Chicano Art Wields A Sharper Political Edge In Post-Election California Artists are responding to Trump administration efforts to peel back civil rights enforcement and crack down on illegal immigration. One scholar says it marks a return to the roots of Chicano art.
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Chicano Art Wields A Sharper Political Edge In Post-Election California

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Chicano Art Wields A Sharper Political Edge In Post-Election California

Chicano Art Wields A Sharper Political Edge In Post-Election California

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To California now where there's a new wave of Chicano art on the streets and in galleries. Chicano art was born during the political unrest of the 1960s and '70s, and it has bubbled along ever since. But as Rachael Myrow of member station KQED reports, the work has taken on a fiercer political edge since last November.

RACHAEL MYROW, BYLINE: This weekend, a group show called Art As Resistance: Paintings In Protest To A Trump Presidency opens in northeast Los Angeles. It's the brainchild of Eric Almanza, a figurative painter and high school art teacher whose contribution to the show is the latest in the series of oil paintings he's produced depicting the border wall with Mexico. In this painting, the wall is being set on fire, and your eye can't help but be drawn to a curious symbol on it, circular dream catcher with a triangle in the center that looks a bit like the Triforce from "Legend Of Zelda," the Japanese fantasy videogame series.

ERIC ALMANZA: You know, because every great resistance needs some sort of logo.

MYROW: Almanza is one of a growing number of Chicano artists responding as the Trump administration makes good on promises to peel back civil rights enforcement and crack down on illegal immigration with a heavy emphasis on Latino immigration.

ALMANZA: About four years ago, I started working on this narrative of this post-apocalyptic, 21st-century society, and I always imagined that it would take place 50 years from now.

MYROW: The paint may not be dry on Art As Resistance, but Chicano art has been tackling political topics from the get-go, starting with the Great Boycott of the 1960s and '70s and the Vietnam War.

JUDITH BACA: It is an art that was made alongside of a movement for civil rights.

MYROW: Judith Baca is a muralist, visual artist and professor at UCLA in Chicano studies and world arts and cultures.

BACA: So some of the most powerful images came about speaking about farm working conditions in the Central Valley in California, artworks that spoke about inner city struggle with the police, artworks and articulated stories in histories that have been forgotten and not spoken about or taught in the schools.

MYROW: That art comes in the form of oil paintings and sculpture, but also music, theater and agit prop posters for distribution and protest marches which are also enjoying a renaissance of sorts in recent months.

(SOUNDBITE OF SQUEEGEE SWISHING)

MYROW: That's the swish of a squeegee spreading ink over poster paper. At any number of protests around the world, you'll see people carrying posters printed off the internet designed by or distributed by the Oakland graphic arts collective Melanie Cervantes runs with her partner called Dignidad Rebelde.

MELANIE CERVANTES: We have to have a lot of different kinds of work like that. And we have to have everyone, and we need more people doing it because that is its power.

MYROW: Divest from prisons, one of her posters shouts in bright purple, yellow and teal. Domestic workers deserve rights and respect, says another. Dignidad Rebelde follows in a long line of Chicano graphic arts collectives, part of the culture of these collectives is to teach people how to do it themselves. And Cervantes gets invited to teach screen-printing workshops at universities and community centers around the country. She makes a point of mixing in Chicano history and art history with her discussion of technique.

CERVANTES: Sometimes it's just connecting the dot a little bit better for folks to be able to see that our struggles have many fronts.

MYROW: For Judith Baca, the work of Almanza and Cervantes is a welcome return to the political roots of Chicano art after several decades when many artists focus on trying to win recognition from art critics and museums.

BACA: Chicano is about resistance and affirmation of a culture, and I think it's giving many young artists purpose again and a kind of focus for their work. So I think it's kind of exciting.

MYROW: Chicano artwork - old and new - is being shown at museums and galleries across California this year. But the biggest exhibition coming up, bar none, will be Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a massive multi-institution blowout organized by the Getty. For NPR News, I'm Rachael Myrow.

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