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Art & Art History

Ex-Votos and Popular Art Panel

Alfredo Vilchis

Thursday, January 18, 2024
Gallery 400 Lecture Room
400 S Peoria

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Historically, ex-votos have been overlooked and classified as folk art or “popular” art. But these small devotional paintings, the center of our current exhibition Contemporary Ex-Votos: Devotion Beyond Medium, deserve a second look. 

What does popular art even mean? How have classifications of ex-votos as “curious” and “naive” undermined their importance as both art and devotional objects? And, what resonance do ex-votos carry when put into conversation with contemporary Latinx art?

To answer these questions, join Contemporary Ex-Votos curator Dr. Emmanuel Ortega, art history PhD candidates Mariela Espinoza-León and Joshua Gomez-Ortega, and religious studies scholar Barbara Sostaita for a conversation rethinking ex-votos’ relationship to contemporary and “popular” art.


Emmanuel Ortega is the Marilynn Thoma Scholar and Assistant Professor in Art of the Spanish Americas at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a Scholar in Residence at the Newberry Library (2023–2024). Ortega has lectured nationally and internationally on images of autos-de-fe, nineteenth-century Mexican landscape painting, and visual representations of the New Mexico Pueblo peoples in Novohispanic Franciscan martyr paintings. His essay “The Mexican Picturesque and the Sentimental Nation: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Landscape,” was published by The Art Bulletin (2021) and his book Visualizing Franciscan Anxiety and the Distortion of Native Resistance: The Domesticating Mission is under contract with Routledge.  

Mariela Espinoza-León is a current PhD Candidate in Art History at the University of New Mexico. Her current research interests are focused on the interstices between medical practice, science, art, and identity. She is an alumna of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), receiving a BA and MA in Art History as well as a BS in Biological Sciences. During her time at UIC her MA thesis, “Corazón de Lumbre, Alma de Nieve’: Constructing the Sentiment of Nationalism through La Leyenda de Los Volcanes,” won the Outstanding Thesis Award from UIC’s Graduate College in 2020.

Josh L. Gomez is a Ph.D. student in Art History at UIC, focusing on Mexican visual culture from the 19th century. Through postcolonial feminist methodologies, his research investigates visualizations of race, gender, and class through representations of labor and social deviance relating to empire-building and notions of ungovernability. He was previously the 2022-2023 Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow at the National Mexican Art Museum and has published work in Hyperallergic and The Latinx Project. Most recently, his essay titled, Visualizing Invisible Labor: Constructing Space through Women’s Devotional Practices, was published by the NMSU art museum for the traveling exhibition Contemporary Ex-Votos: Devotion Beyond Medium catalog.

Barbara Sostaita is a scholar of religion and global migration. She grew up undocumented in the south, the daughter of a minister who taught her how religion informs and shapes migrant-led organizing. Her forthcoming book, Sanctuary Everywhere, is an ethnographic study of fugitive care practices in the Sonoran desert. This book and her other projects consider how people on the move—including migrants, artists, and organizers—engage with the sacred to cross and transgress borders.

ACCESS INFORMATION: This program is free and open to the public. For questions and access accommodations, please check our Accessibility page or email