José Manuel Santoyo’s shared office at the Latino Center for Leadership Development downtown feels like the nerve center of a political campaign. There’s talk of community outreach and turnout, and stacks of boxes filled with flyers and T-shirts lean against the walls.
Rather than political slogans or candidates’ names, though, the flyers show images of famous Mexican paintings: Frida Kahlo’s Las Dos Fridas, Olga Costa’s The Fruit Seller.
Santoyo, a 25-year-old SMU grad student studying human rights and organizational management, is helping lead “Yo Soy DMA,” a community effort to drum up attendance and interest in the art museum’s newest exhibition, México 1900-1950: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco, and the Avant-Garde. The show, which opens Sunday, is a major survey of about 200 works by some of Mexico’s most legendary artists, as well as more unknown names no less influential in defining the country’s culture in the first half of the 20th century.
Santoyo hopes the exhibition will bring an unprecedented number of first-time visitors to the Dallas Museum of Art, a record “Yo Soy DMA” hopes to set by reaching out primarily to Latinos in North Texas.
“My personal goal is for us to have communities that, in the past, would have never gone to the museum, know that that’s a space created for them as well,” Santoyo says. “Knowing that the art they’re going to see reflects who they are. It reflects their culture, their cultural identity. And so that they can take their kids and their families and have an opportunity to learn about a culture that a lot of us left behind when we left our home country.”
To that end, “Yo Soy DMA” volunteers—Santoyo says about 150 people have signed on so far—are speaking at schools, businesses, and other gathering places, passing out flyers and promoting the show. Others will be at the museum to act as guides and to talk about the art with visitors, not quite as full docents, but with enough training to provide context and other information. Still others will help raise money from donors, in part to ensure that families who can’t afford the $16 exhibition tickets will be able to see the show.
That inclusive spirit extends to the exhibition itself, which will be presented in English and Spanish, a testament to the show’s curator and the museum’s new director, Agustín Arteaga, who was hired away from the Museo Nacional del Arte in Mexico City last year. (Arteaga has said that he wants every work in the museum to be accompanied by bilingual plaques.)
Speaking last November with the Spanish-language newspaper Al Dia, Arteaga made clear that he wants the museum to connect more with Dallas’ diverse residents, with works that represent the varied origins of people living in North Texas. He announced a plan that hinges on “setting up a dialog with the community, and creating a sense of encounter with their own history.”
A show like México 1900-1950 certainly belongs in a city where more than 40 percent of the population is Hispanic, as does Arteaga’s multicultural approach.
The exhibition, on display through July 16 and making its only U.S. appearance here, tracks the development of Mexican Modernism and the artists who helped shaped the country and its evolving identity amidst the tumult of its 20th century revolution. It includes murals by Rivera and paintings by Kahlo. One section called “Strong Women” will highlight women artists.
The show may gain some added contemporary resonance because of today’s contentious political climate, particularly regarding immigration and U.S.-Mexico relations. It’s something that strikes home for Santoyo, who came to the U.S. from Mexico as a child. An undocumented immigrant covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, he says the exhibition has been a haven for him in uncertain times.
But art is never just an escape.
“I think that art can have a very powerful political impact in society,” Santoyo says. “You can just see in the use of art right now at protests, where people are using art to express different emotions. I think when you look at some of the artists that are going to be featured [in the exhibition], and how maybe at the time they were considered to be radicals—now we embrace what they stood for.”