10 Innovative Contemporary Latin American Artists Who Broke the Mold
Get ready to meet 10 inspiring contemporary Latin American artists and see their amazing work. These are visionaries who rompen los moldes—break the mold.
Contemporary Latin American art is a general category of art originating from countries of that region from the mid-20th century to the present. Its dominant themes include conceptual, minimalist, protest, and performance art. Especially since the 1990s, Latin American artists have worked in a globalized context due to their growing exposure to the international art world.
Read this article to discover the most influential Latin American artists today who are creating meaningful art that is rich in history, infused with Latin American culture, and radical in appearance.
10 Amazing Contemporary Latin American Artists
This list includes some of the most outstanding Latin American artists working today to transform themselves and their communities by changing paradigms and breaking the mold. Their creativity and uniqueness look to evoke deep feelings in viewers.
1. Doris Salcedo
The starting point of Doris Salcedo’s art is the personal histories of political victims in her native Colombia. Salcedo creates understated sculptures and installations with complex themes related to genocide, trauma, racism, and colonialism.
Salcedo’s media include everyday objects such as household furniture, hair, and clothing. Since 1988, she has interviewed people whose family members were “disappeared” by the authorities during Colombia’s civil war. She regularly visits abandoned villages, murder sites, and mass graves.
According to Salcedo, “The way that an artwork brings materials together is incredibly powerful. Sculpture is its materiality. I work with materials that are already charged with significance, with meaning they have required in the practice of everyday life… then, I work to the point where it becomes something else, where metamorphosis is reached.”
2. Vik Muniz
Our next contemporary Latin American artist is Vik Muniz, a famous Brazilian artist and photographer. Initially a sculptor, he now focuses on photography and mixed media. His art shines a spotlight on the effects of globalization and economic inequality.
Muniz is known for repurposing everyday materials to create intricate and heavily layered recreations of canonical artworks. His eclectic media range from trash to peanut butter and jelly.
Layered appropriation is a recurring theme in Muniz’s work. In 2008, he photographed trash pickers in Brazil as figures from emblematic paintings and recreated the photographs in large-scale arrangements of trash. The 2010 film “Waste Land” documented the project to raise awareness of urban poverty.
3. Jose Alejandro Restrepo
José Alejandro Restrepo is a contemporary Latin American artist with more than 30 years producing electronic arts. His training and interests encompass the visual and performing arts, installation, photography, performance, and editorial production.
Restrepo’s work attempts to dismantle the ideology of the system. It touches on religious themes, such as punishment, redemption, and sacrifice.
A pioneer of video art, Restrepo uses video technology and electronic images to accentuate a deviation from the discourses of popular entertainment and mainstream contemporary art. He often re-appropriates and manipulates television images, reconstructing mass media messages to highlight the value given to images.
4. Zilia Sánchez
Zilia Sánchez Dominguez is a Puerto Rico-based Cuban artist. Her career began in set design and abstract painting for radical theater groups in Cuba prior to the Cuban revolution. Her work was part of the influential exhibition Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-85 at the Brooklyn Museum in 2018.
In the 1960s, Sánchez reinvented hard-edged, geometric abstraction by introducing shaped canvases and sensual undulating forms. In 1964, she traveled to New York, where she began making shaped paintings, a practice she further developed in Puerto Rico after settling there in the early 1970s.
Sánchez’s three-dimensional paintings feature pointy areas of the canvas that protrude into space. She blurs the lines between sculpture and painting by creating canvases layered with three dimensional protrusions and shapes. Her unique works are minimal in color and have erotic overtones.
5. Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara
21st century contemporary Latin American artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is an emerging Cuban performance artist and dissident known for his public performances that openly criticize the Cuban government. A self-taught artist, Alcántara hails from El Cerro, one of Havana’s poorest neighborhoods.
Cuban authorities have detained him over 20 times in the last three years. Officials have cracked down on their enforcement of Decree 349, a 2018 law that prevents artists from showing their work without approval by the ministry of culture.
