Chicano Captures the Aesthetic of the Chicano Movement Through the Lens of Contemporary Art

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After consulting for History Colorado on the “Movimiento Chicano” section of its 1968 exhibit, Museo de las Americas director Maruca Salazar started thinking about presenting her own show on the subject of Chicanos. Salazar, who is from Mexico, explains that Chicanos are not Mexican-Americans; rather, they are the descendants of the Spanish-speaking settlers in the Southwest who wound up on this side of the border after the Mexican-American War in the 1840s. The movement of a generation ago was in response to the persistent discrimination they faced.

But Salazar made a radical decision in putting the resulting Chicano exhibit together. Instead of displaying material done in the late ’60s and early ’70s, she would capture the aesthetic of the Chicano movement through the lens of contemporary art. Consequently, much of what is included is brand-new and was made specifically for this show.

She tapped four artists: her husband, Daniel Salazar; photographer Delilah Montoya; and the artist team of Los Supersonicos, made up of Carlos Frésquez and Francisco Zamora. All four had firsthand experience with the movement, even if Frésquez and Zamora were only kids at the time, protesting with their mothers while riding in the “F.U.C.K. truck” (the initials stood for “For Us Chicano Kids”).

Local protests are the subject of Daniel Salazar’s photo-based and video pieces. To make them, he accessed original news footage of demonstrations. The most ambitious piece is an installation featuring a treadmill with a video projection behind it and a mirror in front. Visitors can get on the treadmill and imagine themselves as part of the march; the film has been flipped so that protest signs are readable in their reflection.

The marches were a defining element of the era, but there were other unifying aspects of Chicano culture. Tattoos, for example. Montoya has taken photos of Chicano men with “Our Lady of Guadalupe” tattoos; the images refer not just to religious devotion, but to Chicano gang culture, as well.

More in line with the marches was mural painting, though most of the murals that were done at the time have long since been painted over. In response, Frésquez and Zamora did a cycle of murals and related banners (detail pictured) in which they mined the established iconography of the original works, including references to Mesoamerican civilizations and the Spanish conquest. But the two artists added a twist by inserting symbols of corporate America, such as the Golden Arches and credit-card logos.

Denver can lay claim to a role in the Chicano movement, with a branch library having just been named after the most prominent local leader, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales — and, come to think of it, with the Museo de las Americas being here in the first place.

Chicano runs through May 29 at the Museo, 861 Santa Fe Drive. Call 303-571-4401 or go to museo.org for more information.  

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