A Triumph for Chicana/o Visual Art and Its Historiography

By Sorell, Victor Alejandro | Art Journal, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview
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A Triumph for Chicana/o Visual Art and Its Historiography


Sorell, Victor Alejandro, Art Journal


A Triumph for Chicana/o Visual Art and Its Historiography Victor Alejandro Sorell Gary D. Keller et al. Contemporary Chicana and Chicane Art: Arlisls, Works, Culture, and Education. Tempe, Ariz.: Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingue, 2002. Vol. I, 336 pp., 321 color ills., 15 b/w. Vol. II, 342 pp., 344 color ills., 5 b/w. $ 150; $ 120 paper; $ 160 boxed set.

The publication of these two splendid volumes constitutes a triumph for the historiography of Chicana and Chicano visual art. Projected as a four-volume series, the work published to date already supersedes anything that has come before in the quality of its reproductions and breadth of its coverage of individual artists, some of whom have not been previously acknowledged. Also intrinsic to this serial project are the accompanying electronic educational materials, including, for example, a glossary of Spanish words and phrases (www.latinoartcommunity.org), which enhance what is already a quantum leap for Chicana/o cultural studies. Predating this landmark project are the seminal book-length treatment of Chicana/o art, Mexican American Artists (1973), by Chicano and Mesoamerican art historian Jacinto Quirarte, against which all subsequent studies must be measured, and since 1985, a succession of other excellent works addressing Chicana/o art. In particular, readers are referred to the notable exhibition catalogue edited by Richard Griswold del Castillo, Teresa McKenna, and Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano, documenting the CARA project, Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation (1965-1985), planned and implemented through UCLA's Wight Art Gallery between 1984 and 1990, with a national traveling itinerary through 1993. A superb complementary volume for the serious student of Chicana/o art is the 1985 publication, Arte Chicano: A Comprehensive Annotated Bibliography of Chicane Art, 1965-1981, compiled by Shifra M. Goldman andTomas Ybarra-Frausto, two other pioneers in the critical appreciation and historiography of Chicana/o art, as well as consulting contributors to the CARA show.

A vicissiludinous branch of American art-itself oftentimes viewed throughout its history as globally marginal and mutable, according to Wanda M. Corn's critically important essay, "Coming of Age: Historical Scholarship in American Art," (The Art Bulletin 70, no. 2, 1988)-Chicana/o art is no less equivocal and multifaceted than the bifurcated mestiza/o (miscegenons) identity of Mexican Americans themselves. What more eloquent visual statement and parody to that effect than Ester Hernandez's unparalleled scrigraph, Libertad II (Liberty II, 1987), depicting a Chicana sculptor carving a new identity for Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty, an identity that transforms the gift from the French people to the United States into an Aztec monolith fromAztlan!

A palpable tension exists between Chicana/o art's American patina and its Mexican roots. It is an art thriving on the hyphen or synapse of its dual character. Although it is neither wholly Mexican nor wholly (U.S.) American, America remains Chicana/o art's native land. If this art was once perceived as "foreign" in any respect, it was so by virtue of geopolitical and historical events, coupled with personal artistic ideologies. Like the circumstances that led nineteenth-century Tejano (Mexican Texan) politician and soldier Juan Nepomuceno Scguin to declare himself "a foreigner in [his] native land,"1 Chicana/o art, its practitioners, staunch critical and scholarly advocates, and collectors have negotiated actual and metaphorical borders and mounted proactive interventions challenging the very canons of art-historical research and scholarship.

During the Texas Revolution of 1836, a military conflict that forced Mexico to cede Texas to the United States, Colonel Seguin, organizer of the Second Regiment of Texas Volunteers, found himself like other Tejanos caught in a struggle between two cultures, not certain whether to remain loyal to Mexico or to establish an allegiance to Texas.

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