Category: Chicanarte-Chicano art

Libros No Bombas - Books Not Bombs

Libros No Bombas (Books Not Bombs). Mark Vallen ©. 6" x 11" inch postcard reproduction of an original oil painting.

"Libros No Bombas - Books Not Bombs". Mark Vallen © 6" x 11" inch postcard.

My painting, Libros No Bombas (Books Not Bombs), was one of two canvases I premiered at the exhibition, ¡ADELANTE! Mexican American Artists: 1960s and Beyond, which took place at the Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale, California from September 9, 2011 through January 1, 2012. The painting is now available online as a 6″ x 11″ inch full-color postcard reproduction (pictured above); the same card sold in the museum gift shop throughout the duration of the exhibit.

Printed on heavy card stock, the postcards are blank on the backside and are available directly from Art For A Change in packets of 5 postcards for $6.50, plus $3.50 for shipping in the U.S.

The cards can be purchased here. Teachers, parents, and students are encouraged to buy the packs of cards and share them with friends and associates.

At first glance Libros No Bombas seems only a simple portrait of a teenage girl, but the background story of the artwork and how I invite viewers to consider it, is what gives the painting its socio-political significance. Witnessing thousands of youthful antiwar activists at the 2010 Chicano Moratorium protest in East Los Angeles inspired me to paint this portrait of a young Mexican-American student toting a backpack. I wanted my canvas to give a picture of the idealism of youth striving for decent education in these times of economic collapse, draconian government cutbacks, and endless war.

“Books Not Bombs!” was a slogan written on placards and chanted during L.A.’s 2010 Chicano Moratorium protest, however the catchphrase belongs to people everywhere who work for an end of illiteracy and under-education as suffered in underprivileged working class communities. My artwork reminds viewers that overworked and underpaid teachers, ill-equipped schools, shrinking education resources, and austerity budgets are the social costs of an economic system tied to empire and militarism.

At the time of this posting, a U.S. sailor became the 3,000th U.S.-led “international coalition” soldier to have died in the Afghanistan war since 2001. During that same period the National Priorities Project estimates the U.S. has spent over $532,475,000,000 on the Afghan war. As Detroit city officials literally begin to turn off nearly half of the city’s streetlights for lack of cash, the Obama administration talks of a “partial withdrawal” from Afghanistan by 2014. It is time for the wars to end, the soldiers to come home… and for America to turn the lights back on.

 "Libros No Bombas" (Detail). Mark Vallen ©

"Libros No Bombas - Books Not Bombs" (Detail) Mark Vallen ©

Feliz Dia de los Muertos

I took the following photographs at the 12th annual Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead festival at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, October 22, 2011. The cemetery, founded in 1889, is the only one in the United States that opens its gates to the public for traditional observances of Dia de los Muertos. Upwards of 10,000 people attended what is probably the largest celebration of its kind in the U.S.

Aparición (Apparition). Photograph and makeup by Mark Vallen 2011 ©. This is a photographic portrait of the editor of this web log, Jeannine Thorpe, which actually tells you a lot about this journalistic undertaking.

"Aparición" (Apparition). Photograph and makeup by Mark Vallen 2011 ©. This is a photographic portrait of the editor of this web log, Jeannine Thorpe, which actually tells you a lot about this journalistic undertaking.

Danzante (Dancer). Photograph - Mark Vallen 2011 ©. One of the dozens of practitioners of traditional Danza Azteca to attend the festival.

"Danzante" (Dancer). Photograph - Mark Vallen 2011 ©. One of the dozens of practitioners of traditional Danza Azteca to attend the festival.

Portrait of artist Johanna Aguilar. Photograph - Mark Vallen 2011 ©. Aguilar won third prize for her Day of the Dead altar at the 2011 festival. I photographed her as she struck a pose as a living model in her altar's surrealistic tableau.

"Portrait of artist Johanna Aguilar". Photograph - Mark Vallen 2011 ©. Aguilar won third prize for her Day of the Dead altar at the 2011 festival. I photographed her as she struck a pose as a living model in her altar's surrealistic tableau.

¡Shifra Goldman - Presente!

 Shifra Goldman in her library. Photographer unknown.

Shifra Goldman in her library. Photographer unknown.

Visionary social art historian Dr. Shifra M. Goldman died on the afternoon of September 11, 2011. She was an arts advocate, activist, researcher, critic, and author who dedicated her considerable energy and intellectual prowess in advancing an understanding of Chicano, Mexican, and Latin American art. I learned much from her extensive writings, and over the years I was privileged to meet with her on several occasions, encounters that always resulted in the liveliest conversations pertaining to socially conscious art and the role of the artist in society.

I was fortunate to first meet Shifra at an exhibition of political art I curated in Los Angeles during the 1984 Olympics. One controversial Mexican woodcut print I had on display was not signed or otherwise identified; I had no idea who had created the artwork, so I credited it in the exhibit, as well as on the flyer announcement for the show, as having been created by an “anonymous artist” (that flyer is now in the museum exhibit, Peace Press Graphics). One day Shifra attended my ‘84 Olympics exhibit, noticed the “anonymous” print, and proceeded to give me an hour-long intensive lecture on the life and times of Adolfo Mexiac (Meh-she-ack), the artist who in 1954 created the original woodcut print. This initial encounter with Shifra left me with a lasting impression of her towering intellect and profound enthusiasm for the arts.

