Walls of Empowerment: Chicana/o Indigenist Murals of California

Walls of Empowerment: Chicana/o Indigenist Murals of California

Walls of Empowerment: Chicana/o Indigenist Murals of California

Walls of Empowerment: Chicana/o Indigenist Murals of California

Synopsis

Exploring three major hubs of muralist activity in California, where indigenist imagery is prevalent,Walls of Empowermentcelebrates an aesthetic that seeks to firmly establish Chicana/o sociopolitical identity in U. S. territory. Providing readers with a history and genealogy of key muralists' productions, Guisela Latorre also showcases new material and original research on works and artists never before examined in print.

An art form often associated with male creative endeavors, muralism in fact reflects significant contributions by Chicana artists. Encompassing these and other aspects of contemporary dialogues, including the often tense relationship between graffiti and muralism,Walls of Empowermentis a comprehensive study that, unlike many previous endeavors, does not privilege non-public Latina/o art. In addition, Latorre introduces readers to the role of new media, including performance, sculpture, and digital technology, in shaping the muralist's "canvas."

Drawing on nearly a decade of fieldwork, this timely endeavor highlights the ways in which California's Mexican American communities have used images of indigenous peoples to raise awareness of the region's original citizens. Latorre also casts murals as a radical force for decolonization and liberation, and she provides a stirring description of the decades, particularly the late 1960s through 1980s, that saw California's rise as the epicenter of mural production. Blending the perspectives of art history and sociology with firsthand accounts drawn from artists' interviews,Walls of Empowermentrepresents a crucial turning point in the study of these iconographic artifacts.

Excerpt

Chicana/o Murals and Indigenism

Two Aztec warriors, dressed in full regalia, clasp arms as they engage in a ritual dance with a mountainous landscape stretching behind them. Aside from inhabiting this idyllic environment, these heroes also physically reside within the barrio setting of East Los Angeles, where Ernesto de la Loza’s Danza de las Aguilas (1978) mural is located. How did the meaning of these indigenous figures connect with the mostly Chicana/o and Mexican residents of East L.A. whose own experience was shaped by both urban life and native Mexican traditions? How was political, social, and cultural consciousness meant to be inscribed into this kind of iconography? As seen in the community murals that have transformed the urban landscapes of California since the late 1960s, the rehabilitation of indigenous history and culture became a crucial component in the growing politicization that saturated Chicana/o political thought with the onset of the Chicano Movement, or el movimiento. California became a significant site of mural activity because it possessed a mural tradition spanning most of the twentieth century, and, as art historian Shifra Goldman has written, the West Coast has led “the country in sheer [mural] quantity.” But most significantly, the state had endured a bitter and prolonged colonial, expansionist, and postindustrial history that directly and indirectly informed the Indigenist subject matter of these wall paintings. the Indian of the Americas emerged within these murals as a timeless ideal and a fluid allegory of cultural affirmation that reconstructed Chicanas/os’ fragmented past while providing entire communities with a vocabulary that celebrated their contemporary cultural practices. Moreover, the recognition that the continent of America was essentially indigenous territory became one of the most fundamental steps toward decolonization and liberation of oppressed communities.

Chicana/o artists employed the monumentality of the public mural to disseminate an iconography radicalized in large part through its indigenizing qualities. These murals cited indigenous culture in a multiplicity of ways and for a variety of different reasons, yet composed part of an aesthetic that . . .

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