Tag Archives: community

Blended Families – Gateways and Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day in Panama!

Most people know that I am Panamanian. Orgullosamente! Only some people know, however, that my father is Panamanian and my mother is African-American. Interestingly, this did not factor into Gateways until a meeting with Charlotte based artist Nico Amortegui.

Nico, born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia, has lived and worked in the United States since the late 1990s. He is quick to say, one of the main reasons he is here and that he lives in Charlotte is his wife and two daughters.

Early in our exhibition stages when I was deciding what the salient themes were and how they would be represented, I met with Nico in his studio.  We discussed some of his recent work, the growing population of Latinx in Charlotte, Latin American vs Latinx, and the restrictive focus on Latin Americans/Latinxs. THAT was the inspiration for his piece in GatewaysHe wanted to create a piece that focused on Latinxs, but one that included space for his wife – who is not Latina- and his children.

An Immigrant Connection to a Country of Immigrants Nico Amortegui, 2016 Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution
An Immigrant Connection to a Country of Immigrants
Nico Amortegui, 2016
Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution


When his work was in process I referred to it as “blended families” but Nico’s original piece created for the Gateways exhibition is called An Immigrant Connection to a Country of Immigrants.   In his words,

It is based on the fact that when we talk about Latinos we blur out the Americans (United States) that have embrace the Latino culture and have made it part of their life.

This beautiful work is in the “Making Home, Constructing Communities” section of the exhibition, but the message resonates throughout the whole exhibition. When we fight for social justice and civil rights, when we build networks, when we celebrate our communities we do not do this alone. It is never ONLY the Latinx community and it is never only FOR Latinx communities.

This is the story of millions of families in the United States, including mine. So in the spirit of this piece, I say Happy Panamanian Mother’s Day to my mom who has embraced the culture and made it part of our lives. Although my mother is African-American, she has a big Panamanian family is mother to Panamanian children so …

little me sleeping on my mother in New York
my mom and me at the Bridging the Americas Opening, 2015
la familia en Panama, 2009





Gateways is open! Through the lenses of social justice, constructing communities, and festivals as community empowerment, the exhibition explores the triumphs and struggles of Latinx migrants and immigrants in four urban destinations: Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, Raleigh-Durham, NC and Charlotte, NC

Sustainable Community Preservation Award – winner!

Happy Latinx Heritage Month!

Only July 8th I had the pleasure and great honor to attend the Afro-Latino Festival of New York where I received an award for Sustainable Community Preservation from the organizing committee.

AfroLatinoFest Ariana
Dr. Ariana A. Curtis with her beautiful award

Friday was a full day. It included Afrolatin@Crowd Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, five panels, a keynote luncheon, awards presentation, an exclusive film screening screening, a cocktail reception, and musical performances at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

We gathered on that hot summer day under the heaviness of the recent killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile just days before. The mood was at once somber, buoyant, aware, powerful, and gentle. For many of us, that was the collective safe space we needed to emote, process, heal, and plan.

I served on a panel, Afrolatin@S, ¡Presente!: Representation And Cultural Heritage where I discussed the work I do at the Anacostia Community Museum, but really, espoused some of my philosophy about Afro-Latinx representation and cultural heritage more broadly.  The full day’s recordings are available via the Schomburg’s livestream site.

talking to Geco Jones
Dr. Curtis with panel moderator DJ Geko Jones Photo credit: Bob Gore


talking sphere
Dr. Ariana A. Curtis mid explanation at AfroLatino Talks 2016 Photo credit: Bob Gore










I didn’t have notes so I cannot summarize my contributions to the hour-long panel, but I will share a small story that I told:

When I first started at the Smithsonian people would introduce me as a curator of Afro Latino studies.  I was quick to correct them. I am proud to be Afro Latina but I am a curator for Latino Studies. Latino studies includes Afro-Latinos.  We do not always need to be separate.

The responsibility for knowing our history and culture should not be pushed off to a few.  And, we cannot claim Latin America or the U.S. as spaces of mixedness, as spaces with African roots, then deny our contemporary existence and inclusion of Afro Latinos within larger contexts.

My contributions to the Smithsonian, or to anywhere I am, do not begin and end with my physical Blackness and my value to this world does not lie exclusively within the nexus of Blackness and Latinidad.  I am interested in representing community stories within American stories. Latino history and culture include Afro-Latino stories. Plural. We are not all the same. Our diversity matters.