Shifra’s acquired knowledge and expertise in her field was truly encyclopedic, but she was also a passionate advocate for the art she was so well versed in. I recall a conversation we had in 2002 concerning Frida Kahlo, the discussion taking place when the Frida Kahlo movie starring Salma Hayek was playing in U.S. movie houses. The film’s popularity resulted in Shifra suddenly becoming inundated with inquiries about Kahlo, and she told me, “I am sick of hearing about Frida Kahlo!” She had a substantive complaint; while Kahlo was transformed into a celebrity pop idol of sorts, her contemporaries, the remarkable Mexican women artists that worked in the same time frame, have all but been forgotten outside of small artistic circles in Mexico.

It was Shifra who told me about Aurora Reyes Flores, the first Mexican woman to paint a mural; Shifra instructed me regarding the works of Celia Calderón, Elena Huerta, Rina Lazo, Sarah Jimenez, Isabel Villaseñor, and a host of other incredible artists who have virtually no name recognition in the U.S. That was Shifra Goldman… ceaselessly excavating around the periphery, forever discovering hidden riches, and tirelessly sharing her treasure trove of findings with the world. Her passing is an irrevocable loss for us all, but she left her beloved community fortunes beyond imagination - the wisdom to be found in her scholarly books and articles. As long as there are people who read Shifra’s studious works, her spirit will be with us.

[The following obituary for Shifra was written by Carol A. Wells, the founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, using information from an unpublished interview with Shifra Goldman done in 1992, material from the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives, and information provided by Yreina Cervantez, Kathy Gallegos, Sybil Venegas, and Shifra’s son and daughter-in-law Eric Garcia and Trisha Dexter].

“I was never in the mainstream, never in all my life. I was born on the margins, lived on the margins, and have always sympathized with the margins. They make a lot more sense to me than the mainstream.” - Shifra M. Goldman, September 1992

Shifra Goldman (1926-2011), a pioneer in the study of Latin American and Chicana/o Art, and a social art historian, died in Los Angeles on September 11, 2011, from Alzheimer’s disease. She was 85. Professor Goldman taught art history in the Los Angeles area for over 20 years. She was a prolific writer and an activist for Chicana/o and Latino Art. In Dimensions of the Americas: Art and Social Change in Latin America and the United States, one of her award winning publications, she stated that part of her life’s work was to “deflect and correct the stereotypes, distortions, and Eurocentric misunderstandings that have plagued all serious approaches to Latino Art history since the 50s.”

Born and raised in New York by Russian immigrant parents, art and politics were central to her entire life. Goldman’s mother was a political activist and her father, a trade unionist. She attended the High School of Music and Art in New York, and entered the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as a studio art major when her family moved to Los Angeles in the 1940’s. As an undergraduate, she was active in the student boycott against the barbers in Westwood who refused to cut the hair of the Black Veterans entering UCLA on the GI bill following the Second World War.

After leaving UCLA, she went to work with Bert Corona and the Civil Rights Congress, a national organization working to stop police brutality against African and Mexican Americans, and the deportations of Mexicans and foreign born political activists. Living in East Los Angeles, Goldman learned Spanish and became immersed in Mexican and Chicana/o culture. In the 1950’s, during the repression of the Cold War, Goldman was subpoenaed before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Two decades later, she lost her first college teaching job because a background check revealed that she had been called before HUAC.

In the 1960’s, after supporting herself and her son, Eric, as a bookkeeper for fifteen years, Goldman returned to UCLA to complete her B.A. in art. After receiving her M.A. in art history from California State University, Los Angeles (CSLA), she entered the Ph.D program at UCLA where she ran headlong into Eurocentrism when she was unable to find a chair for her doctoral committee because her topic of choice was modern Mexican art. Goldman refused to choose a more mainstream topic, and waited several years until a new faculty member finally agreed to work with her. Her dissertation was published as Contemporary Mexican Painting in a Time of Change by University of Texas Press in 1981, and republished in Mexico in 1989.  She also initiated and co-authored the bibliography and theoretical essay, Arte Chicano: A Comprehensive Annotated Bibliography of Chicano Art, 1965-1981 (1985) with Dr.Tomás Ybarra-Frausto.

Professor Goldman taught her first class in Mexican Art in 1966, possibly the only one given at that time in all of California. She later went on to a full time teaching position in art history at Santa Ana College where she taught courses in Mexican Pre-Colombian, Modern and Chicano Art for 21 years. She was one of the organizers for the Vietnam Peace Tower in 1966. Goldman also co-founded the Los Angeles chapter of Artists Call Against U.S. Intervention in Central America, in 1983, and was instrumental in bringing solidarity with the Central American struggle to the Los Angeles community.