Acting as a lightning-rod for violations of free expression, Otero’s works embody and raise awareness of Cuba’s ongoing repression of independent artists, writers, thinkers, and activists. In Otero’s piece, La Bandera Es De Todos (“The Flag Is for Everyone”), he wore the Cuban flag for thirty days.
After his most recent release, Otero declared, “We are going to keep producing art; it’s the biggest responsibility of our lives. We will keep fighting for a free Cuba.”
6. Tania Bruguera
Political and social justice are at the core of female Cuban artist Tania Bruguera’s performances, events, community projects, and exhibitions. She addresses oppressive systems and gives voice to the voiceless through her work.
She has been both awarded and arrested for her presentations. In 2014, the Cuban government arrested her for attempting to stage a performance in Havana’s Revolution Square. She had planned to set up a microphone and invite people to express their visions for Cuba.
Brugera’s art directly relates to the Cuban Revolution and immigrant rights. The artist explains, “For me, the most important moment for an art piece is when people are not sure if it’s art or not.”
In 2003, she developed the concept of arte útil (“useful art”)—art that transcends representation to offer practical solutions to social issues. Such art has led to backlash from the Cuban government. Most recently, Cuban officials detained Bruguera in Havana while on her way to a Black Lives Matter protest.
7. Paz Errázuriz
Some contemporary Latin American artists are celebrated photographers. In the 1970s, photographer Paz Errázuriz dared to document communities that were being marginalized in Chile under the Pinochet-led dictatorship. She photographed marginalized and oppressed communities including sex workers, psychiatric patients, and circus performers.
Ignoring laws that restricted women’s access to certain areas, she entered taboo sites such as brothels, psychiatric hospitals, circuses, and boxing clubs. The resulting portraits exude intimacy and warmth, as well as a reverence for their subjects.
According to Errázuriz, she focuses on “topics that society doesn’t look at… and my intention is to encourage people to dare to look.”
8. Mónica Mayer
Mónica Mayer is a feminist Mexican artist, activist, and art critic whose work encompasses performance art, graphic design, drawing, photography, and art theory. Art school piqued her interest in feminist activism, when she heard a group of male students state “that women were less creative than men because [they] gave birth.”
In 1978, she moved to Los Angeles, where she interacted with pioneers of the American feminist art movement. Mayer brought her blossoming performance practice back to Mexico City, where she produced El tendedero (“The Clothesline”) in 1979. The interactive piece encouraged the public to finish the sentence: “As a woman, the thing I detest most about this city is…”
Mayer later founded two feminist art groups and has promoted her feminist ideology through channels outside of her practice. According to Mayer, “Doing research on women’s art, writing about them… teaching, protesting and supporting other women artists is part of my work.”
9. Luis Esquivel
Mexican artist Luis Esquivel is known for his unique neon artwork. Often inspired by electronic music, Luis fuses graphic art, textile design, and technology to form eye-catching and disruptive installations.
Striking neon color gradients and geometric shapes characterize Esquivel’s emerging hyper-modern style. Breaking the mold of traditional modes of art, he finds new forms of visual media and self-expression.
The works of this contemporary Latin American artist are an electric medley of traditional mediums and hypermodern digital media and visuals. The emerging artist works with innovative media including spray paint, digital print and acrylic paint, PVC, wood, mud, and other textiles.
10. Marta Minujín
Argentinian artist Marta Minujín spent the 1960s ensconced by the Pop art movement, and she occasionally collaborated with Andy Warhol. In stark contrast to Warhol’s work, Minujín’s plush sculptures and public performances invited active participation and physical contact.
In the 1960s, she began to transform multicolored mattresses into bulging forms that referenced the human body. They became central elements of art installations, in which Minujín encouraged participants to leave their inhibitions at the door and roll around in a sea of cushions.
Not many contemporary Latin American artists can do what Minujín’s does. Minujín’s work also addresses the problems that result from totalitarian rule and oppression. For example, in her series, La caída de los mitos universales (“the Fall of Universal Myths”), she erected replicas of monuments like the Parthenon using books banned by the former Argentine dictatorship.
When one of Minujín’s pieces is dismantled, its individual components are distributed to the public.
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