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Beyond Aztlán: Mexican & Chicana/o Artists in the Pacific Northwest
Spanning the last six decades, this exhibition assembles a diversity of works by Chicana/o and Mexican artists that currently reside or have formerly resided in the Pacific Northwest. Some of them were born in Mexico and moved to this region at different points in their lives: Alfredo Arreguín; Arturo Artorez; Daniel Carrillo; Fulgencio Lazo; Jesús Mena; José Luis Rodríguez Guerra. Others, born in the United States, migrated from California, Minnesota, and Texas: Cecilia Alvarez; Mark Calderón; Alma Gómez-Frith; Boyer Gonzales, Jr.; Jesús Guillén; George Rodríguez; and Rubén Trejo. Indeed, the only PNW natives in this group are Paul Berger (born in The Dalles, Oregon) and Daniel DeSiga (born in Walla Walla, Washington).
Clearly, a shared ancestry is the common thread that binds these artists together. The average observer will quickly recognize how most of them—each in her or his own way—pay homage to their cultural heritage through the use of certain themes, icons, and motifs. Nevertheless, despite their common legacy, individual experiences, sensibilities, and identities vary enormously—as also do individual expressions. In truth, the differences in their concerns, styles, and techniques overshadow the similarities. In this respect, they, their works, embody a remarkable form of diversity within diversity. Consequently, they come to challenge all stereotypes and essentialist notions about “Mexican” or “ethnic” art. For some, the sources that inform their creations spring simultaneously from Mexico, Asia, Europe, and the U.S. Frequently, indigenous, pre-Columbian, and colonial elements merge with the modernity in order to produce a distinct and very personal visual language.
In the 1960s, the concept of Aztlán, the legendary place of origin of the Aztecs, became a pivotal feature of the Chicano movement (el Movimiento). Swiftly, the term came to be used by Chicano activists to define the lands that Mexico lost to the U.S. in 1848, at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War—i.e., what is now known as the Southwest. For this and other reasons, cultural and political events in California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas monopolized national attention. The activities that Mexican Americans carried out elsewhere, beyond Aztlán, were hardly acknowledged.
As I have stated on more than one occasion, however, neither the presence nor the artistic activities of people of Mexican descent are new to the Pacific Northwest. In 1792, Mariano José Moziño, a brilliant botanist born in Temazcaltepec, Mexico, was commissioned to participate in the Bodega y Quadra expedition to Nootka Sound; his orders were to conduct a survey of the flora and fauna of the area. Moziño was also instructed to take with him “the best artist he could find.” In compliance, he recruited Atanasio Echeverría y Godoy, an accomplished artist trained at the renowned Royal Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City. The quality of Echeverría’s works was widely recognized and became the object of early praise by the legendary scientist Baron Alexander von Humboldt who, in 1803, wrote: “The distinguished doctor José Moziño and Señor Echeverría, painter of plants and animals and whose works can compete with the most perfect which Europe has produced of this class (of artist), were both born in New Spain and both occupy a very distinguished place among learned persons and artists without having left their native country.”
Admittedly, there is a big gap between the visit by Moziño and Echeverría to the Nootka Sound and the actual formation of a significant Mexican American community in this region after WW II. The milestone that marks the beginning of the most recent chapter of this story is the arrival of Boyer Gonzales, Jr. in Seattle, in 1954, when he was hired to be Director of the School of Art at the University of Washington. Alfredo Arreguín, who arrived in Seattle in 1956 at age 21, eventually attended the University of Washington and enrolled in one or two of Gonzales’s courses. Since then, as mentioned above, other talented individuals have continued to come to this beautiful region, for various reasons and under different circumstances. George Rodríguez, who came from Texas to study art at the University of Washington, is the most recent arrival and the youngest in this group.
Covering a wide spectrum of media—collage, drawing, painting, photography, and sculpture—the 15 artists whose works are included in this exhibition epitomize the diversity of our community and the range of interests and activities that have defined the evolution of a Chicano/Mexican aesthetic expression in the Pacific Northwest over the last sixty years.
- Lauro H. Flores, University of Washington, Guest Curator
Artists include Cecilia Alvarez, Alfredo Arreguin, Arturo Artorez, Paul Berger, Mark Calderón, Daniel Carrillo, Daniel DeSiga, Alma Gómez, Boyer Gonzales, Jr., Jesús Guillén, Fulgencio Lazo, Jesús Mena, George Rodríguez, José Luis Rodríguez Guerra, and Rubén Trejo.
- See more at: http://monamuseum.org/exhibition/beyond-aztl%C3%A1n-mexican-and-chicanao-artists-pacific-northwest#sthash.Pc4vOidf.dpuf