For Latinx Heritage Month, Cultured highlights a roster of contemporary artists that are reimagining Latinx identity in the on-going series Mundo Makers.
Clay for Joel Gaitan is not just a material but a lifestyle. “It is everywhere,” he says. “Plates, pots, decorations around the house, clay has always been a part of my life.” Born in Hialeah, Florida, the artist draws inspiration for his work from his personal experiences. Pottery has always been an important part of Gaitan’s Nicaraguan culture, and making it allows him to learn about and connect with his family’s heritage. Using traditional hand-building techniques, Gaitan sculpts intricately detailed vessels that reference early Mesoamerican objects. Voluptuous forms are detailed with eyes, mouths, ears, braids, limbs, and both male and female genitals—reclaiming in many ways an unabashed relationship to the human body that was transformed during colonization. Some works are forged from multiple figures engaging in acts of pleasure, challenging the taboo nature of sexuality in our communities.
Collectively, Gaitan’s works propose a liberated form of history. When Christianity arrived in the Americas, a culture of shame shaped the ways people thought about the body, sexuality, and spirituality. In Gaitan’s sculptures today, the body is centered, sexuality is embraced, and the mystic dimensions of spirituality echo. Specificity is very important in the artist’s practice, too. As a broad construct, Latinidad often silences the voices of non-European peoples that thrived in the Americas long before the arrival of colonizers. This is why references to particular aspects of Nica culture and aesthetics abound his work. Aiming to represent those often unseen, Gaitan forges stories through his work that keep culture and traditions alive while perhaps also charting new futures.