Monday, May 3, 2010

Shifra Goldman and Poetic Arte!

Saturday night I attended an event of Latino American art, poetry, and academia in celebration of one great artistic mind, Shifra Goldman. If you don’t recognize her name, don’t worry, I didn’t at first either, but I assure you, you have felt her influence. A Jewish American academic, who came from a Yiddish and English bilingual family, she is attributed with being one of the first to call for the conservation of Siquiero’s whitewashed Olvera Street mural, “Tropical America,” when most people forgot it existed. Her critical analysis and books, Dimensions of the Americas, Contemporary Mexican Painting in a Time of Change, had major influence in the European and American art worlds of the 70s and 80s when many believed nothing of significance could be birthed in Latin America, and generally made such names as Rivera, Siquieros, and Orozco world-known.

All this I knew about Shifra, the writer and Latino art champion, before I walked into Avenue 50 Studio on Saturday night, but what I gained by being apart of this celebration was so much more. We began with an acoustic guitar performance by her son, Eric Garcia. After playing two songs, he invited in his preteen son to accompany him on violin, and instantly the crowd was uplifted. The shaggy haired twelve year-old talent was nothing less than charming. Next was film director and writer, Jesus Trevino, who read from his memoir, Eyewitness. He shared a section about Shifra and his time with her, and her influence. As he read it was clear that many in the room know her personally. He spoke of her work with “Tropical America," her philosophy on politics and art (they cannot be separated), and it was like I could hear the audience smiling. The next performer, a poet, Ramon Garcia, was also fortunate enough to know her personally. She had taken him at a time when he was new to Los Angeles. He appeared young, and I wondered how exactly they met. How was he so lucky to have dinners with her at a bad French restaurant in Echo Park? “Taix” he shared with the room, and many laughed. Bad food, but good discussions, a majority of the 60-70 people now crowding in the tiny art studio agreed. I realized that I was only a visitor; I have never met Shifra, but I now wish I could have.

Other poets, Gloria Enedina Alvarez, Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, and George Kalmar, shared poetry and memories, as well as members in the audience, and every story told was like it’s own special gem. Artists, poets, friends, a son, all were touched by her in some significant way. And it seems if you had come to know her, you were certainly influenced by her critical and caring mind. She was a mentor to artists, and other lost children of Los Angeles, and I began to wish I was a little older, a little more lost, a little more hungry and that this surrogate mother could be mine too. I imagined sitting with her in Taix drinking a dirty martini and listening to her speak about art and revolution. I wondered what heated discussion we would have, and how she would generally “school” me as I make notes in my mind. If only.

She is bedridden now, and in the final stages of Alzheimer. Her son shared that he visits with her daily, and before coming to this event he sat with her. He recorded a minute long video of Shifra knotted in her bed, her brilliant mind somewhere locked in the darkness of the past. He carried her into the event on his white Apple laptop, and it was then I remembered Frida Kahlo.

Or I should confess, the movie Frida (Shifra may not have approved since it seems she didn’t care for Hollywood). I remembered the final scene, where Frida, one leg amputated and very ill, lays in bed on the opening night of her exhibit. I remembered the doctor’s order, and how friends carry her, heavy wood-carved bed and all, to the event to celebrate, to see the culmination of her work.

In some way Shifra was there, and we celebrated with her.

UPDATE: Sadly, Shifra Goldman died from complications to Alzheimer at 85 on September 11, 2011. For more on Shifra's life and legacy, you can read her obituary at L.A. Times here or this piece by Adolfo Guzman-Lopez at KCET. She will be missed.


  1. I too never had the honor of meeting Shifra Goldman. I have been interested to know what had become of her. She had written about me and showed my work in slide form I am told. It would have been interesting to have had the opportunity to exchange ideas and understand each others work on a deeper level. Thank you for this posting Xochitl.

  2. That's so wonderful that your work was recognized in such a way. She is a big loss to artists and L.A. I guess we can both day dream about missed conversations at Taix. Thanks for reading.

  3. Shrifra passed away 9/11/2011 see obituary the following Monday.

  4. I did hear of her passing, but I didn't have a chance to update the blog. Thank you for the reminder.