On the heels of their widely successful two volume release, Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art: Artists, Works, Culture and Education, Arizona State University’s Hispanic Research Center and Bilingual Press have teamed up to publish the impressive Chicano Art For our Millennium. The book was released in conjunction with an exhibit of the same name which is on display at the Mesa Southwest Museum through September 19 before it embarks on a multiyear tour across the country.
Chicano Art for Our Millennium contains works from almost 120 Chicano and Chicana artists from across the Southwest, including local notables like Daniel Martin Diaz, Frank Ybarra, Cristina Cardenas, Larry Yanez, Tlisza, Jaurique, Monica Martiniez, Manuel Burrel and Marcus Zilliox.
Both the book and the exhibition are divided into a variety of themes found commonly in contemporary Chicano art like “Community Values,” “Border Issues,” “Spirituality” and “Cultural Icons.” Beyond the thematic divisions, this book, as well as the previous two-volume publication, provides solid documentation of origins, development and trends in this often stereotyped and sometimes overlooked art movement. Breaking with tradition, the book also offers a section entitled “Beyond Conventional Themes,” which gives examples of Chicano artists working in abstract or nonfigurative work.
As the authors state, “Contradicting the notion that our art is exclusively a folk art rooted in Chicano culture and the figurative evocation of that culture, we are confronted here with nonfigurative work that is preoccupied with color, composition, line, the interplay of shadow and light, and the use of space.” The inclusion of this section also shows the amount and extent of the research conducted for this book and the authors’ desire to be as inclusive as possible. Artists in this section include Zilliox, Juan Farias and Einar and Jamex de la Torre. The latter are two brothers from Tijuana who create glass sculptural objects based on kitschy folk art and popular culture artifacts. For the brothers, it’s a combination of “the morbid humor of Mexican folk art” and “the absurd pageantry of Catholicism and machismo…[as well as] the American culture of excess.” Locally, their work can be seen at the Lisa Sette Gallery in Scottsdale and in the permanent collection of the ASU Art Museum.
Chicano Art for Our Millennium also includes a guideline for instruction to be used alongside the book as well as thematic and inquiry-based lesson plans that will fit students from elementary school to graduate school level. However, with its oversized format and plenty of full-color plates, Chicano Art is as visually pleasing as it is scholarly. How else can one view works by artists like George Yepes, whose La serenata (The serenade) depicts a ghostly skeletal figure dressed in a beautifully designed mariachi costume. The contrast of the guitar-strumming skeleton and the design of the costume offers a vision of the “lone mariachi serenader who not only exists in a physical twilight world, emerging from shadows, but also resides in an enigmatic state between life and death.”
According to the authors, Yepes, who work can be found in the collections of actor Cheech Marin and director Robert Rodriguez, is the current “enfant terrible” of contemporary Chicano art. The book points out his childhood amongst hard street life, poverty, gang life and womanizing taking place from his birth in Tijuana to his adolescence in East Los Angeles. But here, in full color, we can see Yepes work first-hand, as a single part of the whole, and examine it alongside his contemporary colleagues.
This effect of familiarizing the reader with the whole trove of contemporary Chicano and Chicana art will ultimately be the book’s most enduring—and most rewarding appeal. Artists can talk about work, form groups, create work and exhibit work but it is only in volumes like this that we really see a recorded documentation of all these individual efforts, from border towns like Nogales and Tijuana through farming communities and university towns in Texas, Arizona and California and then, extensively, in the large cites and urban areas where many of the artists eventually are inexorably drawn.
Chicano Art for Our Millennium, $28.50
Bilingual Press, Hispanic Research Center, Arizona State University