In 1968, she began the campaign to preserve the 1932 Siqueiros mural in Olvera Street, and in 1971 approached Siqueiros for a new mural derived from the original. According to the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives (CEMA), he agreed but the plan was thwarted by the artist’s death in 1974. His last mural in Los Angeles, Portrait of Mexico Today, 1932, was restored and moved to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California with Goldman’s advice and assistance.

Goldman has published and lectured in Europe, Latin America and the United States. In 1994 she became a Research Associate with the Latin American Center at UCLA and taught art history there. Goldman is also Professor Emeritus from Santa Ana College, Santa Ana, CA. In February 1992, she received the College Art Association’s (CAA) Frank Jewett Mather Award for distinction in art criticism and, in February 1993, an award from the Women’s Caucus for Art for outstanding achievement in the visual arts. She was elected to the board of the CAA, 1995-1999. In 1996 she received the “Historian of the Lions” award from the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.

The Shifra Goldman Papers, including her slides, books, and videos are part of the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives (CEMA) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her extensive Chicano poster and print collection is at the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles. She will be remembered for her important contributions to Latin American Art scholarship and for her seminal work in Chicano/a Art History and support of the Chicano/a art community.

Professor Goldman is survived by her son Eric Garcia, daughter-in-law Trisha Dexter, and grandson Ian of Los Angeles.  In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to Avenue 50 Studio [], Center for the Study of Political Graphics [] and/or Tropico de Nopal []. A memorial for Ms. Goldman will be held at 2 p.m. on October 15 at the Professional Musicians Local 47, 817 Vine St., Hollywood, CA 90038.

¡ADELANTE! Mexican American Artists: 1960s and Beyond

I will be premiering two new oil paintings at ¡ADELANTE! Mexican American Artists: 1960s and Beyond, the latest museum exhibition to explore the world of Chicano art. Presented by the Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale, California, the exhibit runs from September 9, 2011 through January 1, 2012, and offers the paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, and photographs of some forty artists. Included are artworks from “veteranos” of the 1960s Chicano Arts Movement, as well as from a whole new generation of artists involved in creating Chicanarte (Chicano art).

Those influential artists participating in the exhibit include the likes of Judith F. Baca; David Rivas Botello; Barbara Carrasco; Margaret García; Ignacio Gomez; Wayne Healy; Leo Limón; Frank Romero; Patssi Valdez, and a host of others. A few of the works on view are from the Cheech Marin Collection, one of the most important private collections of Chicano art in the United States. Adelante is Spanish for “advance” or “forward”, making the perfect title for an exhibit that surveys Chicano art as it moves into the second decade of the 21st century.

La Causa (The Cause) Mark Vallen. Oil on canvas. 40" x 36" inches. 2011. On exhibit at the Forest Lawn Museum, Sept. 9, 2011 through Jan. 1, 2012.

"La Causa" (The Cause) Mark Vallen. Oil on canvas. 40" x 36" inches. 2011. On exhibit at the Forest Lawn Museum, Sept. 9, 2011 through Jan. 1, 2012.

When Joan Adan, curator and exhibit designer for the Forest Lawn Museum, requested my participation in the Adelante show, I made a commitment to create a pair of new oil paintings especially for the occasion. I would have barely four months to complete the works. I had been conceptualizing a number of large canvasses based upon observed life in the city of Los Angeles, so when Ms. Adan offered inclusion in Adelante - my ideas became concrete. I was determined to paint narratives that typically get little attention in Chicanarte exhibits. I chose to create paintings inspired by a major event in Mexican-American history, the National Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War, telling the story of how that event continues to resonate in the present.

The Chicano Moratorium march took place in East Los Angeles on August 29, 1970, and was partly organized by the Brown Berets, a militant Chicano group that fought for the civil and human rights of Mexican-Americans. The Brown Berets were originally organized in East L.A. in 1967 as an outgrowth of the burgeoning Chicano civil rights movement. In 1968 the group organized the first student walkouts to protest racism and substandard schools in East L.A., electrifying an entire generation. Soon Brown Beret chapters sprang up throughout California, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, and beyond - but it all started in the city of Los Angeles.

Some 30,000 people took part in the 1970 moratorium march, which culminated in a rally at Laguna Park; dozens of Brown Berets acted as marshals, providing security for the protest. The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department attacked the gathering, initiating a riot. Ultimately police killed four citizens that day, Lyn Ward, José Diaz (both Brown Berets), Gustav Montag, and L.A. Times reporter Rubén Salazar. Salazar was slain as he sat in the Silver Dollar Café; a deputy sheriff fired a tear gas projectile into the cafe, striking Salazar in the head and killing him instantly.

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium, on August 27, 2010 I joined 5,000 others in walking the original march route along Whittier Blvd. Instead of the Vietnam War, we protested the current U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A new generation of Brown Berets provided security for the march - as well as inspiration for my painting, La Causa. The Brown Berets disbanded in 1972, but were re-activated in 1993 under the group’s original charter and mission statement; the organization currently seems to be flourishing. As the multitudes passed where the Silver Dollar Café once stood, piles of flowers were placed on the spot where Rubén Salazar was killed. We rallied at Rubén Salazar Park (formerly known as Laguna Park), where forty-years ago the police provoked the riot now recorded by history.

