On Wednesday, May 29 at the Koplin Del Rio Gallery in Culver City, Cheech Marin, the comedian, actor, and Chicano art advocate, led a fascinating and provocative panel discussion about the tidal wave that is Chicano art. It included Dr. Susana Smith Bautista and artists Einar & Jamex de la Torre, Shizu Saldamando, John Valadez, and Harry Gamboa Jr.
We'll be airing an excerpt this weekend on Off-Ramp, but meantime, here's the whole recording, plus an essay on the exhibition by Dr. Bautista. Artifex is up through July 6.
Five Latino artists that come from different generations, geographic conditions and cultural influences, but all with one thing in common; a commitment to artistically explore cultural artifacts that signify identity. These artifacts can be anonymous remnants from second-hand stores, found and used by Einar and Jamex de la Torre, or more personal artifacts such as the clothing, jewelry, and tattoos on the figures drawn by Shizu Saldamando, or John Valadez’s cautious use of Chicano artifacts like the low-rider car and the Virgin.
Harry Gamboa Jr.’s characters in his photographs, films, and performances have become artifacts of a new Chicano culture that is being constantly (re)created through the organic evolution of Chicano artists themselves. These five artists both appropriate cultural artifacts and create new ones through their artistic vision that reflects their immersion in contemporary culture as well as their desire to contribute to the global visual discourse.
Notions of identity, culture, and community emerged in the 1960s and ‘70s during the civil rights movement with the Brown Berets and the Chicano Moratorium. Today in 2013 the world has changed. Artists are no less conscious of their identity, but that identity is a much larger assemblage of where they were born, where they have lived, where they exhibit, where they travel, and who they meet.
To say that the de la Torre brothers are Mexican artists says nothing about their formative years in Orange County or their current experience of the U.S./Mexico border region that they cross regularly between their San Diego studio and their home in Ensenada. Younger artists like Saldamando don’t approach identity as monolithic, but rather as a remix of pop culture, fine arts, west side, east side, Mexican, Asian, and more. Gamboa Jr. started to use his camera in the 1970s to document the urban Chicano experience in his subversive style, and continues to do so as that same experience changes, even as means of subversion and assumptions of normalcy change. Valadez created a cultural iconography drawn from his neglected world to empower Chicanos, but today that world is no longer confused and angry, and creates its own iconographies.
Latino culture in the 21st century is about reflection, creation, and contribution of new ways of thinking, new ideas, and new media. The artists participate concurrently in a local and a global world, on a Latino and an American field, and in high and low cultural spaces. We cannot negate the continued presence of identity, social issues, ethnicity, history, and culture, but we can try to go beyond to focus on what really matters; the work as contemporary arte factum.