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Curator Mari Carmen Ramírez on the New ICAA Digital Archive of Latin American Art

Mari Carmen Ramírez—


The virtual ribbon has been cut: the highly anticipated International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA) digital archive is now online! The January 19th launch in Houston was accompanied by an international symposium, Mining the Archive: New Paths for Latin American/Latino Art Research. The symposium was presented to a full house and captive audience, both on site at the MFAH and online via live webcast. (Click here for a full list of the symposium’s notable guest speakers.) The media response was stunning: International attendees included many media from Latin America, including Silas Martí of Folha de S. Paulo and Alicia de Arteaga of La Nación. The Wall Street Journal, El País (Spain), CNN Espanol, and more than 150 newspapers and media channels in the United States, Europe, and Latin America reported on the archive’s launch.

This widespread and enthusiastic media attention is understandable; the ambitious project provides a digital archive of thousands of primary-source materials for Latin American and Latino art research that will offer insight into the intellectual foundation of artistic production in South America, Central America, and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.  At the launch event, we also announced the Peter C. Marzio Award for Outstanding Research in 20th-Century Latin American and Latino Art. This prize will encourage future scholars to use the archive, and through their research, we will continue to develop the field.

The idea for the ICAA Documents Project was developed over more than a decade at the Center for the promotion of scholarship in Latin American and Latino art. Research teams have been operating in Latin America and the United States, and all of their findings have been funneled to the ICAA’s headquarters at the MFAH. Their efforts enabled the 10,000+ documents and 80,000+ images to be put on icaadocs.mfah.org where everyone has access to them—free of charge—from anywhere in the world. None of the documents leaves its source; everything is digitized and remains with its original custodians.  During the first month online, icaadocs.mfah.org has received over 16,000 visits. Visitors discover a wealth of material that delves into what Latin American and Latino artists, writers, and other cultural figures were thinking, discussing, and debating throughout the twentieth century.

A major feature of the project is a planned13-volume book series that will serve as a guide to the digital archive. The first volume of this series, Resisting Categories: Latin American and/or Latino?, organized by Héctor Olea, Tomás Ybarra-Frausto and myself, arrived from the printer just in time to take its place among the new publications displayed at the Yale University Press booth at the College Art Association conference in Los Angeles, where it was greeted with great excitement. The 1,200-page compilation of over 169 fully annotated documents traces the fascinating evolution across time of the problematic categories of Latin American and Latino art.
To learn even more about this history-making project, check out this video.


Mari Carmen Ramírez is the Wortham Curator of Latin American Art and director of the International Center for the Arts of the Americas at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She is co-author, with Héctor Olea and Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, of Resisting Categories: Latin American and/or Latino? Volume 1, to be published next month.

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