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ART REVIEW

A Blend of Politics, Feminism From Uruguayan Women

November 06, 1996|WILLIAM WILSON | TIMES ART CRITIC

The world has grown so troubled it's become commonplace to link art to social and political issues. Such a scenario quite clearly animates Loyola Marymount's new exhibition, "Las (In)Visibles: Women Artists of Uruguay."

The roster unmistakably posits feminism as a theme. This is too bad on two counts. It's too bad society has done such a poor job of equalizing the status of women that we still have to have segregated shows. It's unusually regrettable in this instance because we so rarely see Uruguayan work that it would be nice to be informed about what the other gender is up to.

The title, according to curator Stacey Wescott, points to the invisible status of women in Uruguay while also alluding to the general social conditions in the country. Wall labels remind us that in 1973, this once relatively progressive South American nation fell under a military dictatorship.

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Conditions grew ever more harsh. At one point it was estimated the regime had attained the disgusting distinction of holding the largest number of political prisoners per capita on the planet. The pattern of physical and mental torture was acute. People who could do so went into exile, including four of the 17 artists whose work is on view.

Although civilian rule was officially restored in 1984, we're told economic conditions remain grim and many citizens remain profoundly suspicious.

Curatorial emphasis on these moving issues tends to create, if not an expectation, an inkling that the art on view will be pointedly linked to events that run a short gamut from the reprehensible to the ghastly.

Anybody expecting to find a confrontational artist with the power and passion of, say, a Kathe Kollwitz on view, is in for a disappointment. Only two women here make a clear connection between their work and the particular problems of women in Uruguay or the effects of the dictatorship.

Leonilda Gonzalez presents a suite of woodcuts called "Brides of the Revolution" in which spectral figures in ritual wedding costume variously stare suspiciously at one another, suffer crucifixion and dance like witches before an armed guard.

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Nancy Urrutia is represented by two particularly touching photographs of children seen between the booted legs of armed police or soldiers.

None of which is to say that either the social issues or the artists deserve anything less than serious attention. But their juxtaposition serves less to illuminate one another than to create a certain disconnection.

Much of the art asserts graphic superiority. Its general style hovers around the edges of fantastic Surrealism. Sometimes it's very finely wrought, as in Alina Di Natale's "The Fable of the Germ and the Ant." Other artists, like Lacy Duarte, go brushy and expressionistic.

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Despite the general aura of haunted angst attributable to conditions in Uruguay, work in these well-established styles has so long been made in perfectly peaceful climes it's impossible to distinguish the sociological from the personal.

In a very real way, it's the artist's job to assert individuality over ideology. A wonderful "Self-Portrait" by Diana Mines shows her bare back with a braid lying on it, severed from the rest of her hair. It's witty, angry and subtle as to whether it speaks for every woman or just herself. There isn't a trace of political cartooning in Pilar Gonzalez's big, banner-like satirical portraits, but she nails the venality of her types with admirable accuracy.

A positive value emerges from the sometimes ill-matched good intentions of this exhibition. It's an act of quiet heroism to go on making art in the face of adversity.

* Loyola Marymount University, 7900 Loyola Drive, Laband Art Gallery, through Dec. 7, closed Sundays through Tuesdays, (310) 338-2880.

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