Minneapolis-based artist Maria Cristina (Tina) Tavera has received a national spotlight, having been announced as one of the 15 recipients of this year’s Latinx Artist Fellowship, administered by the US LatinX Art Forum, an organization dedicated to Latinx visual art and art history. Tavera receives an unrestricted award of $50,000 as part of the fellowship.
“I’m really flattered,” Tavera says about the honor. “I think that having the opportunity to learn more about the other artists and what they’re accomplishing, and the fact that there’s this huge recognition nationally is really important.”
Born in Minnesota, Tavera’s mother is from Michoacán, Mexico, and her father is from St. Paul. Her practice spans printmaking, installation, and public art. Deeply engaged in social justice issues and advocating for the Latinx community, she often brings a political bent to her work— at times bringing elements of iconography and symbolism to her multidisciplinary practice.
“We find her work incredibly exciting,” Adriana Zavala, USLAF’s executive director, tells me over the phone.
The Latinx Artist Fellowship launched in 2021, with significant funding from the Andrew Mellon Foundation and the Ford Foundation. According to Zavala, the fund was launched as a way to advocate and support Latinx artists from the U.S. and Puerto Rico, bringing them funding but also visibility “within a complicated world ecosystem,” she says.
The jury looks for intellectual and creative rigor, Zavala says, as well as artists making an original contribution to the art world.
“We really want to be comprehensive in recognizing the range of mediums that Latinx artists work in,” Zavala says. “Tina Tavera is an excellent example of that. She’s a multidisciplinary artist who is politically and culturally engaged. She’s someone we feel deserves recognition, making an extraordinary contribution across media to the visual arts landscape in the United States.”
“This is American art,” Zavala says. “This is contemporary art. And our commitment is to honor the way that these artists identify culturally and ancestrally and then also really affirm to the American public that this is part of the American cultural landscape.”
It’s not the first time Tavera’s career has gotten notice outside of Minnesota. Her work has been collected by the Oglethorpe Museum in Atlanta, GA, the Biblioteca Central de Cantabria in Santander, Spain and the Plains Museum in Fargo, North Dakota. Recently, she’s shown her work in an exhibition called “Traitor, Survivor, Icon: The Legacy of La Malinche and the Conquest of Mexico,” which traveled from the Denver Art Museum to the Albuquerque Museum in New Mexico, and the San Antonio Museum of Art, in Texas. With her husband, Xavier Tavera, she’s shown work at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago.
Earlier this year, Tavera was part of an exhibition in Los Angeles at Self Help Graphics & Art called “Essential Workers: A Visual Narrative Exhibition.” Tavera created a serigraph for the show, called “Fuentes” (2023), that portrays a corrections officer. The topic of prisons is a close one for Tavera— her father had been a social worker at Stillwater prison for over 40 years.
Meanwhile, she’s collaborating with Xavier Tavera on a commission for the city of Minneapolis, installed on the Green Crescent between the Midtown Greenway and Lake Street where they intersect with 35W. The couple’s public art design includes two steel sculptures— one depicting a horse or a flock of birds, depending on which direction you are looking, and the other depicting a tree and a flock of birds. Both sculptures change image as you pass by them.
Later this year, Tavera will have a piece at Franconia Sculpture Garden in an exhibition curated by Alondra Garza. That in-process piece, Tavera tells me, takes on the notion of Latinx femininity, feminism, and the actress Raquel Welch.
“Most of my work has to do with Latinidad within the United States, I think a lot about what that signifies— who we are here in the US being of Latin American descent,” Tavera says. “I enjoy thinking of how to represent that with iconography. I think having a printmaking background helps to think about the symbolism and how people view the world in their day to day.”
Meanwhile, Tavera is also deeply engaged as an advocate and supporter of other Latinx artists in the community. She’s part of Serpentina, a cohort of Latinx artists working on professional and creative development. With Serpentina, Tavera created a roster of artists, which has now expanded to 185 individuals. “There’s been a big gap with the Latinx artists in Minnesota, even compared to the other groups, according to the Minnesota State Arts Board, and MRAC,” Tavera says. “We’ve been trying to figure out ways to fix that.”
For Tavera, her advocacy work and her personal practice are connected. She also works at Augsburg as the director of the McNair Scholars Program helping underrepresented students pursue graduate school. That work is all connected to her artistic practice, Tavera says. “It all interweaves and intertwines to a certain degree.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the acronym for US LatinX Art Forum and correct the name of the Plains Museum in Fargo, North Dakota.