Purchase Vallen's Poster
"NO HUMAN BEING IS ILLEGAL"


Bilingual Offset Poster
19" x 22" inches - $5.00
First published in 1988,
republished Aug. 2010.
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JUST ANOTHER POSTER?
Chicano Graphic Arts in California

Article written by Mark Vallen - a participating artist in the exhibition.

JUST ANOTHER POSTER? - Chicano Graphic Arts in California, is the first exhibition and book that explores the poster art created by dozens of Chicano artists in California from the late 1960s to the present. I am honored to be among the artists included in this historic collection. Graphic art has played a key role in El Movimiento (the Chicano civil rights movement), and the poster has been used to educate, agitate, and organize Americans of Mexican descent. One could even say that political awareness and social activism grew out of the Chicano arts movement.

Chicano art has had many influences. Certainly Mexican artists like José Guadalupe Posada, Frida Kahlo, and David Siqueiros have had their effect, but so have American comic books, Cuban political posters, and spray-painted barrio calligraphy.

"Boycott Grapes" by Xavier Viramontes
"Boycott Grapes" by Xavier Viramontes
"Boycott Grapes" by Xavier Viramontes
"Boycott Grapes" by Xavier Viramontes
"Rifa" by Leonard Castellanos
"Rifa" by Leonard Castellanos
"Rifa" by Leonard Castellanos
"Rifa" by Leonard Castellanos

Chicano poster art became a means to help preserve and promote a culture largely ignored by the dominant Eurocentric society of the United States. Artists glorified Aztec Gods, Mexican revolutionaries, the Virgin de Guadalupe, immigrant farm workers, and the experiences of everyday raza (people.)

In 1973 artist Xavier Viramontes created the Boycott Grapes poster shown directly above, one of the era's most famous images supporting the United Farmworkers Union of César Chávez. The poster at left, titled Rifa, was created in 1972 by artist Leonard Castellanos (Rifa is Chicano slang for "we rule" or "we're the best"). Both works portray Mexican icons, an Aztec warrior and the revolutionary, Emiliano Zapata, but each is reworked to express a unique Chicano perspective.

Mexican culture has always informed Chicano art, but it is the American experience that truly gave birth to this distinct genre. The Aztecs migrated from a mythical homeland called Aztlán (Place of the White Heron), and many Chicanos see the Southwestern U.S. as Aztlán, leading to the popular slogan, "We didn't cross the border - the border crossed us!"

The poster at right, Vietnam Aztlán, by artist Malaquias Montoya, was created in 1972 and typifies the political works in the show. The Chicano movement coincided with the waging of the Vietnam War - and Chicanos who suffered from discrimination, police brutality, and poverty at home, were also dying in disproportionate numbers on the battlefield of Vietnam. As a result, many embraced the anti-war movement. Montoya's clear appeal for solidarity with the Vietnamese people was shared by many Chicano artists of the day.

"Vietnam Aztlan" by Malaquias Montoya
"Vietnam Aztlan" by Malaquias Montoya
"Vietnam Aztlan" by Malaquias Montoya
"Vietnam Aztlan" by Malaquias Montoya
"El jarabe muertiano" by Eduardo Oropeza
"El jarabe muertiano" by Eduardo Oropeza
"El jarabe muertiano" by Eduardo Oropeza
"El jarabe muertiano" by Eduardo Oropeza
The works of many artists and collectives appear in this exhibition and book, including the artworks of The Royal Chicano Airforce, Centro de Artistas Chicanos, Self Help Graphics, Yreina Cervántez, Richard Duardo, Lalo Alcaraz, Willie Herron, Carlos Almaraz, Rupert Garcia, and yours truly, Mark Vallen. There are over 100 works of art from 50 different artists in this exhibit and book. Many artists in the exhibition drew inspiration from Mexican traditions like Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The silkscreen print at left by Eduardo Oropeza, created in 1984 and titled, El jarabe muertiano (Dance of the Dead), pictures a typical festival of calaveras (skeletons). My contribution to the exhibition (shown directly below), also refers to the celebration of the dead - but with a political twist added.

Rafael Perez-Torres, Associate Professor of English at the University of California - Los Angeles, wrote an essay for the book in which he commented on my 1991 silkscreen, New World Odor. "The title puns on the phrase President George Bush used to characterize the sociopolitical configuration of the world after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union. The poster suggests this new order means nothing but the same carnage beneath a different regime. The pile of skulls tumbling toward the viewer presents a macabre, perhaps slightly mocking version of what awaits us in a world dominated by capital and commerce. The gothic lettering seems to reference the poster art of the Third Reich, suggesting that the fall of communism has ensured the triumph of fascistic forces. The critique here is part of that strain in Chicano public art concerned with political conditions at a global and international level."

"New World Odor" by Mark Vallen
"New World Odor" by Mark Vallen
"New World Odor" by Mark Vallen
"New World Odor" by Mark Vallen

The exhibition also generated a beautiful, 218 page, bilingual book filled with artworks showing why Chicano poster art is so highly regarded. I am proud to say that my New World Odor poster is included in the volume and that my works are examined in an essay by Carol Wells of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics. Several authoritative essays by professors, curators, and artists make this the indispensable book for those who wish to understand the history and evolution of Chicano graphic art.

The book is available online at Amazon.com, just click on the ad at left to purchase a copy.

Organized by the University Art Museum - University of California - Santa Barbara, in collaboration with the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives (CEMA), and the Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG), the show ran at the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History in Los Angeles until December 9th. 2001. The exhibit has also been mounted at the Oakland Museum of California, the Merced Multicultural Arts Center in California, the Jersey City Museum in Jersey City, New Jersey, and the Crocker Art Museum and La Raza/Galería Posada in Sacramento California, where the show ended on Sept. 14th, 2003.

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