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El Museo del Barrio names winner of inaugural $50,000 Maestro Dobel Latinx Art Prize

Manhattan’s El Museo del Barrio and the Mexican tequila company Maestro Dobel have awarded Cuban performance artist Carlos Martiel the inaugural Maestro Dobel Latinx Art Prize. The recognition for the Harlem-based artist comes with a $50,000 grant and a forhtcoming exhibition at El Museo’s Room 110 multidisciplinary space in the spring of 2024.

The new prize will be given biannually to Latinx artists working in the United States and Puerto Rico, and is intended to support an underrepresented group within the larger art sector. “The award offers an opportunity for Dobel and El Museo to raise awareness of the lack of representation of these artists in collections and exhibitions across the US, despite the cultural impact and growth of Latinos in this country,” Patrick Charpenel, the museum’s executive director, tells The Art Newspaper. Juan Dobel adds that creating the prize “was the logical next step on our journey”.

Martiel is known for his durational and often pain-inducing performances in which he uses his body to echo generational traumas caused by colonialism, violence and neglect. From remaining chained at the bottom of a river in Bahia to standing nude in handcuffs in the middle of the Guggenheim Museum’s rotunda, the 34-year-old artist has been pushing the limits of bodily endurance to bring audiences in close contact with overlooked socio-political realities.

“As a performance artist in an already under-recognised community, the award is especially honouring,” Martiel says. The prize extends the artist’s ties with El Museo, where he had delivered a performance titled Monumento I in 2021 without an audience. The work’s video documentation, which shows Martiel standing on a pedestal and drenched in blood donated by members of various marginalised communities, was later included in El Museo’s triennial, Estamos Bien — La Trienal 20/21. Martiel adds, “El Museo is special for always giving continuity to its support of the artists they show.”

For the prize’s first edition, the museum gathered several dozen nominations from a group of curators and experts in the field. From those nominees, a jury—which consisted of Charprenel, the Mistake Room’s founder and director Cesar Garcia, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston’s Latin American art curator Mari Carmen Ramirez and Maestro Dobel Artpothecary’s creative director and Anonimo Colectivo founder Alejandra Martinez—selected the winner.

Juan Dobel adds: “Carlos is the perfect recipient of this inaugural award as his work often delves into pressing issues and encourages audiences to re-evaluate their perspectives, fostering greater awareness and understanding of the complex issues affecting society.”

The 2020 Census found that 20% of New York state’s population identifies as Latinx and the US Hispanic population has is now more than 62 million, but art by Hispanic artists is heavily underrepresented in institutional collections. The Maestro Dobel Latinx Art Prize is one of several initiatives seeking to correct this problem. For instance, last February, the Mellon, Ford, Getty and Terra foundations each pledged to allocate $500,000 to ten institutions dedicated to Latinx art to finance curatorial positions for emerging and mid-career curators.

“The prize allows us to not only celebrate the cultural production of these artists, but also acknowledge its importance within the historical canon,” Charpenel says. “Our hope is that Latinx artists feel seen and their experiences are felt.”

In early October, Martiel stage a performance in London as part of Southbank Centre’s Marina Abramović Institute Takeover series, followed by other upcoming performances in Mexico City, São Paulo and Panama City.

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