Post-colonial Latin-American Benton exhibit sparks shared learning experiences

The exhibit highlights this distinct time period in art through Indigenous visual culture of Central and South America (Photo by Wendy Zhang • The Student Life)

5C students, staff and faculty and the broader Claremont community recently joined forces for an informal yet focused gallery talk on Pomona College’s Benton Art Museum Exhibit “Gilded, Carved, and Embossed: Latin American Art, 1500-1800” on Wednesday March 22. Through various paintings and sculptures, the showcase reveals the inventive skill and creativity of Indigenous artists produced during the European rule of Latin America, reflecting the dynamics of colonial power within this era. 

“Gilded, Carved, and Embossed” highlights this distinct time period in art through Indigenous visual culture of Central and South America, in communication with traditional colonial art-forms such as oil paintings. 

“These rich artworks reflect a lot of different histories,” Elizabeth Lootus PO ’25, a student curator for the exhibition, said. 

Lootus expressed the importance for the exhibition curators to establish a narrative which characterizes people’s differentiated histories and experiences of this time. The aim of this exhibition is to tell the holistic story of Latin American artistic skill and creativity in this cultural context. 

“I find it fascinating to see such a distinct art style that combines European religious symbols and Latin American styles,” Zoe Skigen PO ’26, a gallery talk attendee, said. “The history is what makes it feel distinct and special.” 

The student curators of the showcase worked in close collaboration with the Benton Art Museum Director Victoria Sancho Lobis to collect pieces for this event. In the research process, the curators focused on looking at artworks of a certain dimension to establish a cohesive narrative. 

“We tried to focus on the agency of the artists and materiality,” said Lootus. 

The exhibition opened its doors to the community on Feb. 22. Since then, Benton has hosted three gallery talks on the showcase, led by the students who helped curate this exhibition. For the particular series on March 22, Lootus guided attendees through the space.

The talk began with Claire Nettleton, academic curator at the Benton, giving a quick overview of the intention of the exhibition and setting the cultural context.

“It’s really rewarding for the public to acquire the knowledge that our student curators have been researching and gathering for this exhibition,” Nettleton said. 

For Lootus, the talks function as the exhibition coming to fruition. 

“I find it fascinating to see such a distinct art style that combines European religious symbols and Latin American styles. The history is what makes it feel distinct and special.”

“It felt very abstract and far away when we started,” Lootus said, “I’m very proud of where we’ve come together.” 

Next, Lootus shared her own favorite pieces within the space and invited the audience opportunities to share their own perspectives on the works. This core element of audience engagement sparks community dialogue. 

“It’s also really interesting to gather insight from the audience,” Lootus said.

One piece that Lootus highlights in this gallery tour is “Our Lady of Loreto,” an oil painting completed by a Peruvian artist. The work depicts a royal Black Madonna of a darker complexion. 

Community audience members agreed that it’s empowering to see the Black Madonna portrayed with darker skin in a post-colonial context. 

“It’s important to learn about the ways Indigenous peoples resisted colonialism, even if they are subtle through art,” Skigen said. “It restores some sense of autonomous power to their culture.” 

This portrayal of the Black Madonna in “Our Lady of Loreto” aligned with the local and place-based significance.  

“We’ve often come back and incorporated some interpretations from students, faculty and staff to include into our own interpretations of the show,” Nettleton said. 

As a result, this has provided a sense of an exchange of knowledge between community members through works of art containing pressing social issues.

One Claremont-based artist shared her understanding of a work within the exhibition. 

“[The artist] was sharing with students the use of complementary contrast of the colors and how that ultimately implies this sense of tension in the work,” Nettleton said. 

Originally, it was something that the students and staff had not considered, yet now it is used in understanding the exhibit. 

A crucial aspect of the exhibition for Lootus was to cultivate a culture of inclusivity within the space. For instance, Lootus mentioned that a significant characteristic of the gallery talks is to frame museums as more accessible in nature. 

“Museums can be intimidating or daunting for some folks,” Lootus said. “These guided talks are a way of making this space feel casual and comfortable.” 

Skigen conceived the dialogue within the talk as a conversation centered around shared interest and passion alike. 

“The Benton staff encouraged everyone to voice their opinion which made the whole experience more interactive and welcoming,” Skigen said. “The Benton Museum is a truly wonderful place and I feel is underappreciated by the student population.” 

The exhibition continues for community visitation through July 23. The Benton Museum of Art is open Wednesday through Sunday from 12-6 p.m. Student-led gallery talks on the exhibition are hosted each Wednesday 12:15-12:45 p.m. 

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