 La Causa (Detail) Mark Vallen. Oil on canvas.

"La Causa" (Detail) Mark Vallen. Oil on canvas.

My oil painting, La Causa (The Cause), is a depiction of two of the female Brown Beret cadre I caught a glimpse of at the 40th anniversary protest march. The title of my canvas is taken from the words that appear on the emblematic patch worn on the berets of the organization’s members, the “cause” being the liberation of the people.

I felt it important to portray these young Chicana activists as a counter-balance to the stereotypical images of Latinas. Despite their legendary public image, at least as it is known in the greater South West of the U.S., I think mine might be the first serious painting of Brown Beret members. My canvas is not a wholesale endorsement of the group’s cultural nationalist political philosophy, but rather an acknowledgement of the role the organization has played in the history and collective consciousness of Mexican-Americans.

It is ironic that while working on my La Causa painting, I received word that the FBI and the SWAT Team of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department raided the home of Carlos Montes on May 17, 2011. Montes, a co-founder of the Brown Berets and a leader of the historic student walkouts in East L.A., had his cell phones, computer, notes, and other personal affects seized by the authorities. Apparently the Obama administration has targeted Montes for his antiwar activities, part of an underreported repressive sweep the Obama Justice Department has initiated against antiwar activists as reported in the Washington Post. As of this writing, the government’s case against Carlos Montes is still pending.

What initially attracted me to the Chicano Arts Movement in the early 1970s was its innovative merging of aesthetics and political concerns; it was a populist, anti-elitist school of art that sprang from a people’s struggle for equality, democratic rights, and self-determination. Chicanarte took inspiration from the Mexican Muralist School of social activist art, but it succeeded in creating its own unique visual language that reflected the distinctive Mexican-American experience. While the elite art world discarded painting altogether in favor of postmodern conceptualism and its rejection of “grand narratives”, Chicanarte never abandoned figurative realism in paintings, drawings, prints, or sculpture; a fact that largely remains so today.

Chicano artists continue to address the dreams, aspirations, history, and lived experience of la gente (the people), which is the genre’s one consistent and unbreakable grand narrative. The Chicano Arts Movement has certainly expanded since the early 1970s, nowadays incorporating performance, installation, abstraction, and other disciplines, but for the most part it still retains the activist spark of its founding years. The state of U.S. society today, with its austerity budgets, numerous wars, economic decay, and xenophobic anti-immigrant stance, gives impetus for the social realist activist component of Chicanarte to once again move front and center.

¡ADELANTE! runs from September 9, 2011 through January 1, 2012. The Forest Lawn Museum is located at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, 1712 South Glendale Avenue, Glendale, California. 91205. The museum is open every day except Monday, from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission and parking is free. Phone: 1-800-204-3131. Website: A larger reproduction of La Causa can be viewed here.

Gilbert “Magú” Luján: 1940-2011

Recent photo of Gilbert "Magú" Luján, taken by photographer Gil Ortiz.

Recent photo of Gilbert "Magú" Luján taken by Gil Ortiz.

On Tuesday July 26, 2011, I received the devastating news that my friend, Gilbert “Magú” Luján, died the previous Sunday at the age of 70.

My immediate reaction was to openly weep, for this was not just the loss of a personal friend and treasured colleague, but an overwhelming blow to the Chicano arts community of Los Angeles and beyond. Magú was known to one and all in that expansive circle, and while not everyone was in accord with his views, I believe we all benefited from his overall artistic vision, philosophy, and dedication to Chicanarte (Chicano art).

I cannot recall precisely when I first became aware of Magú and his works, as an artist/activist he was ever-present and highly regarded; I enjoyed his art long before I had the pleasure of making his acquaintance, which was sometime around 2003.

Appreciating my art and writings, Magú invited me to attend one of his Mental Menudo discussion groups, where Chicano artists gathered to discuss art, culture, and politics. I ended up attending several Mental Menudo gatherings, some were intimate get-togethers consisting of just a few close associates, others were mass assemblies of up to 70 or more artists; all were lively and sometime fractious dialogues regarding Chicano art and aesthetics. A natural leader due to his gregarious and personable manner, not to mention his respected standing as an artist, Magú usually chaired the meetings; however, he was also one of the most democratically minded persons I ever knew, and always sought to place decision making power in collective hands.

While artists, writers, musicians, photographers, activists and many others discussed all things Chicanismo at Magú’s Mental Menudo talks, he always avoided articulating a set definition for Chicano art. Yet, Magú definitely held his own opinion regarding what constituted Chicano art, he merely did not wish to impose that vision on others. As he once wrote to me in a 2006 e-mail; “We have a wide range of expertise and some incompetence, a broad spectrum of knowledge and some ignorance…it is a microcosm of the world. Since getting involved with this movimiento I have realized the variation of individuals make a strong body - but as a whole.” Magú believed that Chicano art was deeply rooted in the wide collective experience of Mexican-Americans, as he saw things it was a continually evolving aesthetic and it was up to all of us to create, shape, and advance the school he dedicated his life to.

