Part history lesson, part art exhibition, Mexic-Arte’s “Chicano/a Art, Movimiento y Más en Austen, Tejas 1960s to 1980s” invites viewers to either learn about for the first time, or revisit, an important period in Austin’s cultural history.
“El Movimiento” took a historically derogatory label and purposefully reinvented it — making “Chicano/a” a description of pride — in a shared cultural past and through a common fight for equality, justice and political power.
The content heavy exhibition features the work of over 30 visual artists as well as photographs, video documentary and television series clips along with a plethora of printed material.
The introductory texts states, “With varying styles, themes, and messages being exhibited, take time to expand how Chicano/a art is defined. Some artworks will reinforce previous narratives of Chicano/a art supporting social movements, while other art will expand on what Chicano/a art are capable of by melding together contemporary art trends with Chicano/a sensibilities.”
A few widely recognizable artists are Sam Coronado, Amado M. Peña Jr., and José Francisco Treviño, known primarily for representational paintings and prints. Discovering abstract work by Vicente “Chente” Rodriguez may be a welcome surprise, as is seeing the considerable number of female artists represented.
Before founding the Serie Project in 1993, Sam Coronado participated in El Movimiento, co-founding the Chicano Art Student Association at the University of Texas at Austin and later, Mexic-Arte Museum (1984) along with current Executive Director, Sylvia Orozco, and artist, Pio Pulido. Coronado also taught at Austin Community College where he was a professor in the Graphic Arts Department. His teaching and support of LatinX artists through the Serie Project are legendary, but the wonderfully unadorned self portrait of Coronado looking out from his easel, reminds us of his of painterly skills as well.
Amado M. Peña’s work is not thought of as particularly political today. But in the 1970s his six serigraphs titled, “Wanted,” “Rosa Del Tepeyac,” “La Raza,” “El Arco Iris,” “La Lechuga,” and “Soldado De La Raza,” read as a call to action. Emblazoned with text and bright imagery, they signal issues concerning the United Farmworkers Union (UFW) and the movement while the larger “Casi ques del Movimiento” (n.d.) repeats icons, Che Guevara and Emiliano Zapata, Andy-Warhol stencil style.
Introduced to the work of Jose F. Treviño in the late 1990s when Syliva Orozco engaged me to catalogue his work, I knew Treviño to be a prolific and powerfully expressive painter. The current exhibition expands upon his involvement in the group called “Los Quemados” (The Burned Ones). The painting “Uno de Los Quemados” depicts the artist confronting the viewer’s gaze, in an “H.O. Guerrero Carpet Cleaners” work uniform, aligning artist, manual laborer, and mythic hero. A striking image, Treviño’s face turns an unearthly green as fiery flames surround him. Instead of engulfing the figure, the blazes bursting forth call to mind fire god, perhaps Xiuhtecuhtli.
Vicente “Chente” Rodriguez’s abstract acrylic on canvas paintings diverge from other art heavy on people and portraiture. His geometrical hard-edge abstraction proves that the movement was not aesthetically homogenous. Breaking away from a strict stylistic template and embracing experimentation, Rodriguez was one of several UT grads in the movement’s mix. He worked in a commercial art and owned a printshop, all the while supporting social issues associated with El Movimiento.
Another student at UT in the 1970s, now based in San Antonio, Carolina Flores paints using thick impasto, confident brushstrokes and a dramatic use of color. Here, her expressive style moves between favored family members as subjects in “Francisca y Rafael,” or “Boda en Sanderson, TX, 1971,” and portraits of historical figures like Benito Juárez.
Additional female artists presented in the show are numerous: Mary Ann Ambray Gonzales, Alicia Arredondo, Alicia Barraza, Santa Barraza, Nora Gonzáles Dodson, Carmen Lomas Garza, Mary Jane Garza, Marsha Gomez, Sylvia Orozco, Janis Palma, Marta Sanchez, and Modesta Treviño.
Perhaps the most valuable component of the exhibition (especially to Austin residents) are the photos and videos. Mexic-Arte’s curatorial choice to embrace works by photojournalists such as Alan Pogue, Manuel “Chaca” Ramirez, and others, in concert with video-documentaries produced by the Austin History Center, Austin PBS, the C/S Project, and Gilbert Rivera, bring the 1960s to 1980s (good and bad) to life.
Manuel “Chaca” Ramirez’s 10” x 8” photographs from the controversial Aqua Fest boat races captured the ripple effects of the events; including the intrusive crowds, loud noise, traffic congestion, trash that was left, members of the community protesting with signs, and a frustratingly familiar image of a potential protester being bent over a car and handcuffed.
Austin’s Aqua Fest was a ten-day event held each August at Festival Beach and Fiesta Gardens in East Austin in the 1960s and 1970s. It later moved to Auditorium Shores due to growing crowds and protests led by Mexican-American communities and those living in East Austin neighborhoods.
Pogue’s documentation of social movements in Austin, and around the world, is renowned. His subjects include happenings like a rally in support of the Economy Furniture Strike, with protesters walking down Congress Avenue and carrying signs reading “Support Chicano Huelguista” (Support Chicano Strikers). Pogue also photographed KKK rallies, the People’s Anti-Klan March, the East Side boat race protests, and the Brown Berets (modeled after the Black Panthers). All of Pogue’s images resonate on a human level, and signs of old Austin, like Congress Avenue’s bus station and antiquated tinsel Christmas decorations take viewers back to that time.
There is a lot to digest in “Chicano/a Art, Movimiento y Más en Austen, Tejas 1960s to 1980s.” The rear gallery displays a mass of pamphlets, posters, publications, and flyers. There’s a huge mural on one wall by Raul Valdez, and a long list of activist organizations mentioned throughout the label text and ephemera.
Though it’s a bit overwhelming, the exhibition helps provide a context and bring awareness of this politically charged period — one in which artmaking and activism went hand in hand.
“Chicano/a Art, Movimiento y Más en Austen, Tejas 1960s to 1980s” continues through June 22 at Mexic-Arte Museum, 419 Congress Ave. mexic-artemusuem.org