Published on September 14th, 2014 | by Lucie Pierron1
Chicano Dream exhibition at the Musée d’Aquitaine
As part of the relationship between the « twin » cities of Los Angeles and Bordeaux to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of this alliance, the Musée d’Aquitaine Bordeaux presents “Chicano Dream”. The exhibition is built around canvases and Mexican masks belonging to the collection of Cheech Marin, a director, actor and writer based in Los Angeles. The collection spans 30 years from 1980 to 2010.
The selection of these Seventy art pieces aims to show the social, cultural and political complexity faced by Mexican artists since the 1960s. Entering the Chicano Dream exhibition is therefore to blend into the Hispanic world of these Los Angeles residents and understand their demands, their criticisms, but most of us discover their ongoing questions and commentaries.
Being Chicano: artists at the crossroads of two cultures: Mexican heart, adopted Americans.
“I feel a little Chicano, a bit Mexican American and I am also an American artist. […] I feel richer to be all at once. ” Eloy Torrez, 2000.
* A separate identity: between tradition and modernity.
To understand the artists that the exhibition celebrates the exhibition curator, Kukawka Katia, puts in place very early in the exhibit charts and maps showing the history between the United States of America and Mexico, also mentioning influences and differences between the two countries. These details help us to better familiarize ourselves with the American-Mexican world and to better understand the issues.
Traditional Mexican culture is very present in the paintings on display. We find Catholic religious heritage in some portraits, like the canvas of Caesar Martinez representing a Mexican with the Virgin Mary tattooed in color on his chest. In another vein, the first part of the exhibition is devoted to the “Dia de los muertos” or “Day of the dead” which is held annually every October 31. This three-day festival aims to celebrate the dead of family members, friends and acquaintances. Commemoration results in offerings, but mostly processions throughout the city. Annually, Chicano youth create skulls and skeletons for the occasion. The exhibition features various death masks and posters that chronicle the event. The visitor is immersed in traditional mexican society through its rites and its history, and this is done so that you can better understand the intricacies of the art presented.
Indeed, the Mexican world evolves between tradition and modernity – between the Mexican people and American society that welcomes them. The disparity erupts in paintings. One painting depicts a Mexican family under arrest on a sidewalk, surrounded by Mexican federal police while another painting shows the Virgin Mary with tentacles embracing a crucifix, a badge “Caca Culo” is a reminder of the trusted “Coca Cola, ” is read and the California sun. This creature is one of the recurring figures of Chicano mythology, as well as La Tormenta, a tall woman in a black dress and gloves that interferes in many ways with life. This ubiquitousness is as reassuring as it is worrisome.
* A political vision of their art.
The representation of America by Chicanos is, of course, not neutral. Strikes and claims that occured during the second half of the twenty-first century create an atmosphere that fosters artistic creation. Indeed, Chicano artists were for the most members of El Movimiento: painters and opponents of the Franco era. These insurgents wish to be the only means of communication regarding Spanish public life. Thus, they set up a real parallel network to inform the public while pointing toward the positions that they share and they defend. Following the arrival of Franco to power in Spain and the outbreak of the Second World War, this political movement was imported to Latin America and Mexico. Chicano art is inspired and then takes an aesthetic aspect as well as political. The goal is no longer to please others but to express their identity and mark their positions in society. Chicano art was born. Their identity is created.
Remove the boundaries between disciplines, between fine arts and folk arts.
« In response to the dominant culture and the implicit distinctions between « fine art » and « folk art, » [Chicanos] artists tried to remove the boundaries and mixing genres. The actual daily life constituted the main source of this new aesthetic. » Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, 1993.
Unlike “traditional” art, Chicano art is not intended to be displayed in galleries. Inspired by situations that he faces every day, the artist invested in urban space and makes it his own. Murals are being born in the heart of cities, according to claims considered to be legitimate from the view of the artists. Educational messages, militancy, the goals are many from the point of view of local or national praise indeed they are pre-Columbian motifs for artists like Frida Kahlo or Che Guevara. Despite the disparity between the works, a compelling link is identifiable among all artists : Chicano art is affirmed by symbolic, vivid colors and iconic figures that place it between expression of identity and artistic heritage.
The Chicano art, therefore, interferes in the daily life of South American and Mexican. Artistic youth confirm this Chicano guideline, affirming these affiliations while modernizing their works. We can detect in some paintings the aesthetics of David Hockney who joined the works exhibited with the pattern of the pool (A Bigger Splash, 1967, The Tate Collection, Pool motif with two figures, 1971) and the California ambiance.
The organization of the exhibition reflects the creative dynamicism of Chicanos. The organization of the exhibition does not classify works in a chronological line, but leaves the viewer wandering more in the middle of this fascinating world. Quite an experience to live or relive.