Leaning Into Difference: Lynnette Miranda

Lynnette Miranda is all about breaking down barriers, kicking doors open, speaking truth to power and making change.

Her field of action is the visual arts, but she doesn’t wade in the shallow, fetid pond of pretty pictures or mess with market-driven Zombie Formalism. Art for art’s sake? Who cares? To exhibit art objects, much less fetishize them, is not the goal. Let’s keep going. We’re getting warmer.

On a steamy evening last August, Miranda was one of the guest moderators at PLUG Projects’ Crit Night. It was an introduction of sorts — she had just arrived in KC to begin a stint as the Charlotte Street Foundation’s 2016 – 17 curator in residence. That night, three different artists publicly presented their work at PLUG, an artist-run gallery in the West Bottoms. A bit like a boxer, Miranda weaved in and around the artwork, artists and participants. As her gesturing hands wound up, she fired off a flow of smart, constructive observations and questions.

With academic chops and accessible language, Miranda thinks critically and speaks quickly on her feet. Creative interaction among artists is clearly her element. She trusts the intelligence of the audience to keep up with the conversation as she shifts the exhibition space into a site of educational exchange.

As a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago a decade ago, Miranda gravitated to photography and video art with emphasis on fiber and material studies. She’s spent time in the studio exploring the variations on process-time-image but has always questioned the limits of “fine art.” She was attracted to art as a way to think about the world, to engage with ideas. The practical side of her wanted to know how to do more things, so she earned a Master of Arts in Visual Arts Administration from New York University in 2014. As she gained experience in teaching and public programming, Miranda the studio artist expanded her skill set into a dynamic practice of an artist who makes, curates and educates simultaneously. An avid reader, she’s as curious about philosophy and history as much as art, politics or current events.

Like the instigators of historical avant-garde movements, especially of the last 50 years, Miranda is reconfiguring timeworn roles of artist, curator and educator. She embraces an interdisciplinary artistic lineage that seeks to collapse the artificial boundaries between art and life. It’s a perspective that insists on the social and political relevance of producing art in an oftentimes oppressive, exploitive art system. As a self-identifying “POC” or person of color, she’s particularly sensitive to the experiences of her artistic peers, vigilant about inclusivity, and hyperaware of the persistence of privilege.

“Lynnette cares deeply about the artists’ process, and what they have to say . . . She’s interested in cultivating artists as leaders and writers, and gives time and energy to that as well.”
— Amy Kligman, executive/artistic director, Charlotte Street Foundation

Platforms for Artists of Color

Miranda’s first exhibition at Charlotte Street’s La Esquina gallery, “¿QUE PASA, USA?” took the pulse of POC artists proudly scaling the slippery slope of art world privilege that favors whiteness. The 11 artists in the exhibition expressed a spectrum of American otherness, hybrid identities blending race, class and gender. However marginalized, these artists developed artistic strategies for survival ranging from satire to storytelling to performance. Indeed, Miranda’s own background — she grew up middle class in Miami — shares the complex POC experiences of her artists.

Miranda described her identity this way: “My dad is Peruvian with a Chilean-English paternal grandmother and a Japanese maternal grandfather. My mom is American with a Peruvian father, a Puerto Rican mother, a Chinese Peruvian grandmother, and a Spanish-Peruvian grandfather. The Japanese side of my family is very prevalent on my father’s side, and I even have cousins in Tokyo, although I myself am not culturally Japanese.”

When faced with the prospect of assimilating into the dominant culture or leaning into difference, Miranda chooses the latter. She further explained, “I identify as Latinx and not Hispanic (of or relating to Spain or to Spanish-speaking countries, especially those of Latin America) because I’m in opposition to indoctrinating the colonial narrative of the Spanish.”

Latinx is a powerful 21st-century example of how change evolves at the level of daily language. A non-gendered third option to the binary adjectives Latino/Latina creates a new space of inclusiveness and possibility for queer, people of color, or anyone with familial or cultural ties to Latin America, a region united by its internal diversity.

When Miranda arrived in Kansas City last summer she hit the ground with a speed dating session for local artists. She was interested in curating art practices more than art objects or specific media. In numerous studio visits she wanted to find out what people were reading or collecting as much as making. Miranda the curator takes on a life coach attitude. To facilitate artists’ visions is a laborious process that requires open lines of communication. Trust must be built. It takes time.

One of the KC-based artists she met early on was Rodolfo Marron III. They began a lively dialogue about community, art and culture and it struck him, “Yes! She gets it; she totally gets it!” He goes on to say, “She came to Kansas City without knocking what it lacked in the arts community in terms of diversity, but embraced it and sought ways she could contribute to it. She spearheaded the newly formed Artists of Color Alliance. This group works to unify and create a safe space for creatives of color in our region by offering monthly meetings and the opportunity for readings, critiques, studio visits, workshops, etc. to members. Immediately, Lynnette reached out to the KC arts community and in a short time had mobilized more than 40 artists of color interested in fostering new connections, from an array of different disciplines, age groups, interest and cultural backgrounds.”

Over the course of three Saturdays in December and January, Miranda opened up her toolbox to organize the Artists of Color Alliance as part of the public programming for the “¿QUE PASA, USA?” exhibition. It was a simple agenda to make change grounded in the KC community: Create a sustainable structure of support with committed leaders, members and participants who feel empowered by collective knowledge, shared goals, and a commitment to challenge the art system to become more equitable. Like the exemplary leader described in the “Tao Te Ching”: The best leader speaks little and acts more; when the work is done, the people say, “We did it ourselves.”

Can one curator-in-residence make a difference? Amy Kligman, executive director of the Charlotte Street Foundation thinks so. “Lynnette cares deeply about the artists’ process, and what they have to say, and is passionate about seeing the platform of the gallery come to life in service to the ideas present in the exhibition. She’s interested in cultivating artists as leaders and writers, and gives time and energy to that as well. In general, Lynnette is giving quite a bit to KC right now. I think her impact will be felt long after she moves on to whatever is next.”

Lately Miranda has been teaching in the fiber department of the Kansas City Art Institute while taking her research into the KC art community to the next level. She’s developed a database of artists in the region and has a slew of exhibitions ahead of her. Miranda cares equally about her audiences. As an educator she wants to create warm and welcoming spaces where people can engage with ideas and discover tangible strategies to make change.  o

Miranda’s second exhibit, “Sensible Disobedience: Disrupting Cultural Signifiers in a Neoliberal Age,” opens with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. March 10 and continues through April 22 at La Esquina, 1000 W. 25th St. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday. For more information, 816.221.5115 or www.charlottestreet.org

About The Author: Brian Hearn

Brian Hearn is an interdisciplinary arts writer, curator and consultant based in Kansas City, MO.

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