Smithsonian showcases its extensive collection of Chicano graphics at the Amon Carter Museum

An important and often overlooked aspect of Mexican American history is currently on display at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.

Organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, “¡Printing the Revolution! : The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now” features approximately one-fifth of the museum’s extensive collection of Chicano graphics, the largest such museum collection on the East Coast. The Carter is the second of the exhibition’s four national tour sites.

“¡Print the revolution! presents traditional printmaking techniques alongside more contemporary practices such as video, new media, and public installations and interventions.

It’s a thought-provoking and moving look at the powerful nature of protest imagery and the legacy of the grassroots Chicano movement. Known as El Movementit affirmed the social and cultural identity of Mexican Americans and highlighted myriad ways in which they were marginalized and exploited.

This 1973 poster for the United Farm Workers Union by Xavier Viramontes features an indigenous warrior crushing grapes until blood runs from his hands and runs over the words “Boycott Grapes”.(Mildred Baldwin)

Activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta played a crucial role in the origins of Chicano protest art, involving artists in spreading the message of the United Farm Workers Union, which fought against the appalling working conditions of California farmworkers. These early artists fused traditional and contemporary aesthetics to create bold and often colorful works that incorporated declarative statements with urgent imagery.

A 1982 poster by Ester Hernández reproduces a box of Sun Maid raisins, with the woman...
A 1982 poster by Ester Hernández reproduces a box of Sun Maid raisins, with the woman replaced by a skeleton above the words “Sun Mad”. The poster was a response to Hernández’s family’s exposure to polluted water and pesticides in California’s San Joaquin Valley.(Mildred Baldwin)

It’s a style that resonates through works made years later. A 1973 poster for the United Farm Workers Union by Xavier Viramontes features an indigenous warrior crushing grapes until blood runs from his hands and runs over the words “Boycott Grapes”. Almost a decade later, a 1982 poster by Ester Hernández reproduces a box of Sun Maid raisins, with the woman replaced by a skeleton above the words “Sun Mad”. The poster was a response to Hernández’s family’s exposure to polluted water and pesticides in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

Chicano artists soon embraced other causes. Social issues such as the anti-Vietnam War effort, environmental justice, immigrant rights, and police brutality have linked the Chicano movement to other global efforts to expose systemic corruption and injustice.

History lessons were revised as the stories of traditionally marginalized communities were shared through posters, calendars and other easy-to-circulate printed materials. Portraits of important figures in history and pop culture ushered in a new wave of icons that instilled a stronger sense of cultural pride among these communities and brought their stories to the mainstream.

Technology and public interaction have also played an important role in the proliferation of protest art. “¡Print the revolution! is complemented by two installations that show how many contemporary Chicano artists use these methods not only to share their work, but also as part of the work itself.

The exhibition opens with “Justice for Our Lives” by Oree Originol, 78 digital portraits of men, women and children killed in altercations with law enforcement. In addition to creating site-specific installations, Originol makes each portrait available for download to members of the community. Printed in black and white on brightly colored paper, the images are unflinching reminders of the entrenched racial biases at play in our country.

“Justice for Our Lives” by Oree Originol features 78 digital portraits of men, women and children killed in incidents with law enforcement.(Smithsonian Museum of American Art)

It ends with San Antonio artist Michael Menchaca’s contemporary reworking of ancient Mesoamerican iconography, covered in a kaleidoscopic black and white projection. The artist’s characters and designs are cartoonishly violent and overtly stereotypical, evoking “acceptable” forms of racism long used by mass industries.

Menchaca subverts this narrative by presenting the characters in color and the lens through which they are viewed in black and white. Those in power may have a simplistic view of the world, but the truth is far more complex.

Details

“¡Printing the Revolution!: The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now” runs through May 8 at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, 3501 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth. Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit cartermuseum.org or call 817-738-1933.

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