided to create an Instagram account to share her own photos, which quickly grew into a collaborative movement of Latinxs in museums all over the country. Her personal account @latinainmuseums and the collaborative @latinxcurated aim to represent Latinxs in the art world, whether as visitors to museums or curators and academics. Karen recently graduated from the George Washington University’s museum studies program and plans to build a career in the arts.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

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I was born and raised in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia). I live about 30 minutes outside of D.C. now. My immediate family live in the area as well, although the rest of my family live in La Paz, Bolivia. The last time I went to Bolivia was well over 18 years ago so I am due for a long family reunion where I hope to stay for a month or more. My hobbies are all museum related. I love attending events, talks, and exhibition openings. Outside of that, you can usually find me scheming on my next travel adventure or reading a good book.

What inspired you to start A Latina In Museums?

I had been doing research throughout my two years in graduate school and thinking a lot about the marginalization of brown communities in the museum field, both as a worker and visitor. But what got me started on ALIM was a sudden impulse to see more of myself, really. It was a lazy Saturday morning and I was browsing Instagram looking at all the art accounts I follow and kept seeing the same face over and over. I did not see a single brown girl with dark hair, something I’ve faced my whole life in many other scenarios. At that moment I knew I had to create something, even if just for myself, to showcase my community in the museum spaces I love so much.

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How have people responded to your work?

I have connected with so many amazing people across the U.S. and beyond that I might not have met if not for ALIM. What surprised me the most were the messages from Latinx followers who were happy a platform like mine existed because I expressed some of the same concerns about working in the museum field that they had.

One of the funniest moments on the Instagram account happened the day after the Oscars, when Moonlight received the Academy Award for Best Picture and Viola Davis gave a phenomenal speech for her Oscar win. I created a post that featured four Latina actresses with overlaid text that read, “A Latina Has Never Won The Oscar For Best Actress.” I congratulated both Viola Davis and the Moonlight cast for their amazing Oscar wins and explained that diversity has a long way to go in the arts, including cinema. I posted the image the morning after the Oscars before I went in to the Hirshhorn Museum (where I interned at the time) and by lunch when I looked at my phone, I had over 1,000 notifications. There were arguments in the comments section, a huge jump in engagement, and both Gina Rodriguez and Andrea Navedo liked the post. I was so overwhelmed and excited.

I also got a chance to meet Diane Guerrero who was in D.C. to advocate for an American Latino Museum. When I saw on Facebook that she was in D.C. I dashed out, grabbed an Uber, and headed straight to Capitol Hill to find her and let her know I was excited about her support for the museum. I was able to do just that and get a selfie as well. So now it has become a small, personal goal of mine to get the whole Jane the Virgin cast to follow my account. That would mean everything to me especially since their show is also so significant to breaking Latinx stereotypes.

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What are your wider goals for the movement?

I would like ALIM to become a large community where ideas are shared, questions are asked, guidance is found, and where the museum can become an accessible place for all. The Latinx perspective is such an underrepresented voice in the field and I want to provide that space for the community to discuss and share all things museum related, whether they work in museums or not.

Why do you think representation is so important in the arts?

What is presented to us can shape our views of the world, but presenting a single narrative meant to encompass all is disingenuous to the core mission and purpose of our cultural institutions as educational spaces. Art can mean so many things to so many people but if museum institutions expose their audiences to a very limited selection of artists and themes, then we will only ever be exposed to one side of a story, marginalizing communities that could very well be their biggest supporters.

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Who is your favourite Latina artist? Who inspires you?

I don’t have favorite artists, that is like asking a parent who their favorite child is! But an artist whose oeuvre of over 50 years, I am currently learning more about is Marta Minjuín. She’s a conceptual artist from Argentina who has most recently created a spectacular installation this past summer in Kassel, Germany for Documenta 14. She created a full scale replica of the Parthenon using 100,000 books that had once been banned. She is a brilliant artist with the most fabulous sense of style, too.

Who or what inspires me is not a fixed list. Inspiration can come from so many people and places. Lately though, seeing other Latinas succeed has been the biggest inspiration for me to continue pursuing my own dreams. I have absolutely loved seeing the success of Erika Sánchez’s book, “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter,” for example.

How do you feel as a Latina in the U.S. right now, given the current political situation?

I am trying to remain strong and not let the political environment derail my ambitions. I know that tensions are high and that there are segments of my community that are facing real threats, be it the dismantling of DACA or racial discrimination. There are so many social issues that demand our attention from gender inequality to education to police brutality, and our cultural institutions have a responsibility to be part of that conversation and not hide from it. All of these social issues are as important for me in my personal life as they are in the context of the arts and I hope that by addressing the inequality current in our cultural institutions, and helping lift Latinx voices in museum spaces, that the gap between the two can begin to close.

Read more about Karen's work on her blog or follow her on Instagram.

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Molly McLaughin is a writer who likes pizza, politics and poetry. In that order. She tweets at @mollysgmcl. 

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