Photo exhibit highlights colorful cultures
March 15, 2006
A stroll through the Kimball Art Center reveals the scope and variety of "Arte Latino." The exhibition includes 15 artists whose styles range from rough-hewn stone sculptures to paintings, precisely honed and arranged.
But while the Kimball’s new exhibition includes a whole panoply of artists in its Main Gallery show, the Garage and Badami galleries contain the works of a single team. Through April 21, those galleries are home to "Latinos de Utah," an exhibition of photography focusing on the cultural celebrations of Latinos in Utah.
The exhibit was complied by community activist and photographer Tony Yapias and Dr. Armando Solorzano, a professor at the University of Utah. To compose "Latinos de Utah," they combed tens of thousands of their own photographs in search of the most iconic images possible.
"We had to go one-by-one to make a cut to 1,000, and then to 500 and so on," said Solorzano.
The result is the 35 or so images that constitute the exhibition. The pictures, feature smiling faces and splashes of color. Richly exposed, they feature a variety of scenes. From a Latino man’s marriage to a white woman to an image of the Virgin Mary discovered on a Salt Lake City tree, the photographs document moments in a culture.
"This is not [the two of] us; this is all of us," Solorzano said. "We made sure that we included all of the 22 peoples that are part of the Latino culture."
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The exhibition made its debut Saturday at the Kimball.
"As a photographer, I’ve been doing this since 1991," said Yapias.
A one-time photo correspondent for the Salt Lake Tribune and, more recently, the State Director for Hispanic Affairs, Yapias has had dozens of opportunities to collect pictures at various community events.
"I always just kind of made a habit of taking my camera," he said.
After seeing "Arte Latino" last year, he realized how vast his collection of photography had become, and shortly afterward, approached Solorzano about publishing a book.
Solorzano said the exhibition was inspired by a trip to The Leonardo at Library Square to see "Exodus," a photography show by Sebastian Salgado that shows the struggles of people driven from their homes by poverty.
"I was profoundly touched by the resilience of people," said Solorzano.
While he was already working on the photo project with Yapias he said the exhibition began to take shape that day. As he thought about that human resiliency, he began to wonder about what distinguished the Latino cultures. He concluded that it was their optimism, their sense of joy and community.
"We asked, what is it about us that is different," said Solorzano, "and that’s where we came up with the colors."
"When you’re showing the cultural tradition, you want to have it in color," said Yapias.
He and Yapias also created the exhibition to change perceptions of Latinos in the state. Too many people, Solorzano noted, think of Latinos only as workers and undocumented aliens.
"But we are neither," he said. "We are like everyone else. We are humans trying to make our lives better."
Solorzano and Yapias decided to make "Latinos de Utah" to show this, and to show the Latino culture in general. But instead of using the stark, black-and-white pictures that characterized Salgado’s exhibit, he decided to focus on color and the Latino culture. From there, the pair narrowed their focus even further.
"The word culture is so broad that we cannot do it justice. So we decided to represent three aspects," said Solorzano.
The exhibition, he said, focuses on the faces of Latinos, on their artistic expressions, and on their weddings.
"We tried to make the exhibition colorful. We wanted to make it happy. That’s why we selected these categories," Solorzano said.
While Solorzano’s previous exhibition at the Kimball, "We Remember, We Celebrate, We Believe," was primarily a work of documentation, telling the story of Latinos in Utah, "Latinos de Utah" uses fewer captions, leaving more to the imagination.
"Before, it was an explanation," he said. "Now, it’s completely open to interpretation. It’s more artistic."
"It really gives you a whole overview of people in Utah," said Yapias about the exhibit.
He said, when he looked through all of the photographs he realized the range of Latino cultures present in Utah. The pictures contained not just Mexicans or Guatemalans, but also people from Peru and El Salvador, Columbians and others.
"They’re all Utahns," he said.
Solorzano noted the presence of those cultures and others in the exhibition.
"We don’t follow individuals," he said. "We follow groups."
But while "Latinos de Utah," highlights the cultural traditions of Latinos in Utah, the exhibition also points to the universalities, the common elements between the cultures, Solorzano noted.
Yapias noted a photo he took in Centerville of a Cinco de Mayo celebration where the Latinos in the community were performing dances, using the back of a flat-bed truck as a stage while they taught the other members of the community to dance with them.
"There’s such a transformation of culture going on there," said Yapias. "They (the Anglos) have taken it as a responsibility to embrace the new immigrants to that community. Both groups were able to participate."
Yapias and Solorzano said they chose those events for the exhibition. Those moments, along with the colors present illustrate the highlights of the Latino presence in Utah, according to the pair.
"It’s so important that people understand that we’re here," said Yapias.
But both he and Solorzano noted that there is more ground to cover.
"We’re still thinking about writing a book about our Latino community," said Yapias.
"We need to keep in mind that this is really a beginning," said Solorzano, referring to both the exhibit and ‘Arte Latino’ in general.
Both men acknowledged that "Latinos de Utah," with its narrow focus, only covers a small segment of the Latino presence in the state. But they also said the first step is a good one. Yapias noted that some museums in Salt Lake City, Provo and Cedar City had contacted him about showing the exhibition, and Solorzano talked about adding some of the images to "We Remember, We Celebrate, We Believe."
"I thought it was a good partnership for me and Dr. Solorzano, for understanding our culture," said Yapias.
With Solorzano’s historical knowledge and Yapias’ pictures, Yapias noted, the pair made a good team.
"This is the debut," said Yapias. "And there couldn’t have been a better place."
"Latinos de Utah" will show in the Badami and Garage galleries through April 21. For more information about the exhibition or "Arte Latino," visit http://www.kimball-art.org.