The award ceremony and performances were Friday evening, also at the Schomburg, following a reception. As you can see from the image below, I was in the company of some heavy hitters. When I emailed people after the event I confessed: I am elated to share any honor with (fellow Panamanian) Danilo Perez.

I kept my acceptance speech very short. I will admit, I was overcome with emotion in a way I did not expect and I feared my voice would betray me. I am not generally a crier but looking out at all of the faces, including my parents and my sister, I teared up!

The gist of it was:

I know that I work for and represent an institution that has historically excluded us.  But I also know how powerful it has been for people to see someone that looks like ME doing Latino-centered work in this institution.  The Smithsonian is responsible for telling the American story and I am responsible for making sure we are included. When I think about the people I want to be proudest of what I do, moved by this work, it is people who feel I am telling their story.  Our story.

I have had some wonderful days in my personal and professional life, but receiving this honor is among the top.

afroLatinoFest awardees
2016 Honorees receiving awards from Amilcar Priestley: Danilo Perez: Grammy Award Winning Latin Jazz Pianist/Composer Dr. Ariana Curtis : Curator, Latino Studies, Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum Ayesha Schomburg: Board Member, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture & Counsel NYC City Council Moises Medrano (not pictured): Director of Populations, Ministry of Culture, Colombia Photo Credit: Bob Gore


Thank you so much to everyone at AfroLatino Festival for considering me, with a special shout out to (fellow Panamanian) Amilcar Priestley.

After the ceremony, I was able to sit back with family and friends and enjoy the rest of the night and the weekend festivities. For those that missed out, see you next year!

Panamanian group Afrodisíaco performing at the Schomburg Center Photo credit: Bob Gore

New acquisition! Rosalia Torres-Weiner part 1

Charlotte, North Carolina has been on our minds and in our hearts these past few days. In an act of community and resilience, it felt appropriate to celebrate both the city of Charlotte and Latino Heritage Month in the next few blog posts.

Thanks to the Latino Initiatives Pool, the Anacostia Community Museum was able to acquire new collections!   The Museum has acquired two pieces by Rosalia Torres-Weiner for the upcoming exhibition, Gateways, opening December 5, 2016.  Gateways explores the triumphs and struggles of Latino migrants and immigrants in four urban destinations: Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, Raleigh-Durham, NC and Charlotte, NC

It has been an honor and a pleasure to work with Rosalia. She is a talented Mexican born and raised, Charlotte-based artivist (artist+activst). Her energy, creativity, thoughtfulness, and commitment to social justice and community stories pervade all aspects of her life and work.  I am excited for visitors to get a small glimpse of this in Gateways.

I am the curator, but the other (invaluable!) member of the Gateways team is research/curatorial assistant Elena C. Muñoz. On our trip to Charlotte last week, Elena sat down and spoke with Rosalia about her art in general, and our recent acquisitions in particular. As an art historian, Elena has a deep knowledge of this work. Below, please find Elena’s post about the first piece we will show: Uprising Against ICE. 


Elena interviewing Rosalia for an Artist Speak out component of Gateways
Elena interviewing Rosalia for an Artist Speak out component of Gateways Photo: Ariana A. Curtis


Many of Torres-Weiner’s pieces deal with the complexities of the United States immigration system as well as the injustices and dangers immigrants often face. Her latest series of ten large format paintings that depict both the contributions and struggles of Latino immigrants in the United States.  This painting is a reimagining of one of Diego Rivera’s Mexican Revolution masterworks, The Uprising (1931).

The Uprising by Diego Rivera, 1931
The Uprising by Diego Rivera, 1931

Torres-Weiner’s paintings are typically bright, colorful pieces. This particular piece is painted in blues and grays, alluding to the ICE of the title. For this painting, the artist has abandoned her usual style and has instead mimicked both the style and composition of Mexican muralist Diego Rivera’s The Uprising.


Collection of the Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Uprising Against ICE by Rosalia Torres-Weiner,  Collection of the Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

 Like Rivera’s painting, Torres-Weiner’s piece features a crowded and compressed picture plane, with a family unit battling an authority figure at the forefront. Torres-Weiner has replaced Rivera’s soldier with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent in full SWAT gear, reaching with handcuffs towards a humbly dressed, unarmed immigrant family. Like Rivera’s female protagonist, Torres-Weiner has depicted a mother holding her swaddled child, arm outstretched to protect her family. Her husband protects their older daughter to the right of the canvas. The daughter, not present in the Rivera original, is yellow, the color of hope. The father creates a barrier between himself and the agent with a farming spade, reminding the viewer that immigrants perform much of the farm labor in the United States. To the left and behind the agent are more ICE agents and U.S. government officials in suits and ties. On the ground between the family and the primary agent is another figure and dollar bills, both trampled underfoot. Behind the immigrant family is a crowd of protesters, from which a “DREAM” sign can be seen, referring to the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act that failed to pass. In the background is a U.S. flag, a bright contrast to the icy blues and grays of the rest of the work.

