South American Art

Five Contemporary Women Artists from Latin America You Need to Know

Natalia Tiberio 19 June 2023 min Read

When we speak about contemporary art in Latin America, women artists are at the center stage. Working around various mediums and highlighting themes like politics, feminism, memory, consumerism, and traditions, they represent the best and the most thought-provoking artists in the region. Rosana Paulino, Doris Salcedo, Tania Bruguera, Marta Minujín, and Maris Bustamante are five of the most interesting artists in Latin America.

The Women Leading the Way

The art scene in Latin America is rich, vibrant, and diverse. From native peoples’ art to contemporary names, there’s much to see in the region. The mix of ancient tradition, European colonization, and the fight for freedom and social justice are present in the work of many women artists over the centuries. Women have played a key role in art movements throughout the region (think Frida Kahlo, Tarsila do Amaral, Cecilia Vicuña) and continue to lead the way of contemporary art from Mexico to Uruguay. Here are five essential names of women artists from Latin America today.

Doris Salcedo

Born in Colombia, in 1958, Doris Salcedo creates powerful installations that discuss the themes of mourning, memory, and loss. Part of her practice is to displace objects from their familiar settings to illustrate absence, not being present, and how the emptiness that is left by someone affects relationships between people, communities, and more broadly, in society.

In her work, Salcedo has highlighted the conflicts and violence in Colombia, the migration crisis, and war, always investigating the disappearance of loved ones.

Present in major collections and exhibitions around the world, Salcedo was awarded the Tate Modern Turbine Hall commission in 2007 and created Shibboleth, a massive crack in the floor, representing division and exclusion.


Maris Bustamante

Another woman artist from Latin America is a Mexican conceptual artist, Maris Bustamante (b. 1949). Bustamante is an essential figure of feminist art in Latin America. Her work combines the use of humor and irony with questioning patriarchal and hierarchical structures in society. Together with No Grupo (1977-1983), she created interventions and performances like the iconic El Pene Como Instrumento de Trabajo/Para Quitarle a Freud lo Macho (The Penis as a Work Instrument/To Get Rid of the Macho in Freud) from 1982 that discusses women’s access to work.

Bustamante also established Polvo de Gallina Negra (Black Hen Powder) in 1983 with artist Mónica Mayer, in which they examine maternity, violence against women, and gender roles. Always using satire and popular culture, the duo staged their performance in schools, museums, and even live on TV. 

Bustamante’s contribution to art comes also from teaching and writing and she influenced many women artists of the following generations.


Marta Minujín

Another interesting Latin American woman artist is Marta Minujín (b. 1943), who is an Argentinian artist that explores consumerism in the form of happenings, performances, and sculptures. Linked to the 1960s Pop Art, her work invites the public to participative experiences, challenging the notion of art as objects to be collected.

For example, in La Menesunda (Mayhem) from 1965, Minujín built spaces in which the visitors would walk through and discover unusual ambients, pioneering this type of relationship between the audience and the artwork.

Famous for her witty character, she also creates monumental sculptures sometimes made with fragile materials, like El Obelisco de Pan Dulce (The Panettone Obelisk) from 1979 which was a massive structure made of sweet bread.

An icon of Argentinian art, Minujín is exhibited in numerous exhibitions worldwide and has received honors both in her home country and internationally.


Rosana Paulino

Rosana Paulino (b. 1967), another Latin American woman artist worth following, is one of the leading figures in contemporary art in Brazil. With works in textile, installation, and print, she discusses gender, race, colonization, and their impact on generations of Black populations in the country.

One of her most interesting works is Parede da Memória (Wall of Memory, 1994-2015), in which Paulino produced as many as 1,500 patuás (little talismans) printing photos of members of her family in fabric and embroidery. These images are then replicated many times, creating both a place of honoring the family and also of remembrance of those who could not be protagonists of their own stories.

Being active since the 1990s, but only recently shown at individual and collective exhibitions in important museums around the world, the artist emphasizes Black women’s condition and the roles they are (still) expected to play in society.


Tania Bruguera

Last but not least, another female artist from Latin America is a Cuban performer and activist Tania Bruguera (b. 1968). Bruguera investigates the dynamics of political power in society with performance, video, and installations. Her works are radical and she is interested in bringing to the surface the questions of censorship and oppression. The social and political situation of her home country shapes her practice and Bruguera exposes the contradictions in the government discourse and the reality of everyday life.

Calling her works “social experiments”, she creates performances that provoke a response, for example, the 2008 performance at Tate Modern, Tatlin’s Whisper #5. In it, two mounted police officers gave orders and restrained visitors’ walking directions, creating an uncomfortable situation and illustrating how coercion is used by those who have the power.

Bruguera’s works are exhibited extensively worldwide and she received the Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 1998 and the Turbine Hall commission at Tate in 2018. 


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