El Fireboy y El Mingo - Gilbert "Magú" Luján. Color lithograph on paper. 1988. 30 x 44 in. Magú depicted himself in this self-portrait with hair aflame and in the company of one of his anthropomorphized animal familiars. Collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

El Fireboy y El Mingo - Gilbert "Magú" Luján. Color lithograph on paper. 1988. 30 x 44 in. Magú depicted himself in this self-portrait with hair aflame and in the company of one of his anthropomorphized animal familiars. Collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Magú’s own works incorporated graffiti, folk art, pop imagery, figurative realism, abstraction, and ancient Mesoamerican imagery into a whimsical and highly individualized style. On the face of it his works were pictorially naive or “primitive”, but they were dense with meaning, coded visual language, and narratives concerning place, personal chronicles, and a people’s collective history.

Soon after his invite to join the Mental Menudo circle, Magú and I became fast friends and confidantes, and over the years we shared many deep philosophical conversations regarding the world and our place in it as socially conscious artists. On many occasions Magú would telephone me from out of the blue, greeting me with a warm “Hermano!” and always wanting to talk about cultural matters; our phone conversations would sometimes last for hours. Early in our friendship Magú told me that he had once been offered a very large sum of money by the fast food giant, McDonald’s. The mega-corporation was seeking to penetrate the “Hispanic” market, and wanted to enlist Magú’s services as a well-known Chicano artist to help build confidence in the burger chain’s “brand”. He flatly refused the offer, earning my eternal respect and admiration.

Magú and I never argued, though we had our differences. Initially attracted to Chicanarte because of its innate social-political core, I always insisted that a concern for social justice and a didactic approach to art making was a strong component of the Chicano school, a point Magú in no way contested. He agreed with me that all art was political, and that in the context of our present society it could not be otherwise, but his artwork took a nuanced, seemingly “apolitical” approach to social matters. Likewise, I never disagreed with him that spiritual concerns were also a major element in Chicano art, and by “spiritual” I mean those ethereal affairs that have so captivated and befuddled humanity; questions regarding death, the search for meaning in life, and what we refer to as the “soul”. Magú and I both concurred that a profound humanism animated Chicanarte.

In 2010 Magú was invited to speak at an L.A. forum on the life and work of Mexican Muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, an artist that long inspired the two of us. The event was titled Freedom of Speech and Censorship, and it took place on August 20, 2010 at the L.A. headquarters of the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (MALDEF). The night prior to the event Magú made one of his periodic phone calls to me, this time longing for insights into our mutual hero Siqueiros. It was to be another of our extended phone conversations, but when it was finished Magú was eager to address the forum; he later told me the event went well, and that he spoke on the influence Siqueiros had upon contemporary art in L.A.

I could cite innumerable examples of how Magú’s art touched people, but here I will simply mention one public art commission he created for the City of Los Angeles. Some 200 of his hand-painted ceramic tiles are set into the wall at L.A.’s Metro Rail Red Line station at Hollywood & Vine, an underground train depot that services tens of thousands of people on a daily basis. Magú’s fanciful drawings on tile feature anthropomorphized animal Lowriders cruising past Aztec temples on Hollywood Boulevard, pre-Columbian speech scrolls float from their mouths as they motor through a Southern California scene decorated with all manner of Mesoamerican symbols and references. For Chicanos, the art of Mesoamerica in general and the art of the Aztecs in particular, stands as a root aesthetic – this cannot be overstated, and it must be taken into account when considering the fanciful art of Gilbert “Magú” Luján.

It pleases me greatly to know that untold millions of people will view Magú’s Metro artworks for as long as the rail-line is in existence. If for no other reason he should be known for that particular installation, and the city is blessed to have it.

 Magú's cover art for Con Safos Magazine - Volume 2, Number 7, winter of 1971.

Magú's cover art for Con Safos Magazine - Volume 2, Number 7, winter of 1971.

One of his earliest marks as a public artist was made as a student when he contributed artworks to Con Safos Magazine, an influential underground 1960’s publication in L.A. that became a voice of el movimiento, the burgeoning Mexican-American cultural and political movement. Con Safos is Chicano slang (or Calo), for “the same to you” or “back at you”. Decades before “graffiti art” became just another hot commodity in the art market, Chicano graffiti writers would sign their creations with “C/S” (short for con safos), basically stating “I am impervious to your insults”. It was that defiant spirit that filled the pages of the original Con Safos Magazine.

The winter 1971 edition of Con Safos (available here in .pdf format), published a drawing by Magú as its cover - an illustration for the publication’s serialized presentation of The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo, a biographical story by Chicano lawyer, Oscar Zeta Acosta. The issue also included a reprinted article from the Los Angeles Times, Mexican American’s Problems With The Legal System Viewed, authored by Times reporter Ruben Salazar, who had recently been killed by the L.A. Sheriff’s Department during their attacks on the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam war in East L.A. on August 29, 1970. The issue also published Magú’s essay, El Arte del Chicano (Art of the Chicano), which in part stated:

“There are some who would say that the Chicano experience is lacking in those elements that lend themselves to universal artistic expressions. This is a narrow and shortsighted view. One only has to examine the barrio to see that the elements to choose from are as infinite as any culture allows.”

