Latino USA Course Artwork Display – Social Science 248

During the spring 2015 semester, 78 students were enrolled in ALCS201, “Latino USA,” a foundational class to satisfy both major and minor requirements of the Latin American, Caribbean, and U.S. Latino Studies Department at the University at Albany, SUNY. Students of “Latino USA” ranged in academic career level, from freshman to seniors, all with various majors, and varying levels of prior experience with the course content. This course is an intensive examination of U.S. Latina/o society. Major Latina/o groups (e.g. Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Cubans, Dominicans, and Central Americans) are studied with emphasis on interaction between these groups and mainstream society, culture and value change in contact situations, and efforts to deal with prejudice and discrimination.

The course draws from texts in anthropology, sociology, history, and cultural studies, all of which are augmented with various documentary and historically-based films. After the success of an in-class, instructor-guided art analysis, students were primed to expand on image-centered theoretical analysis as a learning method. Students were tasked with the assignment entitled “Neoliberalism Art Analysis” during the unit “The Modern Conquest of Latin America: 1980s-Present” where each was asked to creatively imagine and translate the economic, political, and sociocultural process of neoliberal globalization as represented with one original piece of artwork, using the medium of their choosing (e.g. collage, drawing, painting, photography, etc.) that symbolically represents the history or current manifestations of neoliberalism in the Latina/o context. The topic of neoliberalism is an ideal theory to explore visual representation as it is often surmised as a theoretical underpinning of many processes but tangibly realized with societal, cultural, economic, and political consequences. As such, neoliberal globalization has undermined the quality of life for millions of people around the globe (Harvey 2005). It stresses recourse privatization, erosion of worker rights, and reductions to social service spending. Ascribing to the belief that we are all part of this system tailored to the unrestricted flow of capital, the goal of their project was for students to produce original visual interpretations of this dynamic process in the context of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The following are examples of student-produced artwork:
Click to enlarge

Artist: : Brittany R.L. Ellis
“I was inspired to show how a vast amount of people suffered as a result of wealth acquired by another…The gorilla represents The United Fruit Company. On the gorilla’s right upper arm, he was given a tattoo. His tattoo is the United States flag drawn within a heart shape. Underneath his American heart tattoo, the word “Justice” is written in script. The gorilla’s tattoo symbolizes the irony of the effects of neoliberalism, particularly the United Fruit Company had on countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Also, the size of the gorilla symbolizes the strength and power of the United States in the 20th century. The second subject is a farmer of the banana plantation. The farmer’s shirt consists of the colors yellow, blue, and red. These colors signify the colors of the Ecuadorian flag. Ecuador was chosen as the farmer because this country was one of the several countries which was exploited by the United Fruit Company. In contrast to the gorilla, the farmer is smaller and this symbolizes the weakness of developing nations. In the farmer’s speech bubble, he states, “Ok! Ok! I’ll give you all of my bananas!” He says this to the gorilla because he is intimidated by the strength and stature of the gorilla and eventually lives in to the gorilla’s demand for the bananas. Also, the sun located in the corner of the art piece represents the world leaders who noticed the doings of the United Fruit Company and chose to be bystanders.”

Artist: Alicia Almonte
“This art project reflects how corporations are the only ones benefits [from neoliberal globalization]…I use a ransom note because these large corporations are, in a way, holding poor countries hostage. Countries that are not doing well are being coerced into becoming part of an international market even though there are very little benefits for them. The bright colors [represent how]…corporations are trying to show that neoliberalism policies can be beneficial to everyone, when they actually are not. The note is addressed “to whom it may concern” because there are many countries affected by neoliberalism and there is no one specific country that can be addressed without excluding others. The effects of neoliberalism are poor working conditions, poor living conditions, and a poor environment….I think a ransom note is effecting in showing that neoliberalism policies are kidnapping the economy and making weak countries pay for their own ransom while they suffer the consequences of privatization and deregulation. ”

Artist: Matthew Hernandez
“The ‘Benefits’ of Doing Business with the U.S.” represents a satirical relationship that is symbolized by a doctor performing surgery on his own body. This action mirrors the interventionist relationship between the Global North and Latin America in the process of neoliberal globalization. Matthew Hernandez, the artist, writes, “Because of its [the U.S.’] sheer size and greed for money, uses its ‘legal weapons’ of the IMF and World Bank to take whatever it can from people ion lower social classes…The U.S. forces weaker nations in invest in these programs that would ‘benefit them,’ when in actuality they were just sucking out all the money possible like a syringe.” A fundamental argument of neoliberal globalization in the context of Latin America and the Caribbean links structural adjustment programs (SAPs), often managed by the Global North (e.g. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) with the ideologies of imperialism and neocolonialism. Matthew’s use of symbolization of these SAPs working like a syringe, extracting wealth and wellbeing from the world, is quite impactful as depicted in his colorfully bold drawing. Matthew’s symbolization of SAPs “working like a syringe,” extracting wealth and wellbeing from the world, is quite impactful when interpreted in a colorfully bold drawing.

Matthew’s art draws another comparison to the ideas of Manifest Destiny (the 19th century period of U.S. expansion that the United States not only could, but was destined to, stretch from coast to coast) and The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (brought an official end to the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) was signed on February 2, 1848, permanently annexed Mexican lands to the U.S.). He argues, “Throughout all of history Americans [sic] have felt entitled to everything they wanted and [neoliberal] globalization is no different. The pile of money in the doctor’s stomach represents the money that was stolen or ‘sucked out’ of other nations that the U.S. took because it thought it was entitles to it.” While this argument may be interpreted as reductionist, or highly simplistic, the basic premise of extraction remains a cornerstone of neoliberal globalization in the regional context of the Americas and Caribbean Basin.

