Inspiring Latina: Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery Curator Taína B. Caragol

Taína B. Caragol is the Curator of Latino Art and History at the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institute. Her fascinating job puts her in charge of recognizing and celebrating the impact of Latinos upon U.S. history -- with an interesting twist. She explores Latino history through an intriguing lens: portraiture.

Caragol spoke to us about her current projects, her upcoming exhibition Portraiture Now: Staging the Self, and the greatest challenges and rewards of working with the Smithsonian Institution:  

Is there a typical day in your life at the Smithsonian?

As a curator, I'm the person who conceives and organizes exhibitions. I also supply work for the museum or identify work that the museum could get on loan if it's not available in the market. Typical tasks include doing research on an important figure in the Latino community that should be represented in the portrait gallery. For example, figures like Dolores Huerta, whom I'm organizing an exhibition for. Figures like Rita Moreno, whom I interviewed last week. I do research on the historical figures, write and document their achievements in U.S. history, and look for portraits of them. 

Looking for portraits is a lot of fun. I get to talk to a lot of artists, and look through the work of artists who specialize in portraiture and have made portraits of these different subjects in all kinds of media: painting, sculpture, photography, drawings. In terms of exhibitions, I come up with ideas for shows, and I develop them. That requires a lot of research in the library and archives. Sometimes, what I need might not be in the Smithsonian. For example, I'm organizing an exhibition on Dolores Huerta, and I've spent quite a few months doing research at the archives of the United Farm Workers which are located at Wayne State University in Detroit. A few months ago, I went to Los Angeles to see another exhibition about Huerta, and I got ideas from there. I talked to all the curators who might have worked on her, and talked to people who have documented her work in the Farm Workers movement. 

 

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About this author

Cristina Arreola, Editorial Assistant

Originally from El Paso, Texas, Cristina Mari Arreola earned her degree at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University before moving to BrooklynNew York. In her downtime, you can usually find her scouring the city for the most authentic Mexican food (still looking...), scaring herself silly watching horror movies, or baking her favorite sweets. You can follow her on Twitter at @c_arreola

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