Magú’s pointed commentary is as pertinent today as it was in 1971. Already in publication before East L.A.’s historic Chicano student walk-outs of 1968, Con Safos - through its artworks, poetry, provocative essays, and photography - helped set the tone for the social explosions of that period, and Magú was there from the beginning. The rest, as it is said, “is history”.

On August 13, 2011, the dA Center for the Arts in Pomona, California will present a major retrospective of Magú’s art, called Cruisin’ Magulandia: A Benefit for the Preservation of a Legacy. The exhibition and sale of Magú’s paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures will continue until August 30, with all proceeds going towards the preservation of Luján’s legacy and estate. The Los Angeles Times has published an obituary on Magú, and you can learn more about the artist by viewing his website, Magulandia. Not to be missed, a short but quite wonderful interview with Magú can be found on Vimeo. In closing, I offer an ancient Aztec poem to brother Magú and all those who mourn his passing:

My heart listens to a song:
I start to weep; I am wracked with sorrow,
We walk among the flowers:
We have to leave this earth:
We are living on borrowed time:
We shall go to the House of the Sun!
Let me wear a garland of many-colored flowers:
Let me hold them in my hands;
Let me flower in my garlands!
We have to leave this earth:
We are lent to each other:
We shall go to the House of the Sun!

No Human Being is Illegal

 No Human Being Is Illegal - Mark Vallen ©. Offset Poster. 19.5" x 22" inches.

"No Human Being Is Illegal" - Mark Vallen © Offset Poster. 19.5" x 22" inches.

My No Human Being is Illegal artwork was originally published as a bilingual poster in 1988.

The print helped to popularize the slogan, which has become a catchphrase of today’s defenders of immigrants’ rights.

To oppose the rising tide of discrimination aimed at the undocumented in the U.S., from Arizona’s racist SB1070 anti-immigrant law, to efforts by members of the U.S. Congress to overturn the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (which guarantees citizenship to children born on U.S. soil), I republished my poster in August of 2010, and it is now once again available for distribution and purchase.

The poster’s axiom is an emphatic affirmation of the inherent rights possessed by humankind. It cautions that when individuals are stripped of humanity and designated as “illegal,” then even worse abuses cannot be far behind. Not so long ago it used to be said that a child born to unmarried parents was “illegitimate.” I am hopeful that in the future, the opinion that some people are “illegal aliens” will also become an archaic expression.

My bilingual street poster was original published in conjunction with a 1988 drive conducted by the Los Angeles based Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), to secure the rights of undocumented Central American war refugees in the United States. In the 1980s Central America was convulsed by war, revolution, and murderous state repression. Seeking to escape the carnage, hundreds of thousands of people furtively entered the United States, only to find themselves targeted for arrest and deportation back to the killing fields.

Despite well documented evidence that the military regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala were actively engaged in the extrajudicial killings of tens of thousands of civilians, the U.S. government denied political asylum to the overwhelming majority of Central Americans who applied for it. Less than 3% percent of Salvadorans and Guatemalans seeking asylum in the U.S. were granted that status in 1984.

No Human Being Is Illegal - Mark Vallen ©. Detail.

"No Human Being Is Illegal" - Mark Vallen © Detail.

Today, economic warfare is driving Mexican immigrants to the U.S. On January 1, 1994, the governments of the United States, Mexico, and Canada, signed the so-called “North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a treaty that has brought great wealth to financial elites while impoverishing workers in all three countries.

When U.S. manufacturing plants moved to Mexico, where low wages and weak environmental laws assured super profits for U.S. corporations, American workers lost millions of good paying industrial jobs that provided decent benefits. Furthermore, employers were able to drive down the wages of American workers, eliminate their benefits, and undo workplace protections, by threatening to move operations to Mexico. While big business continues to export American jobs to Mexico, Mexican workers earn no more than they did before the passage of NAFTA. This begs the question, if capital can move freely across borders, then why not workers?

Another important aspect to the NAFTA debacle is that Mexico is the birthplace of corn. Scientific evidence has established that teocintle - the forerunner of today’s corn - was first cultivated some 7,000 years ago in Central Mexico. Corn is interwoven into Mexico’s unique national character and distinctive history. Until just recently more than 60 percent of cultivated land in Mexico was planted with corn, and some 18 million Mexican campesinos made a living by growing it - that is, until NAFTA. Cheap corn produced by U.S. corporate agribusiness has been flooding Mexico, and millions of Mexican farmers, unable to compete with the imported tariff-free corn, have lost their farms and livelihood. This has caused serious economic and social dislocation within Mexico, and the crisis is one of the root causes for undocumented Mexican laborers entering the U.S. for work.

