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Spoken word and sonic rituals: East LA exhibit features Latinx artists using sound

"Sonic Terrains in Latinx Art" exhibition at the Vincent Price Art Museum in East L.A.
Mandalit del Barco
"Sonic Terrains in Latinx Art" exhibition at the Vincent Price Art Museum in East L.A.

A museum in East Los Angeles is showcasing the sound work of Latino artists and art collectives in an exhibition called "Sonic Terrains in Latinx Art." The show spans generations and genres, including experimental and avant-garde artists, spoken word performers and pop musicians.

"What emerges is this really interesting, polyphonic expression of sound in our culture," says Joseph Valencia, one of the curators at the Vincent Price Art Museum, located on the campus of East L.A. College. "The art in this exhibition engages with history, engages with community, political activism, art for identity formation, cultural belonging, collective healing."

Three floors of galleries open with the work of Pauline Oliveros, a post-war experimental and electronic musician and composer best known for her work on the accordion and for developing concepts around "deep listening." Valencia says Oliveros' work is important "because it shows a queer female figure who was really challenging both music composition standards at the time and really carving space for people like her."

Much of the art is political. A video piece from artists Guillermo Calzadilla and Jennifer Allora shows activists "reclaiming" the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico after its use as a U.S. military testing ground. In it, a figure rides a motorcycle around the island, a trumpet attached to the exhaust pipe, the sounds meant to echo exploding bombs heard in Vieques for nearly 60 years.

Ruben Guevara at the "Sonic Terrains in Latinx Art" exhibition.
Mandalit del Barco / NPR
Ruben Guevara at the "Sonic Terrains in Latinx Art" exhibition.

Other highlights include Raphael Montañez Ortiz's destroyed piano, a part of his practice stretching back to the '60s; Ruben "Funkahuatl" Guevara's sound poetry; Penelope Uribe-Albee's "Distant Lover," which looks at the impact of LA deejay Art Laboe, who would field song requests for inmates from loved ones on the outside; and "96 Deaths" from the Ambos Project, a piece which uses the U.S.-Mexico border wall as an instrument of tribute to the nearly 100 people who died while attempting to migrate.

You can listen to this story using the audio player at the top of the page.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.

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