SPOTLIGHT STORY

7 Latino Artists You Should Know

Celebrate Latino artists from across the Americas

Latin American cultures share similarities, and many are also influenced by European, indigenous, and African traditions. With all of these dynamic sources of inspiration, many Latino artists remix their cultures in interesting and exciting ways. Scroll on to meet some iconic Latino/a/x artists who've left a lasting impression...

1. Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros is a highly regarded Latino novelist in the United States who is best known for her novel The House on Mango Street. In her work, Sandra Cisneros champions Mexican-American women who live across and between national cultures.

In this Day of the Dead altar, Sandra Cisneros explores the themes of family, spirituality, and love. She combines very recognizable cultural symbols like the Virgin de Guadalupe with very personal objects, like family photos of her deceased loved ones.

Sandra Cisneros’s altar installation, “A Room of her Own: An Altar for my Mother.” (Collection: Smithsonian Latino Center)

2. Miguel Piñero

Miguel Piñero was a pioneer in spoken word poetry, a form that combines poetry, theater, and music. In 1973, Piñero helped to create the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City's Lower East Side. The Café was a home for expressive art that captured what life was like for Puerto Ricans in the city.

You can see all the key elements of spoken word poetry in this video, including emphatic intonation, rhythmic delivery, and even some dance-like movement.

Miguel Piñero performs his poem “Seeking the Cause” (Collection: Nuyorican Poets Cafe)

3. Julia de Burgos

Julia de Burgos was a Puerto Rican poet and activist who fought for the rights of Puerto Ricans, women, and Afro-Caribbean writers. She was a very bright student, talented teacher, and passionate advocate. Her writing took off in the 1930s, addressing issues of social justice and feminism.

"I am life, I am strength, I am woman” - Julia de Burgos

Mosaic of Julia de Burgos (Collection: Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico)

4. Celia Cruz

Celia Cruz was born in Cuba in 1925, and became known as the Queen of Salsa. Her unique voice, expressive singing, and bold style made her recognizable around the world, and helped her win several international music awards. Celia Cruz was a music ambassador, bringing Latin Music to new US Audiences.

Celia Cruz stamp (Collection: Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum)

5. Frida Kahlo

Born in Mexico during the 1930s, Frida Kahlo’s art and style frequently combined indigenous artistic traditions with Mexican and European ones. Her work, which has been described as Surrealist (though Kahlo would not accept this label herself), engages with socialist politics, the human body, and events in her own life.

Frida Kahlo frequently traveled to the United States, and spent significant time in San Francisco and Detroit. Her art from this time often highlights her longing for her homeland of Mexico.

Self-portrait with Small Monkey, Frida Kahlo (Collection: Museo Dolores Olmedo)

6. Fernando Botero

Fernando Botero, born in Medellín, Colombia, is famous for his signature style known as “Boterismo.” His work interprets human and natural figures in an almost bloated, oversized manner. This style often satirizes the powerful and those in authority, as seen in this work, “El presidente,” or “The President.”

El presidente, Fernando Botero (Collection: Museo Botero, Bogotá)

7. Mario Testino

Known for his fashion and portrait photography in the world’s top magazines, Mario Testino was originally born in Lima, Peru. As a young man, he traveled to London to study photography and to begin his prolific photography career. However, he remained continually inspired by his Latin-American childhood. In 2012, he opened an art center called MATE, to give back to Peruvian arts and culture. In this photograph from their collection, Mario Testino captures the deep tradition and aesthetic beauty of indigenous Peruvian textiles.

I, Traditional women’s costume, district of Acopía, province of Acomayo, Cusco, Peru, Mario Testino (Collection: MATE — Museo Mario Testino)

Continue your voyage into the Latino Heritage and Culture project here.

Story by Suzanna Bobadilla
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