When running for president in 2008, Senator Obama won the support of large sectors of American workers by promising to renegotiate NAFTA. His supposed position was that the treaty “did not have enforceable labor agreements and environmental agreements.” His official campaign booklet, Blueprint for Change, declared that “Obama believes that NAFTA and its potential were oversold to the American people. Obama will work with the leaders of Canada and Mexico to fix NAFTA so that it works for the American workers.” After winning the presidency Mr. Obama has done nothing about NAFTA, but he has turned his eye to the U.S./Mexico border.

No Human Being Is Illegal - Mark Vallen ©. Detail.

"Ningun Ser Humano Es Ilegal" - Mark Vallen © Detail.

Senator Obama captured the Latino vote by promising to move towards implementing “comprehensive immigration reform” during his first year in office. As president, he announced to the press on April 28, 2010, that he was taking immigration reform off his agenda of major priorities, saying “I don’t want us to do something just for the sake of politics that doesn’t solve the problem.”

He went on to say, “If you’ve got hundreds of thousands of people coming in, not playing by the rules, that’s a problem, and the federal government has been abdicating on its responsibilities for a very long time on this issue.” In a widely circulated news article by Associated Press writer Suzanne Gamboa, Obama made it clear that Democratic Congressional lawmakers lacked the “appetite” to deal with immigration reform while facing elections in November. Mr. Obama’s alleged immigration reform plans were dead in the water, and as Suzanne Gamboa put it - “sounding the death knell was Obama himself.”

On July 26, 2010, the Washington Post reported that “the Obama administration is deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants.” The paper revealed that under Obama, deportations of the undocumented have gone up 25 percent higher than under the Bush administration. The paper went on to postulate that Obama was hoping “to entice Republicans” into supporting a yet to be formulated immigration reform plan. The increased deportations by Mr. Obama should not be viewed in isolation. Earlier this month he signed a $600 million dollar bill that pays for an extra 1,500 Border Patrol officers, agents that will supplement the president’s deployment of 1,200 U.S. National Guard soldiers to the U.S.-Mexico border. Obama has sent the largest number of soldiers, 524, to the State of Arizona, where the racist anti-immigrant law known as SB 1070 took effect on July 29, 2010.

In a further militarization of the border, Obama has deployed unarmed “Predator drone” surveillance vehicles to the region; the same type of remote control aircraft the president routinely uses to conduct “targeted killings” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Obama administration states the drones are currently “able to cover the southwest border from the El Centro sector in California all the way to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, providing critical aerial surveillance assistance to personal on the ground.” The Christian Science Monitor reported the White House will have six drones in operation along the border by the beginning of next year.

It is for all of the above reasons that I decided to reprint my No Human Being Is Illegal poster.

Siqueiros & The Graphic Arts

Canto General - David Alfaro Siqueiros. 1968. Lithograph. 23.5 x 41 inches. This is print number 4 from the suite of lithographs created as illustrations for Pablo Neruda's epic poem, "Canto General."

"Canto General" - David Alfaro Siqueiros. 1968. Signed lithograph. 23.5 x 41 inches. This is print number 4 from the suite of lithographs created as illustrations for Pablo Neruda's epic poem, "Canto General."

On Saturday, September 18, 2010, I will be speaking about David Alfaro Siqueiros at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock California, during a panel discussion sponsored by the Autry National Center of Los Angeles and the José Vera Gallery of L.A.

Titled A Print Dialogue: Siqueiros & The Graphic Arts, the round-table talk will be moderated by Cynthia McMullen - Senior Curator for the Museum of Latin American Art, with fellow panelists including artists Wayne Healy and Luis Ituarte. Art historian Catha Paquette and curator Lynn LaBate, who collaborated on the Autry’s momentous exhibit Siqueiros in Los Angeles: Censorship Defied (which opens at the Autry on Sept. 24, 2010) will also appear as panelists.

The focus of the panel discussion at the Center for the Arts will be Siqueiros “as a print maker and graphic artist advancing a populist political agenda.” Known primarily for his monumental works of public art, Siqueiros in fact produced a number of lithographs, woodcuts, silkscreens, and mono-prints. He saw in printmaking the same capacity for revolutionary art as he did in the gigantic wall paintings that he and his compañeros in the Mexican Muralist Movement created. In my presentation I will spotlight a number of Siqueiros’ prints, the stories behind their creation, and why these socially conscious prints continue to resonate in today’s world. The panel discussion is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

Later that same evening the public is invited to attend a 7:30 p.m. reception at the nearby José Vera Gallery for Confronting Revolution: A Siqueiros Aesthetic, the gallery’s showing of prints by Siqueiros that includes his remarkable suite of ten lithographs titled Canto General (General Song). Created in collaboration with the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, the prints were published as illustrations in a special 1968 art book edition of Neruda’s classic 1950 Canto General, an epic work of poetry detailing the history of Latin America. The exhibit runs at the José Vera Gallery from September 4 until October 27, 2010.

In the days subsequent to the Sept. 18th panel discussion, I will post a full assessment of the event (with photos), along with additional details concerning the prints displayed at the José Vera Gallery. The Center for the Arts is located at 2225 Colorado Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90041-1142 (map). Phone: 323-226-1617. The José Vera Gallery is located at 2012 Colorado Blvd., Los Angeles, 90041 (map). Phone: 323-258-5050.

