Ernesto Yerena Montejano, Stand with LA Teachers!, 2019, screenprint on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Patricia Tobacco Forrester Endowment, 2020.50.1, © 2019, Ernesto Yerena and Roxana Dueñas

The Coming of Age of the  Chicano Art Revolution in a burgeoning post-colonial American Art Movement

The first time I heard the word Chicano was in the movie American me ( 1992) which tells the story of Santana, a Chicano caudillo that created one of the most notorious Hispanic gangs in L.A

Many years after, I learnt that Chicanos are not Hispanics or Latinos living in the U.S. Chicano is also an assertive word with political and artistic connotations  associated with a civil right movement that started in the 1960’s in the United States. The Chicano movement was a strong political movement in American society during the agitated years of the Vietnam War, urban riots, the antiwar movement, and Watergate. The Chicano movement was one of the first militant groups that started to challenge the American ruling ruling class during the 1960s and 1970s.

Chicanos share the cultural heritage from the past nations such as the Olmec, Teotihuacan, Maya, Zapotec and Aztec. We are far away here  from gangster iconography. What’s also cool about the Chicano nation is not only the political history of the movement, but also the art medium to transmit this message . In ¡Printing the Revolution! The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now, at the Smithsonian Art Museum, the curious art lover can now learn much more about the graphic art expression of the Chicano nation from the mid 1960’s to the present day. Most of the exposition can be viewed online as a result of COVID-19, but it will return physically again  at the Smithsonian and Renwick Gallery once the pandemic subsides until August 21st, 2021. The exposition has been curated by E. Carmen Ramos with assistant help by Claudia Zapata. Both ladies have incredible depth of expertise in Latinxart. 

If you like poster art, you will be delighted to know that printed art was the medium favored by Chicano artists. Through screen-printing, the exhibition traces the beginnings of the Chicano civil right movement to today. The exposition covers a range of social subjects that have influenced the Chicano discourse such as labor, anti war, gender issues and social justice The viewer will be delighted to see the evolution of the styles of these posters that reflect the tastes of the public and the current art tendencies as well.  According to Ramos, “The exhibition explores how this early civil rights activity set the foundation for a truly noteworthy, politically engaged graphic arts movement among artists of Mexican descent and their cross-cultural collaborators that continues to thrive today, over five decades later. At a time when US society is grappling with how to face a history of systemic racism, this exhibition presents a long line of artists doing exactly that.” This is an important exhibition that frames the dynamic concept of the identity of the Chicano nation in US and International history.

The artists in the exhibition employ diverse artistic tones such as conceptualism, portraiture and appropriation to integrate the notions of the Chicano identity and political movement. For instance, viewers will marvel at the ingenious use of satire in the works of  Ester Hernandez. In 

Ester Hernandez, Sun Mad, 1982, screenprint on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, 1995.50.32, © 1982, Ester Hernández

Sun Mad ( 1982-2008), she strongly critiques the social and environmental  aspects of the Californian grape industry. Via a box of Sun Maid raisins,  Hernandez appropriates  American food culture iconography and reconceptualizes into a post-colonial  visual discourse ( Sun Mad) that strongly takes a stand against pollution and anti-immigration in the grape business. The sweet and innocent image of a young white girl picking up grapes is turned into a skeleton with messages  such as “unnaturally grown with insecticides, miticides…” or “ Guaranteed Deportation…By Product of Nafta..”. There is more than meets the eye and the spectator feels that Hernandez has uncovered a secret that nobody wants to now.

Mario Torero, You Are Not a Minority!!, 1977, offset lithograph on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mario Acevedo Torero, 2020.9, © 1977, Mario Torero

You are not a minority!! (1977),  by  renowned Peruvian activist and artist Mario Torero is also another example of cultural appropriation to deliver a social unity message. Torero has used the legendary image of Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara who fought for a dream of unifying all the Latin American Nations in the 1960’s against U.S imperialism.The image combined with the slogan “You are not a minority!!” acts a sign for rebellion and sends a message of equal treatment to the dominant white American culture. More than 40 years old, the message is still quite relevant today not only for Chicanos but also for the Latinos living in the U.S

Stand with LA Teachers!(2019), is a commissioned work by artist  Ernesto Yesta Montejano for the United Teachers of Los Angeles’s strike in 2019. The union needed a poster individual for the message of better pay and working conditions that they wanted to transmit. Montejano chose the image of Roxana Duenas, a local community  Chicano history teacher. The poster portrays her as a proud and energetic teacher with a strong work rhetoric.  

¡Printing the Revolution! The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now, includes important Chicano artists as well such as Rupert García, Malaquias Montoya, Juan Fuentes, and Yolanda López. It is free of charge and can be accessed by: 

Smithsonian Art Museum:

https://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/chicano-graphics