Thursday, July 18, 2013

Poetry & Art: part of Letras Latinas' DNA from the start...

In the Fall of 2003 I was only a few months on the job at the Institute for Latino Studies (ILS) when Notre Dame received a visit from Dana Gioia, who'd recently been named Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). With the help of a friend who knew Gioia well and who worked on campus, we were able to set up a breakfast meeting with the NEA Chair. Those in attendance included my former boss, Gil Cárdenas, who is one of the foremost collectors of Latino art in the United States. It was at that meeting that Gioia encouraged us to develop projects that fostered "conversation" between between different artistic disciplines. And so, in the months that followed, we developed what would become, Poetas y Pintores: Artists Conversing with Verse. It was an initiative that asked visual artists to dialogue, if you will, with text, and from that engagement, create new art.

This idea is one of the cornerstones of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize Initiative (AMPPI). That is: we asked Malaquias Montoya to re-visit---engage with---the poetry of his late son, Andrés. The result, as we know, is "Untitled," which includes lines from one of Andrés' poems reproduced across the top of the silkscreen print that Malaquias created. The other cornerstone of AMMPI is, I would argue, an intentional effort at community-building. In other words, while the practical outcome of AMMPI is to raise funds to assist with various projects that enhance and keep alive the legacy of Andrés Montoya's work, including the national prize that bears his name, an ancillary result is that a group of people---Latino writers and and allies of Latino writing, mostly---are acquiring "Untitled" and thereby becoming a part of this community, which Letras Latinas Blog has been visually documenting. When it's all said and done, it will be a finite community: there are only 50 prints. We just recently shipped print number 29 and 30, respectively---one to another Latino fiction writer, and the other to a poet and translator who is an indelible ally of Latino writing. As soon as they photograph themselves with their prints, we'll post their pics and thus reveal their identities.

In the meantime, a very recent addition is someone who has deep ties to both Latino poetry and the visual arts. He's someone I had the immense pleasure of sharing the stage with a few years ago in Buffalo at a joint reading we gave. More recently, in Tucson, AZ,  we shared a stage where my role was that of literary curator. He'd been on my list of people to invite from day one, but I only recently finally got around to asking. As I had anticipated, he said YES in a heartbeat:

Roberto Tejada

But to be clear: one doesn't have to be explicitly invited to join this community. As I said in an earlier post, it's been a pleasure to witness how a handful of folks, of their own accord, simply asked to join. But if I do ask someone to join, I try to make clear that I'm not asking him or her to do something I haven't already done myself:

Francisco Aragón

And speaking of poetry and art...If Poetas y Pintores: Artists Conversing with Verse created a space for visual artists to be inspired by text,  "PINTURA : PALABRA, a project in ekphrasis," seeks to reverse that equation---specifically through: "Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art," an exhibit that opens in Washington, D.C. in late October and goes until early March of 2014 before traveling to Miami, and further down the line to Salt Lake City...We'll be sharing more about PINTURA : PALABRA in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please consider joining Roberto, myself, and nearly 30 others:

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