[ UPDATE: Lecturer and author Gregorio Luke, was originally scheduled to moderate the panel discussion. Mr. Luke had to cancel his appearance in order to lecture in China on behalf of the Mexican government.]

WARP Interview: Against the Machine

WARP Magazine cover for the July 2010 special edition, "Music Against The Machine."

WARP Magazine cover for the July 2010 special edition, "Music Against The Machine."

WARP, the Spanish language glossy magazine from Mexico that focuses on the international contemporary music scene, arts, culture, cinema, and more, conducted an interview with me that appeared in the monthly’s July 2010 print edition.

Under the headline of, “Music Against The Machine,” WARP Magazine #28 was a special edition dedicated to those bands, performers, and individuals who have spoken out in opposition to SB1070, the racist anti-immigrant law recently enacted in Arizona.

WARP Magazine #28 included exclusive interviews with Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against The Machine, L.A.’s own Latino/Rock/Hip Hop powerhouse Ozomatli, as well as interviews with Café Tacvba and Molotov - two of the most popular alternative rock bands in Mexico who have been widely admired in that country for some years. Each of the interviewees offered their take on anti-racist activism on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border.

For my part, WARP staff reporter Chëla Olea conducted the magazine’s interview with me, which offered a brief personal history on yours truly, an overview of my position regarding activist art, reflections on how art can bring about change (quoting from the interview: “The very act of creating art is based upon transformative desire – a yearning for something that does not yet exist. That is what makes art a radical gesture and the very opposite of conservatism”), and my stance regarding the growing anti-immigrant sentiment of numerous people in the U.S.

WARP Magazine cover for the July 2010 special edition.

"Dia de los Muertos" was one of my artworks used to augment the July 2010 interview with me in WARP Magazine.

The interview was published in Spanish of course, so the excepts I am printing here have been transcribed into English for the convenience of non-Spanish speaking readers. When asked what I thought about Arizona’s SB1070 immigration law, my response was as follows:

“Arizona’s anti-immigrant law is racist and unconstitutional, but the law masks a much larger problem in the United States. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer also signed into law a bill that outlaws the teaching of ethnic studies in Arizona schools, simply put, this makes it illegal for educators in Arizona public schools to instruct students about the unique contributions made to U.S. society by Mexican-Americans. Ethnic studies programs in the U.S. have customarily included the history of African-Americans as well – so the banning of ethnic studies in Arizona is not just an affront to Latinos, but to truth itself.”

When asked by Olea to give my opinion on what can be done to counteract SB1070, and how art might make a difference, my answer was the same as it would have been regarding the other crucial issues faced by the arts community and society as a whole:

“Artists have an important role to play when it comes to reversing the hateful laws that have been implemented in Arizona. Already a number of artists, musicians, writers, and actors have stepped forward to denounce what is going on in Arizona, and I find that encouraging. The universality of art can sweep away the barriers that keep people divided, though sometimes art must be combined with activism. On May 1, 2010, upwards of 200,000 people marched for immigrants rights in Los Angeles, and I was among the crowd. It is the people that are the engine of history, and so the artist must fight for and protect their rights.”

The entire WARP interview with me (in Spanish), can be read online in .pdf format.

Immigrant’s Dream

Immigrant’s Dream – America’s Response. Malaquias Montoya. Serigraph. 2004.

"Immigrant’s Dream – America’s Response." Malaquias Montoya. Serigraph. 2004.

Immigrant’s Dream – America’s Response is the title of a silkscreen poster by artist Malaquias Montoya. His print is just one of many posters dealing with the subject of immigration to be displayed at L.A.’s Avenue 50 Studio for the month of July.

The collection of prints from the Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG) will be shown in the small “annex” exhibit room attached to the gallery’s main exhibit hall.

Malaquias Montoya is generally acknowledged to be one of the primary 1960s social activist printmakers from the San Francisco Bay Area of California, and known for his images of protest as well as for his focus on Chicano culture and history.

In his 2004 Immigrant’s Dream print, Montoya depicted a nameless, faceless migrant worker wrapped in a U.S. flag as though it were a body bag. A tag reading “undocumented” is attached to the bag, marking the unfortunate soul for deportation.  The immigrant’s dream of freedom and economic prosperity has fallen away to reveal a nightmare of repression and fear. Naturally, Montoya’s print was prescient given the present situation in Arizona.

Kathy Gallegos, director of Avenue 50 Studios, told me that while the gallery is booked for the year, she felt it important “to take a stand” over the issue of immigrant’s rights, so she arranged the poster exhibit with the CSPG. The poster show is in conjunction with the gallery’s main exhibit, Women on the Verge, a sculptural installation by artists Stephanie Mercado and Alpha Lubicz that questions notions of prosperity in America’s consumerist culture.

The Opening Night Reception takes place on Saturday, July 10, 2010 from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m., with the exhibit closing at the end of July. Avenue 50 Studio is located at 131 North Avenue 50, in Highland Park, California. 90042. Phone: 323-258-1435. Web: