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'Hyphenated Americans': Milwaukee Art Exhibit Explores What It Means To Be Latinx In The U.S.

Teran Powell
A digital print by Cecilia Palacios-Munoz called 'Kiss Kiss, Fall in Love.'

An art exhibit exploring what it means to be Latinx in the United States, opened Friday at Latino Arts, Inc. on Milwaukee’s south side. It’s called "Hyphenated Americans," and it features the works of 17 Latinx artists from Milwaukee.

The goal of the exhibit is to show that Latinx cultures are not monolithic.

Visitors can expect to see paintings, digital artwork, and photography. There’s artwork hanging from the walls and in the center of the gallery.

Artists and friends of Latinas Unidas en las Artes (LUNA), an artist collective in Milwaukee, brought this exhibit to life.

Katie Avila Loughmiller is the co-founder of LUNA. Her work is featured in the exhibit, and she’s also the curator. She says this exhibit grew out of wanting to show that being Latinx does not mean one thing, or look and sound one way.

How these artists navigate their Latinx and American identities is the focus, hence the exhibit’s title: "Hyphenated Americans."

“Having that hyphenated identity is something that we just kinda consistently have. And it’s both something I think people force upon us, but also that we choose,” says Avila Loughmiller. “I’m actually adopted from Colombia, so I grew up with a white family. I grew up not in a Latinx community. So, I really had to fight for that hyphen, right. It took me a really, really long time to feel like I could really say I was Colombian-American and that I could be proud of that.”

She says there were signals telling her to ignore her Colombian culture because she didn’t know enough about it. But she learned, and now she celebrates it.

Avila Loughmiller says this exhibit shows each artist’s journey of accepting their identities. “This is really a celebration, I think, in a lot of ways of being from both places,” she says.

One of Avila Loughmiller's favorite pieces in the exhibit is Melissa Mursch-Rodriguez’s “Skin Series.” Nine brown-colored pouches hang from the wall, embroidered with phrases the artist has heard, like “I assumed a Brown” and “Maybe Middle Eastern.”

Credit Teran Powell
Part of the Skin Series by artist Melissa Mursch-Rodriguez. Each pouch is embroidered with a phrase the artist has heard used to describe her appearance.

“I guess I really resonate to this piece because I've heard all of these too. You know for me personally, it's always been like, "Well. you're not as brown as I think you should be, but you're also not as white as I think you should be." So, it's this middle ground and I think this is like this piece really explores that in a really unique and like tangible way,” she says.

Another favorite of Avila Loughmiller is by Anamarie Edwards, an Afro-Latina artist, called “Unapologetically Myself.” This piece is a bigger installation, with its own wall.

Credit Teran Powell
Katie Avila Loughmiller, curator of Hyphenated Americans, explains artwork made by Anamarie Edwards.

Avila Loughmiller says that was intentional. It’s a series of photos of Edwards highlighting her Afro-Latina identity through food, like showing the seasonings she uses to cook, and experiences, like the hours-long struggles of straightening tightly curled hair.

“Just all of that altogether is just like, 'This is her on display' and she’s like, 'I’m taking up space, this is who I am,'” she says.

Avila Loughmiller hopes the entire exhibit will resonate with the broader Latinx community in Milwaukee. But of course, all people are welcome.

She says the past year — the pandemic outbreak and social justice protests of 2020 — has played a part in the show. Avila Loughmiller says art has the power to change minds and perspectives and bring people into the conversation, and hopefully that’s how people feel after seeing the show.

"Hyphenated Americans" runs at Latino Arts through June 4.

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Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.