Pittsburgh does not have a traditional Latino community, therefore there are no cultural institutions that show creative contributions by Latinos to the Pittsburgh region. However, as the Latino population begins to grow in the region, Latino artists are coming to the forefront to share their perspectives and artwork.
When I was new to Pittsburgh, the first Latino artist I met was Maritza Mosquera, a long time Pittsburgh artist. She described her experiences in Pittsburgh in the following way: "I consider myself an Artist who is a Latina. This has always been both an easy city and hard city for me as a visual artist. Easy: I can get a great studio where I can make work and not pay an arm and a leg. I worked out of a roller skating rink in Slippery Rock for 6 years---where else could I've done that? Now I have a studio at Mine Factory - great space. Hard: There is not an array of venues and financial support. Though I have had great financial support from the grant community (local and national) in the past, at present I am barely keeping up with the costs of making my work."
In an effort to bring about more opportunities for Latino artists in and around Pittsburgh and highlight the region as a place where Latino creatives can come to build a career, Cafe Con Leche partnered with Most Wanted Fine Art gallery in Garfield to host Pittsburgh's first Latino Resident Artist program. In this cohort there were seven local artists and three out of town artists. They were a diverse group, with varying art mediums and perspectives, all asked to answer the question, "what does it mean to be Latino in a place where there are so few Latinos." Below are some excerpts from the various projects that emerged from this program.
Pittsburgh-born Alison Zapata, played off her Pennsylvania roots and Mexican-American heritage by creating traditional Pennsylvania Dutch Hex signs using symbols important to Latinos living in the Pittsburgh area. This project was visually stunning and a unique way to demonstrate how we connect the American cultural traditions from the past to the America of the future.
To make the hex signs, Alison interviewed various Latinos living around Pittsburgh and gathered cultural symbols that were important to the participants. The results were stunning hex signs that represented Pennsylvania traditions with a nod towards to the future, as Pennsylvania's Latino population is slated to grow significantly in the coming decades.
Maggie Negrete was a 2016 Cafe Con Leche resident artist. Maggie is a South Western Pennsylvania native, a feminist artist that adapts her medium in response to the dialogue she wishes to create with the audience. For her residency, Maggie created a zine called "Puntos de Referencia", which is a series of portraits compiled with short stories. These "points of reference" are her touchstones in the development of her Mexican identity, especially in a region without a prominent Latinx community. Featuring family, celebrities, and classmates, this collection is ever growing to include Latinx persons from the Greater Pittsburgh community. For a sample of some of her stories, check out this blog post.
Cafe Con Leche teamed up with the Ace Hotel to host Gina Goico. Gina's work focuses on the redefinition of culture, identity and womanhood in the Dominican Republic and its diaspora, and the perceptions and expectations of inhabiting otherness in the United States. Gina set up in the lobby of the Ace Hotel for a week and engaged over 50 Pittsburghers in weaving a Dominican "Pelliza", or "rag rug" in English.
Pellizas are made from repurposing strips of old cloth (from clothing, bedsheets, curtains, etc) and tying them into a plastic tarp (traditionally large rice bags are used). For more information about Gina and the Pelizas, please check out this blog post. To see the finished Pelliza you can visit the Ace Hotel in East Liberty where it will hang in the lobby.
Hoesy Corona is a multidisciplinary artist and founding co-director of Labbodies, a performance art laboratory in Baltimore Maryland. During his time here, Hoesy immersed himself in the Pittsburgh community, building relationships and creating thought-provoking multidisciplinary art. Hoesy will be returning to Pittsburgh as a part of the Re:NEW Festival this fall.
When asked what his favorite part about Pittsburgh is, this is what he said: "I loved my time in Pittsburgh this past May as the Cafe Con Leche Latinx Resident Artist at Most Wanted Fine Art Gallery! The city has a strong local arts community and a rich cultural history, as well as an active series of urban renewal redevelopments. Highlights include the Cafe con Leche Sobremesa dinners, The Gallery Crawl, and the Strip District on the weekends! During my stay I also visited tons of art exhibitions across the city including those at The Carnegie Museum of Art, Boom Concepts, Bunker Projects, Society for Contemporary Craft, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, The Andy Warhol Museum, The Mattress Factory, Artist Image Resource, and The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust downtown galleries." To learn more about Hoesy's time in Pittsburgh and how you can see him at the Re:NEW Festival check out this blog post.
As we look forward to a growing, vibrant and diverse Pittsburgh we can see the shifting demographics reflected in the arts community. The arts allows us to tell stories that may be otherwise hard to hear or not be told at all. To keep up with the Pittsburgh Latino arts community you can follow Cafe Con Leche on social media and/or sign up for our newsletter.
A 2014 Pittsburgh Magazine 40 Under 40 recipient and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2015 People to Meet, Tara founded Cafe Con Leche in January 2014; it came out of vision to create neighborhood-focused creative spaces in Pittsburgh where Latino could be highlighted and celebrated. Tara lives in Bloomfield and when she is not planning Cafe Con Leche events you can find her hanging with her partner in various restaurants around Pittsburgh. Follow her on Twitter @CafeLechePGH!