In the 1990s, North Carolina led the U.S. in Latino population growth. The southeast U.S. is one of the fastest growing regions in the country, in overall population and Latino population. In January of 2016, there were several ICE raids throughout the Southeast, resulting in the detention of 121 people, most of whom are women and children. The relationship between law enforcement and North Carolina’s Latino population is strained and fraught with anxiety, especially for undocumented families.

Uprising Against ICE gives voice to this anxiety while also subverting it. Torres-Weiner reimagines a family being held together through their own power and through the support of the masses that revolt behind them.



SHORT BIO of Elena C. Muñoz

Elena C. Munoz

Elena Muñoz received her MA in Art History from Rutgers University, and her BA in Art History from Fordham University. Her primary research interest is teasing out the African influences in Latin American and Latino art. She is also fascinated with the evolution and uses of Marian imagery in the Americas. In 2014, she was a recipient of the Smithsonian’s Latino Museum Studies fellowship, working with the Teodoro Vidal Collection at the Lunder Center and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Currently she is a research assistant at the Anacostia Community Museum, working on the upcoming exhibition Gateways, which examines Latino im/migration in the D.C. Metro Area, Baltimore, the Raleigh-Durham region of North Carolina, and Charlotte, North Carolina.


SHORT BIO of Rosalia Torres-Weiner

Rosalia Torres Weiner with Uprising against ICE
Rosalia Torres Weiner with Uprising against ICE

Rosalia Torres-Weiner is a self-taught artist-activist who has lived and worked in Charlotte since 1992. Born in Mexico City, Mexico, she came to the United States in 1985. After working in the hospitality industry, she gradually turned to a career as an artist. She initially worked as a flight attendant; after painting murals in her children’s rooms, her neighbors commissioned her to paint murals in their homes. She launched her company Home Art Designs in 2001, painting murals in residential as well as commercial properties. In 2010, she pivoted and began to focus primarily on using her art as activism for the Latino community. She started the Papalote Project, (the Kite Project) using art as therapy for local children who were suffering from the loss of a parent due to deportation. She continues to produce socially conscious and community-engaging work from her studios in Charlotte, NC.

Women Photographers of Washington Presentation at the Anacostia Community Museum

The Anacostia Community Museum seeks to be a gathering place for important conversations pertaining to urban communities. We devise our public programming and community forums with this goal in mind.  This Sunday, September 18, we were pleased to present the work of two local photographers, Becky Harlan and Gabriela Bulisova, both members of the 501C3 non-profit, Women Photojournalists of Washington.  Harlan and Bulisova have both been working for many years on the projects they presented.

Women Photojournalist of Washington member Becky Harlan presents her work on the Anacostia River to a full house at the Anacostia Community Museum on Sunday September 18, 2016.
WPOW Member Becky Harlan shares work from her project on the Anacostia River.

Harlan’s project “D.C.’s Anacostia River” looks at the history of the Anacostia, from fertile native American fishing ground, to its status as a polluted river, the river keepers who take it upon themselves to maintain a better tributary, and the communities that have formed around the river. Below is a frame taken from her project, more work can be seen on her website here:

Photographer Becky Harlan's work on the Anacostia River. Here a clean-up crew at Kennilworth Aquatic Gardens.
Photographer Becky Harlan’s work on the Anacostia River. Here a clean-up crew at Kennilworth Aquatic Gardens.

Gabriela Bulisova’s work Inside Outside and Convictions examines the lives of returning citizens, the formerly incarcerated, and the families left behind.  According to the International Center for Prison Studies, the United States has the largest percentage of incarcerated people in its population in the world.  Bulisova spent time getting to know returning citizen groups and the families of the incarcerated, making still photographs and short movies to record their experiences.  She shared with us several short films which are accessible below and by going to Bulisova’s website here.

Photographer Gabriela Bulisova shares her work on returning citizens in Washington, DC at the Anacostia Community Museum Sunday September 18, 2016.

