Chicano: Pronouncing Diversity.
Mental Menudo Artists Exhibit New Work in Landmark Show.

Story & photos by Michael Sedano

Click here for "Los Pochos in Eagle Rock" by Armando Baeza.

Click here for Cybele Garcia's report on the Mental Menudo of September 8.

It’s almost incredible that chicano art shows keep getting better and better. An excited crowd is its own reward; energized by ambience, conversations flow among strangers sharing delighted moments of inspiration. In such moments, crowd and art fuse into the same thing, culture. Every show brings new talents to the walls, but for me, seeing the maturation of talent in new work by familiar artists offers the greater pleasure.

So it was at the opening reception for Chicano: Pronouncing Diversity, in Los Angeles’ Eagle Rock Cultural Arts Center. An encouraging display by a new generation of artists and a core of veteranas and veteranos from the old days. Holding it all together the familiar materials and attitudes of chicanismo.

At one point during the exhibit, I was leaning against a pillar taking candid shots of Vibiana Aparacio-Chamberlin speaking animatedly with Serge Hernandez about Pola Lopez’ irreverent piece combining loteria cards and la Virgen. Out of the blue, I remembered Salvador Plasencia saying he’s glad to be published outside the chicano mainstream. And here’s Pola Lopez placing her work squarely in the heart of that mainstream.

I asked Magu, who curated the exhibit, what qualifies a piece for the show? Not what makes the work “good,” but what makes it “chicano.” I got the answer the question deserves: go inside and have a look!

The excitement of the moment begins at the door with Raoul De La Sota’s painting of cactus pencas.
Hugely magnified and rendered in fanciful warm colors, the canvas evokes Rousseau’s “Magical Kingdom”.

Turning left into the main gallery, the visitor will be welcomed by the curator, who will nudge the visitor
to take in the vendor’s cart, and photographer Oscar Castillo’s tribute to Frida.

magu

Below, Joe Bravo and Serge Hernandez look on as Magu invites the
new arrivals to grab a plate for the buffet.

Later, Oscar will tell Diane Hernandez
she is the subject of the first multiple image Oscar printed,
back at Cal State Northridge in the 70s.

 

magu greets

joe bravo, o.castillo_art, serge hernandez

 

serge's sanfer

serge's sanfer

a

A fin refin that couldn't be beat!

 

mario trillo, Cici

Cloud over Elysian Park, Photo by Gilbert Ortiz. Mario Trillo & CeCe.

pacoima

A perennial chicana chicano theme, la Virgen de Guadalupe’s familiar cloak covers the muscled black of a Pacoima loyalist.

 

diversity

Reyes Rodriguez abstract, left. Armando Baeza bronze, center.
Pola Lopez, right.

Pola Lopez' large canvas offers a delight of color.

Eight manifestations of la mujer and one diosa
decorate a luciously red-orange huipil.
A phallic cactus thrusts out of the collar.
It’s interesting to compare Lopez’ manifestations
of the virgin with Sculptor Robert Graham's
bronze door to Los Angeles’ new cathedral
using a multitude of virgins in much the same manner.

old new

conjunto

Conjunto Los Pochos had the crowd tapping their toes. Left, Joe Bravo tortilla art; center, Martin Charlot mural featuring a young Arnold Schwartzeneggar lower right, Magu, lower left. Right, portrait by Neri Lemus.

accordion lesson

A little boy gets caught up in the joyous music .
He pulls the bellows and sounds his first note.

Sculptor Armando Baeza is a WWII veteran. His small and medium sized bronzes attract admirers wherever Baeza shows his work.

armando baeza

shooting baeza

A photograph is not enough when an admirer falls in love with Apache Dancer, or Emerging Power, below.

germsJaime "Germs" Zacarias

Serge Hernandez and Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin.

serge, vibi

vibiana aparicio-chamberlin

ladder of success

Mario Trillo 's usual medium is polaroid photo transfer.

Taking up the Diversity them, Trillo builds a shrine to upward mobility.

