Exhibit: Voces/Voices of the People

I will be exhibiting at Voces/Voices of the People, a group exhibit at Avenue 50 Studio in the historic Highland Park area of Los Angeles. The show opens on Valentine’s Day: Saturday, February 14, 2015, with an artists reception from 7:00 to 10:00 pm. The exhibit’s press release states the following; “Artists are usually at the forefront of a struggle. 2014 has given us a plethora of struggles to think about: black lives matter, LGBT equality, immigration reform, sex/wage slavery, gentrification.” Ave 50 Studio invited a number of L.A. artists to “visually discuss the issue(s) most prominent in our world.”

No doubt my fellow artists will contribute paintings that throw a spotlight on various socio-political problems, but also efforts to solve them. The show includes works by Andres Montoya, Derrick Maddox, John Urquiza, Patricia Payne, Richard Turner, Frohawk Two Feathers, Eric Almanza, Norm Maxwell, and of course, yours truly.

"Masked" - Mark Vallen 2015 ©. Oil on linen, mounted on masonite. 11 x 15 inches.

"Masked" - Mark Vallen 2015 ©. Oil on linen, mounted on masonite. 11 x 15 inches.

Two of my recent works are included in Voces/Voices of the People. Painted in the hot colors of revolt, Masked, a small oil on canvas, depicts a firebrand in the midst of blazing turmoil. He represents all those who resist the headlong rush towards austerity, repression and war. I will also show my black and white drawing, Ayotzinapa Somos Todos (We are all Ayotzinapa), an image I transformed into a free downloadable poster now available to the world community via the internet. For those that attend the exhibit’s opening night, free signed copies of the poster will be available.

Voces/Voices of the People runs from Feb. 14, 2015 to March 7, 2015. Avenue 50 Studio is located at 131 North Avenue 50, Highland Park, CA 90042. For directions and gallery hours see the Avenue 50 Studio website.

Art For A Change Patreon Project

“A true friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself”
- Jim Morrison *

Dear Friends and Associates old and new. I have splendid plans for the Art For a Change project in this unfolding New Year, and I need a little bit of your help to make them come true.

Recently I found out about a new website platform called PATREON, which is pulling together a community of artists, photographers, writers, musicians, and all manner of creative people; it allows supporters to directly fund their favorite artists. Patreon is similar to an ongoing art grant, but one financed completely by the people!

This week, I have publicly launched the Art For A Change Patreon site, where you can directly support my art and writings. If you would like to know more about my Patreon campaign and perhaps lend your support, please visit:

www.patreon.com/markvallen

I am mindfully launching my Patreon campaign now because of an upcoming significant date for all Americans and the global community, January 19, 2015 - Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In his 1954 sermon Transformed Nonconformist, Dr. King uttered visionary words for the nascent political activists of his day that were also amazingly applicable to the artists of the present. As a teenager in the late 1960s, when I read King’s advocacy of “creative maladjustment,” I suddenly understood the path I would take in life. As both an artist and an activist, Dr. King’s words hold special meaning for me:

“This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists. Our planet teeters on the brink of atomic annihilation: dangerous passions of pride, hatred, and selfishness are enthroned in our lives: truth lies prostrate on the rugged hills of nameless calvaries: and men do reverence before false gods of nationalism and materialism. The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a non-conforming minority.”

The scourges of racism, war, poverty, and severe inequality that Dr. King confronted still plague U.S. society and the world, recent mind-numbing events in the news are proof enough. But where are the creatively maladjusted that King spoke of? Clearly, the artists of today have not met the challenges of a world in crisis.

Banner from the "Art For A Change" Patreon page

Banner from the "Art For A Change" Patreon page

The Art For A Change project hopes to nurture and encourage the “non-conforming minority”… but it cannot be done without your support. I have been creating socially conscious art for my entire career - and I have written this blog for the last ten years - all entirely without any outside funding or art grants.

Patreon, meanwhile, allows creative people to receive regular monthly funding to support the imaginative things that they do. It provides a way for creative types to be compensated for their hard work, especially when it comes to work that is distributed online and often for free. The best part is, support can begin at just $1 per month! Plus, as part of an artist’s community on Patreon, supporters (patrons) can communicate with artists directly and get special updates on their work!

