The Art of Social Change from Mexican-American Artists


Groundbreaking art by Mexican American activist artists is on display at MOA.

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XICANX Dreamers + Changemakers/Soñadores + creators of the cambio

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When: May 12 — Jan 1, 2023

Or: UBC Museum of Anthropology, UBC


From the resistance to systemic abuse that formed the basis of El Movimento in the 1960s and 1970s, to the contemporary generation embracing issues of personal and political importance right now, Xicanx Dreamers + Changemakers/Soñadores + creadores del cambio is a showcase for the broad range of creative expression and intent of Mexican-American artists. Xicanx is a sex-neutral forms Chicano or Chicana words.

Curated by MOA’s Jill Baird and Greta de León, executive director of the Research Network of the Americas, the exhibit that opens at the Museum of Anthropology this week is the largest of its kind mounted in British Columbia. viewing this exhibit, no one is going to come away thinking of low-rider cars or iconographic tattoos or candle wrappers as defining a cultural identity. These works are exciting, impetuous, active and sometimes disturbing.

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The two spoke via Zoom from different parts of Mexico of this interesting cultural force, incorporating elements of identity from indigenous ideas such as the ancestral homeland of Aztlán, farm workers, urban activists, fantasies and more. . Baird says the idea for the show was suggested by its predecessor, but was held back for a number of reasons. She’s glad that’s the case, because it allowed for co-curation. MOA is already a member of the American Research Network where de León has worked on a number of cross-cultural exchange projects for the museum and the Smithsonian.

Discovering Xincanx art through the artists was a revelation for Baird.

Jill Baird, MOA Curator
Jill Baird, MOA Curator Photo by UBC Museum of Anthropology /PNG

“Over the past three years, I’ve learned a lot about what I thought I knew about the American civil rights movement and gained a richer and much more diverse understanding of what it encompassed,” he said. she declared.

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“I learned a lot about the whole Xicanx movement through the artists and working with Greta and discovered a much more interesting and complicated world than I thought. So we have people like Rudy Treviño, whose works from the early to mid-1970s speak to the agricultural movements of Cesar Chavez and others, on an altar we commissioned from a new artist from San Antonio that is a tribute to Rasquachismo.

Rasquachismo is a term coined by scholar Tomás Ybarra-Frausto to describe the aesthetic “underdog perspective, or view from below” present in the working class Xicanx and Mexican art movements. With roots tracing back to the origins of the Nahuatl nation, the term was rooted in an earlier classist Spanish slur that was embraced as a means of empowerment and integration by a marginalized community. This can be seen in art in everything from the inventive use of found or discarded objects to the distinct resistance to imposed norms and approaches in techniques.

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Greta de León is co-curator with Jill Baird.
Greta de León is co-curator with Jill Baird. Photo by UBC Museum of Anthropology /PNG

“It’s a way of reclaiming and appropriating negative terms to create something beautiful and representative of the rasquache way of life, which is powerful,” de León explains. “The entire history of the civil rights movement in the United States has not reflected the mosaic nature of its origins and now there is enough of a critical mass of people watching it for it to be understood. The problems also remain, because you even have temporary Mexican workers on the fields in British Columbia who face some of the same challenges. »

The first thing visitors will see is a 2017 white neon piece by New York artist Alejandro Diaz proudly proclaiming Make Tacos Not War.

This look at today’s geopolitics is a perfect introduction to the methods artists use to combine seriousness with more than a little humor. The two curators say this approach takes nothing away from importing content, but rather demonstrates resilience in the face of adversity. It is a recurring component of the Xicanx culture.

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“Chicano or Chicana is exclusively of Mexican American descent and is a distinct political movement, self-identification, and culture distinct from Latinx, etc. said de Leon. “One of the first questions we asked of all the artists we interviewed was whether they identified with Xicanx, as it denotes political and social activism and community engagement. Although they are all Mexican Americans, not all Mexican Americans are.

Naturally, no exhibition of Mexican art could be complete without incorporating the tradition of muralism. But how to show a fresco?

“Oh, they’re hard bunnies to show, let me tell you, because they don’t move,” Baird said. “We chose a series of 30 of them from artists from all over the United States to emphasize that Xicanx art is not just LA, New York or Texas, but can be from all over the country. these will be screened for viewers.

The last part of the presentation was to include the extremely important literature and poetry of the community. Fragments of text by renowned authors are found throughout the exhibition in connection with the art on display. MOA has a long history of excellent show guides and the one accompanying Xicanx Dreamers + Changemakers/Soñadores + creadores del cambio seems likely to continue the tradition.

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