The bottom rung of the ladder features a beat up old huarache.

The second rung a clean white Nike sneaker.

The top rung sports a spit-shined black lace-up shoe. At the top of the ladder the U.S. flag.

The umbrella sports corporate logos Pepsi, McDonalds, Union Oil Co.

Mental Menudo #2 September 8, 2006 - by Cybele Garcia


Another month, another Mental Menudo! Once again caballero and rabble rouser, Magu, held one of his discussions on art and world around it. This time we were hosted by the Mexican Cultural Institute- Director Abelardo de la Peña attended and made us feel welcome. Magu, some know him as Gilbert Lujan, invited four artists to participate, and this time the subject was the role of the artist. Barbara Carrasco, Harry Gamboa, Yreina Cervantes and Linda Vallejo all spoke a bit about their careers and backgrounds. Most interesting was listening to these accomplished artists talk about their histories, seeing commonalities between them and feeling as though their stories were familiar; their histories could be mine or yours. At least two of them went to Catholic schools; three of them were born circa 1950; all grew up in Los Angeles and are well traveled.

The first question Magu put to the artists was how they each viewed Chican@ Culture, in it’s diversity, and how they defined it. Linda’s response was interesting. She spoke of Chicanism@ as a “Raza Cosmica which is carried in your heart.” It wasn’t about when you were born, what you did for a living, how much you earned, but that you carried your culture with you in everything you did and honored it. Linda went on to talk about art and that art is about “having an individual statement” and that la Raza Cosmica was in essence an “alchemy of individual statements.”

Barbara then chimed into the discussion, talking about Chican@ Culture as though it is a large family. Chicano Culture was like having a large feuding family- better to have a feuding family than none at all- it was much better than having to go it alone. Barbara went on to talk about how it is false to look at the production of art as being a linear thing on a timeline. Art, according to her, spirals around and it builds upon itself with the influence of the times around it. Touching upon this point later on in the discussion, Barbara responded to the query of how her art evolved by telling of her first encouragement from the United Farm Workers movement and her involvement in the struggle for migrant farm workers’ rights. The UFW movement first encouraged her artistic ability and she evolved from there as an artist.

Something very interesting to me were the stories from each of them about how they were viewed by various institutions as inconsequential, or as outright dangerous. Harry spoke of finding his name listed in a book of enemies to the US government… the majority of the others on the same list were dead by various causes, most not natural. Others talked about their struggle for acceptance, no not acceptance, but of simple acknowledgement as students and professionals of color in academia. This led to a question of how each of them dealt with the hassle of being misunderstood within institutions. Most responded in the same way- they basically found and created opportunities for themselves until those same institutions later came to them. Harry talked about his outright refusal to go to school at a certain point in his life, and is self taught. Barbara spoke of telling a professor that she would not take her class- she had nothing to learn from her. Yreina found her stronghold in a Chican@ Studies department- rather than an art department. Linda worked as a student, and worked and worked and worked until they just left her alone with the equipment she wanted to explore- which is what she wanted in the first place.

While many of the artists were of the same generation- one was from my generation and yet they had similar stories to tell about the difficulty of acceptance in the greater institutional/professional world. All of them prevailed and were stronger for their struggles, but this disturbed me, seeing that we might still be fighting some of the same battles over and over and over again. It seems the work of the minority individual in sharing and lifting the narrative, of discussing the realities of their lives is never done. One thing is true, however. We are no longer looking for validation. We learned not to wait for that, because it may never come. But if we are to live in a world where we are the minority, then our stories, our cuentos, must be respected and honored as much as the next person’s.

At the end of the night after listening to all the artists share their cuentos del alma, I could picture the art that came from each of them. Their answers were the strokes of their paint brushes or the clicks of their cameras, as the case may be. This was a discussion filled with some hard truths and many successes hard won. Many thanks to the host, Magu and especially our brave and courageous artists.

by Cybele Garcia
If you would like to know more about Mental Menudos, and how to attend, email PomonaArts-owner@yahoogroups.com

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