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With a perfunctory, “the motion passes,” the fate of the Xandra Ibarra video Spictacle II: La Tortillera was sealed.
At its Tuesday morning meeting, the San Antonio Arts Commission voted to support final City authority in determining whether or not to include the artist’s video, deemed “obscene” by the City Attorney, in the XicanX: New Visions exhibition currently on view at Centro de Artes.
The nine-member advisory commission voted 7-2 against the unanimous recommendation of its own advisory Centro de Artes subcommittee, which voted Feb. 25 to include the video in the show, with screening and signage to provide adequate forewarning to viewers of the artwork’s sexual content.
The two “nay” votes were from Yadhira Lozano, chair of the Centro de Artes subcommittee, and Susana Segura, also a subcommittee member. Lozano questioned why the Arts Commission and City would not trust the recommendation of the subcommittee.
“If the City is still going to dig their heels in and say we’re not showing the video after everyone’s been supportive as far as the community is concerned … that’s what we get today. Then what are we doing?” Lozano asked rhetorically. “It really does make me question, why are we volunteering so much of our time and effort, devotion, and love for art, if our recommendations aren’t even heeded?”
After the commission vote, Debbie Racca-Sittre, executive director of the Department of Arts and Culture, did not issue a definitive statement on the fate of the video, nor make herself available to the Rivard Report for questions following the meeting.
A statement was released by the City later in the day:
“Today’s vote of the Arts Commission reaffirmed the City’s authority to make the final decision. We don’t take this responsibility lightly. The standard set for a city run gallery is that artwork needs to be appropriate for general audiences. A video depicting graphic simulation of a sex act, no matter the orientation of the artist, is not appropriate for general audiences.”
Suzy González, who curated the XicanX exhibition with Michael Menchaca as Dos Mestizx, disagreed with that conclusion.
“As if our Latinx-majority city is not the general audience, or that queer folks don’t belong to that,” she said. “There’s no question that this is rooted in homophobia and racism.”
Racca-Sittre asserted that her decision was not based on LGBTQIA issues, as asserted by Dos Mestizx and others who have voiced support for Ibarra. Racca-Sittre cited the “rushed” timeline of events as the chief reason for the video’s removal and subsequent public controversy.
The City statement continued:
“The video was received by the department the day before the exhibit opened. If we would have received the video with sufficient time, the Department of Arts & Culture would have considered connecting the Guest Curators with privately run art spaces in San Antonio to exhibit this work in a companion show, as has been done in the past. This offer still stands.”
González said the statement was the first she and Menchaca had heard of any such offer, which offered no specifics, and that they would not accept the offer were it made in substance.
“We see that as not the solution, [but as] giving power to the whole censorship case,” she said. “We’re not willing to compromise on this. We’re not willing to compromise for our queer Latinx artists to not get the same treatment as everyone else.”
González further asserted complications to the City’s repeated representations of timeline issues. She said the exhibition materials were turned in on time and were approved by City staff. The Ibarra video itself was received by Dos Mestizx on Dec. 11, but Centro de Artes told them it did not have staff with adequate technical capabilities to compile the videos for exhibition. Menchaca took on the task himself, in addition to other curatorial duties for the 75-artwork show. This included helping with installation, a task not stipulated in Dos Mestizx’s contract with Centro de Artes.
Had Centro de Artes had adequate staff, González said, they would have had enough time to view all seven videos included in the exhibition prior to the Feb. 13 exhibition opening. González also said that when Racca-Sittre first viewed the video that day, she had expressed support for inclusion.
“She said ‘I will fight this fight with you,’” González said. “She said she would let her kids watch the video. And then, after she gets different values-based opinions from people in her higher chain of command, whose opinions were not necessary for this decision, she made a .”
The City has issued a meeting request to Dos Mestizx for late March to discuss the situation.
Rivard Report readers can view the Ibarra video here.