Engaging Latinos Through Art: Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery Latino Art Curator Taína Caragol
As the curator of Latino art and history at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery (NPG), Taína Caragol has been shining a spotlight on the contributions of U.S. Latinos in American history and links the historical interactions between Latin America and the U.S. through the 19th Century to the present.
At the Smithsonian's NPG in Washington, D.C., Caragol told Latin Post that the museum intersects history, biography and portraiture.
"It's a museum of national American history that tells a story of the United States through portraits of people who have made contributions of national impact," said Caragol. "People who have shaped the history of the U.S."
The NPG and Caragol have been hosting a series of events for Hispanic Heritage Month. Starting with "Face to Face: Luis Muñoz Marin," Caragol led a conversation about Muñoz Marin, the first democratically-elected governor of Puerto Rico who was also a poet and journalist.
An exhibit she curated is "One Life: Dolores Huerta," commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Delano grapes strike, which launched the farm workers movement and further rise of activist Dolores Huerta. The "One Life" exhibit featuring Huerta is also the first of the "One Life" series to feature a Latino figure.
"It's very exciting that she is alive and still able to tell her story and we are able to recognize her while she is here with us," said Caragol about Huerta.
The NPG continues its focus on Huerta with four scheduled events, geared to all age groups, during the next few weeks. Huerta will be in attendance for "Living Self-Portrait: Dolores Huerta" on Sept. 24, to discuss her life and activism in an interview conducted by Caragol. Between Oct. 3 and Oct. 5, three Huerta-related events are also planned to further showcase her story through hands-on activities, bilingual tours and music by Luis Orozco.
"Talking very sincerely, this is an important month for us and Hispanic Heritage Month serves the purpose of creating awareness of the contributions of Latinos around the country, however, it's not the only time that we're active," said Caragol.
"We're active all through the year doing important stuff and not the only time when we want to have Latinos come into the museum; this needs to be an everyday task for us and it's an everyday goal as well to have Latinos engaged more seriously and more actively with the museum, to have them better represented in our collections as historical figures and also as artists."
Caragol also helped curate the "Eye Pop: The Celebrity Gaze" exhibit, which examines the role of portraiture in contemporary society with personalities, from different fields, such as portraits of Eva Longoria, John Leguizamo, and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, prominent writer Sandra Cisneros and San Antonio artist Al Rendon.
Since arriving at the NPG more than two years ago, Caragol said she has been collecting and building up the gallery's collection, "pretty much from scratch," of portraits of important Latino historical figures and also artists -- Latino artists -- who work on portraiture.
Caragol acknowledged that museums, notably the size and standing of the Smithsonian, prepare shows at least three to four years in advance. In regards to the "One Life: Dolores Huerta" exhibit, it was put together in less than two years, which she admitted was not a lot of time but the concept arrived shortly after she became the NPG's curator of Latino art and history.
"It's quite an undertaking. You have to, of course, conduct a lot of research, visit archives, visit art collections and see what are the materials that are out there that allow you to tell a story, said Caragol, noting the research includes primary and secondary examination and interviews.
For any community, Caragol said art is essential. Within the U.S. Latino community, Caragol said art has been, traditionally, important to create a sense of "togetherness" and "cultural identity." She said it is important to acknowledge history, which is one of her goals at the NPG, and also reflect what has been happening in the modern era.
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