In the early evening of Saturday, July 24, six women stood in silence outside the entrance of MoMA PS1, the contemporary art outpost of the Museum of Modern Art in Long Island City, Queens. They wore multicolored wigs, white suits printed with middle finger motifs, and paper cut-outs of mouths and eyes on their faces that transformed them into living collages. Between their legs hung large fabric sacs, protruding absurdly like oversized phalluses.
The impromptu scene was artist Yali Romagoza’s sixth “unannounced performative action,” part of a series collectively titled No me pongan en lo Oscuro (Do not Bury me in Darkness) (2019–). Previously staged at institutions including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Guggenheim, Romagoza’s performances draw attention to the scarcity of Latinx artists, particularly woman-identifying ones, in the traditional art circuit.
The performers, including the artist herself, stood in perfect stillness for approximately 30 minutes as passersby stopped to take in the scene and read the text printed on an A-frame sign nearby.
“Where is the art made by Latinx artists living and producing art in New York City represented in the Greater New York exhibitions at MoMA PS1?” it said, referring to the museum’s prestigious quinquennial survey of artists living and working in the New York metropolitan area.
“How many Latinx women artists have had one-person exhibitions at MoMA PS1? Zero,” the text continued.
Passersby stopped to take in the 30-minute performance. (photo by Paola Martinez-Fiterre; courtesy of Yali Romagoza)
“I’ve been living in Queens since I moved to New York from Cuba, and I haven’t really seen any representation of the type of work that I do or that my community does,” Romagoza told Hyperallergic. “Another thing I noted is that Queens is the most ethnically diverse urban area in New York City and globally, representing over 100 nations and 138 different languages. Why doesn’t MoMA PS1 engage with this large community of immigrant artists?”
The eye-catching costumes, designed and hand-stitched by the artist, are meant to embody Romagoza’s alter ego, Cuquita the Cuban Doll. The character is named after the cut-out paper dolls included in issues of the socialist Cuban magazine “Mujeres” that Romagoza played with as a child in Havana in the 1990s.
Each subsequent action in the No me pongan en lo Oscuro series adds an additional “Cuquita” or performer to the group, a symbolic expansion that parallels the growing movement to include more Latinx artists in the so-called art historical canon.
The performers wore costumes designed by the artist and cut-out eyes and mouths that made them look like living collages. (photo by Paola Martinez-Fiterre; courtesy of Yali Romagoza)
“I felt that Latinx artists, especially Latina women, have to carry a lot of stereotypes,” Romagoza said. “In creating this person that is not me, that you don’t have assumptions or preconceived notions about, I found the freedom to talk about immigration, feminism, marginalization, and Latina women. She gave me the possibility of hiding my own identity.”
Greater New York debuted at MoMA PS1 in 2000 and featured the work of nearly 150 young and emerging artists based in New York City. An immediately iconic exhibition poster depicting a roaring tiger, designed by the Polish multimedia artist Piotr Uklanski, was plastered across the city’s subway stations, and the show took off.
Three exhibitions have been mounted so far, but Romagoza says in looking through the museum’s archives, she had a revelation: “The numbers of Latinx artists have been very few.” (MoMA PS1 has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s requests for comment and has neither verified nor refuted Romagoza’s claims.)
The fourth edition of Greater New York is slated to open later this year, postponed from 2020 due to the pandemic, and will be organized by curator Ruba Katrib; writer and curator Serubiri Moses; MoMA PS1 director Kate Fowle; and Inés Katzenstein, MoMA’s Curator of Latin American Art.
Romagoza’s performance seems like a cheeky nudge to the organizing team, a timely admonition to consider the Latin American diaspora in its curatorial process — or at least that was the tone of a text addressed to MoMA PS1 at the very bottom of her sign: “We know you feel terrible about this, and will rectify the situation immediately.”