Chicano Movement leader Jose Montoya's art gets a show at UCLA's Fowler Museum

"José Montoya’s Abundant Harvest: Works on Paper/Works on Life" is at the Fowler Museum at UCLA through July 17. Off-Ramp contributor Marc Haefele spoke with the artist's son, Richard Montoya.

"He would lament that he was a lazy farmworker," says Richard Montoya of his father Jose, one of the icons of the Chicano Movement. "But I say thank goodness, because he was reflecting and chronicling and 82 years later giving us this abundant harvest."

That abundant harvest of art is sampled at the Fowler Museum at UCLA in a comprehensive survey of his works on paper, with 2,000 pieces arranged in grape trays that symbolize Jose Montoya's roots. Jose Montoya (1932–2013) began working in the California farm fields with his father at the age of 9. As his son Richard, one of the founders of the political satire performance group Culture Clash ("Water and Power," "Chavez Ravine"), said, he did more than work — he was sketching and writing even then.

Jose Montoya talking about his life, art, and politics

People populate his works and gave shape to the show. "We were inundated and overwhelmed." Jose Montoya was prolific and diverse, and Richard Montoya and co-curator Selene Preciado finally hit on the right organizing principle: "Let's put all the mountains here, and let's put all the landscapes here, and let's put the Navy men there, let's put the women there, let's put the pachucos here."

"We're sort of wondering," says Richard Montoya, looking at all the artwork, "when did he raise us, have time to teach and write poetry, and to lead not just one movement, but several movements — United Farm Workers movement, Chicano Moratorium, the walkouts, and the Civil Rights movement." 


What did Richard bring to Culture Clash that he got from his father? A sort of democracy: "It's evident in our work like 'Water and Power,' where the hero of the play might be a homeboy in a wheelchair. This idea of heroes and villains and saints and sinners ... it's a room full of them (in the exhibit) and my dad leaves it up to the viewer to make up their mind."

Listen to the audio to hear Off-Ramp contributor Marc Haefele's full interview with Richard Montoya about "Abundant Harvest" at the Fowler Museum.