The discussion following the presentations was informed by the presence of several of the returning citizens with whom Bulisova has worked on her projects.  They spoke to the administrative limbo many incarcerated DC citizens find themselves in because they are beholden to the laws of the federal system, even as in many states, sentences for many crimes, especially non-violent ones are being commuted or cut short.  Because DC is not a state, prisoners find themselves trapped in a federal purgatory where  they are literally stateless citizens.

The opportunity to hear an artist discuss her work will always further your understanding of the project.  We are pleased at the Anacostia Community Museum to bring these conversations to you and hope you will join us in adding your voice to our community.

The Queen City: Poetry, Patriots, & Family Separation

Charlotte, North Carolina. The Queen City.

A major emerging immigrant center. One of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. A minority majority city. A city with a rapidly growing Latino community. It is one of the cities that will be highlighted in an upcoming exhibition, Gateways.

North Carolina led the nation in Latino population growth in the 1990s with a nearly 400% increase in its Latino population. Initial Latino immigrants and migrants were largely working class but those numbers have since shifted to include more professionals as the population of Latinos continues to grow.

A Family enjoying the annual Hola Charlotte Festival in uptown Charlotte, NC Photo by Susana Raab Anacostia Community Museum Smithsonian Institution
A Family enjoying the annual Hola Charlotte Festival in uptown Charlotte, NC
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

To help the city deal with rapidly shifting demographics, the city of Charlotte created an Immigrant Integration Task Force in 2013. This group, appointed by the city, explores ways to make Charlotte more immigrant friendly and integrative. Though the task force and national news reports focus on the entrepreneurial integration of immigrants and economic impact, Gateways will begin conversations of community integration at more basic levels.

Housing. Education. Safety. Family.

Family units have been separated by policies such as Secure Streets and Secure Communities that provide overlapping authority between local law enforcement and federal immigration agencies. Between 2009 and 2016 more than 2.5 million people were deported. Earlier in 2016, raids by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) focused on Georgia, North Carolina and Texas.

What does this look like? What does this mean? How do we stop seeing policy and instead focus on people?

Words are powerful emotive tools.
In celebration of April as National Poetry Month, I share this work by Gateways collaborator Herrison Chicas, a UNC graduate who spoke at TedX Charlotte in 2014


Gateways, opening in December 2016, explores the triumphs and struggles of Latino migrants and immigrants in four urban destinations: Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, Raleigh-Durham, NC and Charlotte, NC.

How do we measure the social value of our work?

From April 26-29 I, and thousands of museum workers, attended the American Alliance of Museums annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. The theme of this year’s conference was: The social value of museums: Inspiring change.

I attended many insightful sessions about immigration, telling American Stories, museums as conveners, museums as sites of activism, and measuring/evaluating social change. Of the many things I left pondering, one of the most significant is: How do or how should I measure the social value and impact of MY work activity?

In a session addressing museum evaluation, Deborah Schwartz of the Brooklyn Historical Society invited us all to

Engage. LISTEN. Exchange

I have been sitting with this advice for almost two weeks now, still wondering how one measures this.   In order to think about the social value and impact of our work activity, we must look at HOW we work and not just WHAT work we do. A better question than measure might be: how to do we know if we are being successful in engaging, listening and exchanging?

I don’t have a complete answer yet, but:

1. People now tell me about any Panamanian in their life. I find this amusing and wonderful.  I love that those around me feel comfortable talking to me.  These declarations of Panamanian association usually lead to questions about food, music, immigration, language. Really though, the conversations can lead through any number of interactive activities. Engagement, listening, and exchange.

2. I have noted that about 10 people have emailed me about the premier of the Panama Canal Stories/ Historias del Canal at the Inter-American Development Bank tonight. Some asked if I am going. Some emailed just as an FYI in case I hadn’t seen it. Some knew I would be there and asked if I wanted to meet.   Bridging the Americas: Community and Belonging from Panama to Washington, D.C.  may be a small show, but the community participation and exchange of ideas have created a network well beyond the exhibition’s square footage.

Forwarding an email message may seem like a trivial act not worthy of note or measure. I disagree.

We all know how easy it is to delete emails, read or unread.  The fact that people not only thought of me when they heard of this film and read their email message, but further, took the extra minute to send me the information knowing I would be receptive gives me hope.   I am helping create an engaged network concerned not only with her/his own activity but also the knowledge and activity of US.  While I am not yet certain how to measure  or report my impact or activity, the social value of my work is exponentially increased by engaging with, listening to, and exchanging with the communities I serve, in big and small ways.