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PRESS, CARMEN RAMOS

Manifestaciones: Expressions of Dominicanidad in Nueva York

Essay by E. Carmen Ramos, Independent Art Curator

          Unlike Chicanos and Nuyoricans of the 1960s and 1970s—many of whom were born or raised in the United States and strongly identified with the social movements of this tumultuous period in American (U.S.) history—Dominicans started arriving in the United States in large numbers in the early 1960s, and continued thereafter in a steady stream. Given their “late” arrival, it would take some time before the Dominican-American community would come to be known as such.

          Dominican artists based in the United States would come of age without a dedicated visual arts institution of their own. By the 1990s, they would also mature in a post-multicultural artistic scene less devoted to culturally specific exhibitions. Dominican-American artists, however, did participate in the artistic scene in New York City and elsewhere, exhibiting their works at key Latino cultural institutions such as the Cayman Gallery (1974–1984), the Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art (1985–1991), and El Museo del Barrio (founded 1969), among many others. Yet, unlike artists from other Latino cultural groups, Dominican artists made inroads as individuals. There was no collective or group-oriented “Dominican-York” cultural movement, but instead the actions and careers of solitary artists. This is not to say that Dominican-American artists did not capture, explore, document or reflect upon the new diasporic culture that was sprouting in their midst. Rather, it is to affirm that Dominican-American artists have plotted a different path that has yet to be coherently documented.

          This history makes Manifestaciones: Expressions of Dominicanidad in Nueva York all the more historically and artistically significant. The idea for this project originated with Pepe Coronado, a peripatetic master printer whose life crossed paths with the Chicano movement. While living in Austin, Texas, Pepe began working with Chicano artist Sam Coronado (no relation), who in 1993 initiated a printmaking workshop—The Serie Project—modeled after the renowned Los Angeles–based printmaking studio Self-Help Graphics. The collective spirit Pepe witnessed among Chicano and other Latino artists would leave a strong impression. Simultaneously, Pepe sought to piece together a history of Dominican printmaking—on and off the island—only to discover a fragmented past. In part, the confluence of these experiences resulted in the current project.

          Grounded in a firm belief that printmaking is an accessible medium uniquely suited to capture the immediacy of contemporary culture, Pepe sought out other Dominican-American artists to form a collective that would both advance Dominican graphic arts and interrogate Dominican diasporic culture. The group of twelve artists that eventually came together worked in a collegial, workshop atmosphere, exchanging ideas and commenting on each other’s work. Together they determined the focus of the project: to represent the forms and manifestations of Dominican culture in the United States. Their individual voices—clearly visible in the diverse graphic approaches and subjects of the prints themselves—speak to their open-minded approach to their collective endeavor. Their goal has always been one of exchange, with each other and ultimately with the public who will encounter, discuss, and debate their work. They have left us with a valuable document of a vibrant cultural and artistic community that long ago took root in the heart of New York City.

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