Mapping Rhizomes

Rhizomes of Mexican American Art since 1848 depends upon partnerships with libraries, archives, and museums (LAM) across the nation. One of our first steps was to generate a landscape analysis to locate relevant collections of Mexican American art and documentation throughout the United States. Drawing upon the expertise of the co-Principal Investigators and members of our National Advisory Council, we used two references: 1) the Internet and 2) published exhibition checklists, which frequently identify the artwork’s lending institution. This reverse-engineering was also applied to current collection sites, such as the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), which gleans over 36 million digitized images, texts, videos, and sounds. The exploratory method resulted in the identification of over 70 institutions with Mexican-heritage art. We shared the preliminary results with curators of Chicana/o and Latinx art, who identified an additional seventeen libraries, archives, and museums, bringing the total to 87 sites.

In Spring 2019, using the software application, ArcGIS, we created a map that visualizes the data we found. The map is a helpful visual representation of the national database of LAM with Mexican American art and related materials. The database inventories the following information: the name and type of institution; its geographic location (address); and, when possible, the name(s) of the collection(s) holding Mexican American art and/or related documentation. The map is continuously being updated and also allows users to toggle views of the different types of institutions across the US.

Given the history and demography of the United States, it is unsurprising that LAM are clustered in the American Southwest. However, important libraries and archives with relevant collections are scattered across the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and East Coast. For instance, The Smithsonian Institution, an interdisciplinary and multi-site facility, is comprised of multiple locations and collections, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas holds early twentieth century paintings.

The next phase in developing the map is to add the names of collections and add new sites. Following the crowdsourcing method successfully employed by US Latinx Digital Humanities, we plan to invite the Internet-reading public to add new information to our database. Our broad approach to visual arts, Mexican America, and related documentation suggests that we will identify additional institutions, particularly those with collections of nineteenth-century crafts, religious and devotional objects since 1848, everyday textiles and material culture with an aesthetic sensibility, nineteenth-century painters and sculptors, as well as lowriders, performance art, and community archives.

We hope that engaging an Internet community interested in Mexican American art since 1848 through crowdsourcing for data will also help us promote the long-term aims of Rhizomes. We are currently exploring a number of initiatives for project advancement. These include:

  • The unprecedented and essential creation of a central digital portal for researchers, students, teachers, artists, curators, and faculty interested in the panorama of Mexican American art.
  • The inclusion of documentary material about Mexican American art and artists as well as the art collections themselves.

Our hopes are that this digital tool has the potential to completely change what is known about Mexican American art, what questions scholars can ask about it, how exhibitions are designed, and how interdisciplinary analyses are conducted.

The Rhizomes Institutional Map was funded by the Henry Luce Foundation.

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