FORT WORTH, Texas — In a February 1970 column for the Los Angeles Times, the journalist and activist Ruben Salazar wrote, “A Chicano is a Mexican-American with a non-Anglo image of himself.” It’s fitting that Salazar associates the process of self-identification with image, because one of the main ways that Chicanos have defined themselves is through their art. Printmaking, especially screen printing, has been a key tool for Chicanos to communicate who they are and what they care about since the 1960s.
¡Printing the Revolution!: The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art is a vital and vibrant exploration of printmaking’s role in the Chicano Movement and beyond. Organized by Smithsonian American Art Museum curators E. Carmen Ramos and Claudia E. Zapata, the exhibition features 119 artworks by 74 Chicano and Latinx artists and their allies. These include a number of iconic prints, like Yolanda López’s “Who’s the Illegal Alien, Pilgrim?” (1981) and Malaquias Montoya’s “Yo Soy Chicano” (1972), as well as recent works employing augmented reality, installation, digital imagery, and other experimental modes. ¡Printing the Revolution! is a crucial testament to the ways that art making and activism can work together, and is a must see for anyone who wants to understand the experience of people of Mexican descent in the United States.
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“The show centers on the ways that a lot of these artists would consider themselves activists,” Amon Carter curator Spencer Wigmore told Hyperallergic on a recent tour of the exhibition. “They channeled their creativity into bold and innovative, aesthetically complex statements that raise visibility for social justice issues, and in turn helped shape a popular, political, and cultural consciousness.”
Andrew Zermeño’s 1966 offset lithograph “Huelga!” reveals one of the early and ongoing concerns of the Chicano Movement: workers’ rights. In it, a man leaps forward with the United Farm Workers flag in hand, ready to take on unjust authorities with a huelga, or strike. In 1982, Ester Hernandez protested the harmful effects of pesticides on workers and crops in her screenprint “Sun Mad,” where the smiling cover girl of Sun-Maid Raisins has been replaced by a sinister skeleton. “Bee Pile” (2010), a stack of block-printed felt bee sculptures by Sonia Romero, is a more recent work dealing with the negative impacts of industrial agriculture on the environment.
In addition to labor rights, issues like immigration and police violence have remained urgent to Chicano and Latinx people. The exhibition’s survey format allows viewers to witness how artists have confronted them through time. We also witness the more recent emergence of queer and feminist identities, as well as alternative art-making practices. For example, the works in Julio Salgado’s 2012 I Am UndocuQueer digital image series exist as jpeg files, and are meant to be shared and spread online through social media.
The exhibition additionally reveals the Chicano Movement’s connections to other struggles across the world, from the Vietnam War to South Africa’s apartheid struggle. “So often, the history of the Chicano movement gets told in a really local way: it’s about East LA or San Francisco, for example,” Wigmore noted. “And those stories are really important. But from the start this movement was also invested in international issues. The Chicano struggle was in dialogue with broader efforts to challenge US imperialism, particularly in Central America, but also East Asia.”
This multifaceted dynamism and complexity is reflected in Salazar’s 1970 article. “Actually,” he writes toward the end of the text, “the word Chicano is as difficult to define as ‘soul.’” Luckily for us, ¡Printing the Revolution! grants viewers an extensive look at the Chicano Movement, and at its soul.
¡Printing the Revolution!: The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now continues at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (3501 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth, Texas) through May 8. The exhibition was curated by E. Carmen Ramos and Claudia E. Zapata.