Artist: Erika Kissh
Erika Kissh’s piece, “We’ve got the Whole World in Our Hands,” represents neoliberal globalization through the use of self-stylized and produced photography. The five photographs show a person’s hands and feet, digging in the earth, holding leaves, buried in soil. Each image symbolizes the environmental effect of multinational corporations, sweatshop labor, and human rights abuses-- each a common byproduct of production in the process of neoliberal globalization. Erika states, “For being in such a hyper-globalized world…We have the world in in our hand[s] and if we are not careful we will ruin it.” Diamond jewelry or the one hundred-dollar bill, as depicted in the artist’s photographs, are meaningless if “the continued desire for excess…will strip [the earth]…of its natural resources. Soon enough we’ll set the world on fire, and then what?”

Artist: Marian Bates
“I used a three tier cake as the focus of my piece. For more occasions, the cake topper is usually one of the most important parts of the cake. On top of my cake is the United States flag, symbolizing its dominance. I drew the world map onto the cake, but I purposely only included Latin America and Africa on each of the three tiers to show how they are being exploited…The pig wears a dog tag, showing that he belongs to the IMF…an institution that exploits less powerful countries. The man on the rights wears a suite and tie and represents “big business” or corporations. He wears a tie that says “free trade” which shows his support for no international restrictions on imports and exports. Both of the characters have dollar signs in their eyes and are eating the cake, which symbolizes gluttony. At the bottom of the art piece, there are two hands that are in shackles. These hands are supposed to represent the people negatively affected by neoliberalism. They are chained to the table and are holding all the weight to keep the table steady so the pig and businessman can continue to eat the cake. This symbolizes those who work hard and are extremely underpaid, while large corporations make massive amounts of money and benefit tremendously. There are also black silhouettes that are holding hands towards the bottom of the piece. They receive none for the cake. These [hands] represent more people negatively affected by neoliberalism. They are seen as small and weak…[they are] put in the shadows. [Yet} their hands are held high, trying to combat this.”

Artist: Yasith de Silva
Yasith de Silva explores the topic of labor, free trade zones, trade agreements, and gender in the realm of neoliberal globalization as represented by three women in maquiladora uniforms who are tightly wrapped by a snake. Yasith writes, “The three women shown in my artwork represent Latin [American], African, and Asian cultures that have been greatly affected by [neoliberal] globalization…The snake with [corporate] logos on its skin portrays the multinational corporations that draws the strings of human lives in the Americas.” Yasith puts a literal face to the often unidirectional process of free trade agreements which leave the worker with little socioeconomic negotiation or sovereignty. The snake symbolism strikingly reflects how multinational corporations like Monsanto and Coca-Cola, historically present in Latin America and the Caribbean, as this artist attests, “feel lies and constrict the lies of the poor to better their lives, increasing income inequality between the rich and poor.”

Artist: Briana Wooten
“This art piece portrays the outlines of neoliberal globalization. It is to get the audience thinking about the pros and cons that fulfill the topic…I chose the seven flags of one nation on each continent to represent the theme of culture. In terms of the social theme of neoliberal globalization, I used arrows to show the exchange of the word “hello” in the country’s [native] language and the airplanes to represent tourism. Last, I use the theme of economics to illustrate briefcases to be an example of international businesses creating jobs…These seven nations are linking together in exchange of languages, concepts, and commodity. The airplanes symbolize the flow of goods, services, and individuals from one area to another. By incorporating tourism, it adds diversity in which that particular nation is making a profit. The briefcase symbolizes the grown of the international market and privatization of business…Without globalization there would not be an exchange of concepts of commodities…without neoliberalism, a single free market would not exist.”

Artist: Elizabeth Manell
“Economically, neoliberal globalization was sold to the public as an improvement for the benefit of all. The profits were supposed to “trickle down.” However, the growing wealth disparity proves this economic polis has only served to the rich richer, and depicted by the giant bag of money on top…The man in the middle is depicted as turning his back on the American worker because they demand too much. He is outsourcing to Mexico. The corporatocracy treats labor as any other commodity. This often results in a foreign workforce that has none of the rights Americans take for granted. The thought bubbles surrounding Latin America depict how these countries have not been in a position to fight for social justice and equal rights because neoliberal policies have been oppressive…With growing public concern [of this process] and shared knowledge, it may not be possible to move forward, make changes and evolve to the next level of humanity.”

Artist: Bramwell Burns
The piece entitled, “Joven Senor de Aztlán,” is a black and white drawing of a young man in a style that evokes a comic book or graphic novel. The artist, Marcus Alexander Bramwell Burns writes, “[Aztlán] is punished for his radical ideas for stating that neoliberalism is destroying his country, and that it only benefits the rich, but not the people.” Using the moniker “Aztlán” as the name of the boy depicted in this piece is not coincidental as the region of Aztlán. Located in the U.S. Southwest, this lost territory is sacred to many Mexican-Americans as a symbolic space that rejects U.S political imperialism in rallying together in demanding, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.” In describing the piece’s imagery, Marcus continues, “The pick [in Aztlán’s hair] represents how America is interfering… Aztlán …is proud of his culture… [America is] trying to get his mind [,] his scalp [,] but Aztlán’s hair or rather culture prevents that.” Neoliberal globalization as a pervasive ideology cannot penetrate a hardened symbol of social justice as represented in the image of Aztlán as drawn by Marcus.