by Vesela Sretenović et al. Yale University Press, February 2019. 200 p. ill. ISBN 9780300233902 (h/c), $50.00.
Reviewed January 2020
Kai Alexis Smith, Architecture and Design Librarian, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), firstname.lastname@example.org
Zilia Sánchez (b. 1926) is a Cuban born, Puerto Rican based artist that makes sensuous, ambiguous, minimal art that is often evocative of the female form. Zilia’s work has spanned six decades, and she has been claimed by several movements including minimalism, concretism, and gestural abstraction. As a Cuban exile, she has always felt connected and disconnected to the island, and her work is reflective of this and her politics. Straddling this in-betweenness can be applied to how she has been a part of artistic movements - but not really - at the same time.
Zilia Sánchez: Soy Isla is an exhibition catalog published by the Phillips Collection for the exhibit bearing the same name. The book is made up of six sections with contributions from Caribbean and US scholars and curators. Each contributor brings their unique perspectives to Zilia’s work and highlights themes in her work addressing sexuality, politics, space, and texture. Contributors include museum and independent scholars and curators (Vesela Sretenović, Ingrid W. Elliott, and Carla Acevedo-Yates), academic faculty (Abigail McEwen), and a Cuban poet and writer (Mercedes Cortázar). This catalog does a good job of placing her work in the canon of important movements. It opens with “Embodied Spaces of Zilia Sánchez” by Vesela Sretenović, reviewing Sánchez’s work over her career and unpacking the artist’s interests and themes through her art using accessible, simple language. The interview “In Retrospect: Talking with Zilia Sánchez,” also by Sretenović, provides a window into this artist’s life as she looks back on her career. This interview also helps frame the subsequent essays about her work. All the essays have large, colorful images showcasing Sánchez’s work and are written in very accessible language, which is appealing to both an academic and public audience.
At the end of every essay are detailed notes and a chronology which includes photographs from the artist’s youth and ephemera that provide more of a personal element. There is a nice balance of focus on the personal life of the artist and the critical analysis of her work, engaging scholars and non-art historical readers alike.
This exhibition catalog includes over fifty colorful plates, an exhibition history, selected bibliography, lenders to the exhibition, and index. For those engaging in more inclusive collection development practices for art, art history, and design, this catalog is a good addition to help build collections including diverse voices from the Caribbean. This is also a suitable resource to learn a bit more about island artists’ art and activism through the Cuban Revolution, New York in the 1960s, and Puerto Rico.