Today’s admission prices to any of the major museums in the U.S., can run anywhere from $15 to $25 dollars per person; the entrance fee for two individuals attending a “special” exhibit at a museum is commonly $50. In the first half of 2014, Christie’s auction house sold $4.5 billion worth of overpriced artworks to society’s 1%. None of that has anything to do with making art accessible to the 99%, or helping the great majority of working artists in the U.S. to survive. It is time that artists and their enthusiasts take another path; by means of Patreon, the public now has a new ability to help directly shape the art world.

I am excited to see what we can collectively accomplish in the months to come. Many of you have followed my works for years, some of you have just discovered this web log. I greatly appreciate that you find value in what I do, perhaps as much as I enjoy painting, drawing, and writing about art on this blog. Together, with your generous support, we can do so much more!

– // –

* The quote from Jim Morrison came from an interview with him conducted for Creem Magazine by Lizzie James in 1970. Morrison died in 1971 at the age of 27. Creem Magazine published the interview in 1981 on the anniversary of Morrison’s death.

Carry The Names & Reverend Billy

"Carry The Names" - 24 hour vigil at New York's Grand Central Station, Jan. 5- 6, 2015. Photo by anonymous photographer.

"Carry The Names" - 24 hour vigil at New York's Grand Central Station, Jan. 5- 6, 2015. Photo by anonymous photographer.

On Tuesday afternoon, January 6, 2015, while evangelizing at New York’s Grand Central Station, the fire and brimstone preacher known as Reverend Billy was arrested on trumped-up charges of “obstructing governmental administration” and “disorderly conduct.” You might ask “who is that preacher man” and why was he Sermonizing at the nation’s busiest train station? Allow me to explain.

A coalition of activists in New York operating under the title, Carry The Names, decided to hold a peaceful, public vigil at Grand Central Station on January 5th and 6th, 2015. The vigil would be held to commemorate the victims of racist violence in the U.S. and to “bear witness with the names and stories of over 150 people killed or brutalized with impunity.” Most were killed by “legally-sanctioned extrajudicial violence,” that is, by those armed bodies of men employed by the state. It was at the vigil that those same men would put the good Reverend Billy in hand-cuffs.

Carry The Names was mostly promoted by social media. In Twitter and Facebook announcements, organizers of the vigil stated that “we will carry into the New Year the memory of more than 150 people who have been subjected to the tyranny of violence, in a country where racism and police brutality are pervasive. We will hold their names high for the world to see.” Hundreds of New Yorkers of all races and ages turned out for the vigil, where activist/artists from Carry The Names provided them with black and white signs printed with the names of those African Americans and Latinos slain due to racist violence.

 "Carry The Names Vigil" - Photo by Enbion Micah Aan/www.enbionmicahaan.com

"Carry The Names Vigil" - Photo by Enbion Micah Aan - www.enbionmicahaan.com

During the opening hours of the vigil the signs were held aloft as statements were made, songs were sung, poetry recited, and the names of the deceased were read out loud.

Vigillers never blocked travelers at the train station. Eventually the signs were arranged in neat symmetrical rows on the station floor. The roster of victims included Emmett Till, Fred Hampton, Eleanor Bumpurs, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Akai Gurley, and Eric Garner. Interspersed with the names were other signs bearing messages of rage and sorrow: Racism Is A Deadly Force, Beware Police Brutality, Not One More, Stop Killing Our Loved Ones, Imagine Freedom, Who Will Be Next, We Will Not Forget, Don’t Shoot, Stop Killing Our Loved Ones, and When Will We Be Free?

Some eighteen hours after the start of the vigil, Reverend Billy arrived. Seized by the Holy Spirit, he began to Sermonize the crowd with a homily aptly titled, Black Lives Matter. Approximately two minutes into his reflection on racial oppression in the U.S., he was arrested, hand-cuffed, and frog-marched off by the New York Police Department to cool his heels in “The Tombs,” the Manhattan Detention Complex in Lower Manhattan. The Carry The Names vigil completed its twenty-four-hour run despite the arrest, disbanding at 5 p.m.

I know Reverend Billy (a.k.a. Bill Talen) as a brilliant performance artist who has dedicated his life and work towards social transformation using the arts. He is wholly committed to the vision and practice of non-violence, both is his street theater interventions, and in his writings. Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Choir are radical performance artists that stage mock revival meetings to deride and ridicule the folly of late capitalist “culture” in the 21st century.

The police maintain that the Reverend’s disorderly conduct charge stemmed from his “intentionally causing public inconvenience and annoyance,” and that he had been arrested “for physically trying to block a police officer from doing their lawful duties.” I think not. His arrest was politically motivated, an act of state repression designed to squelch the free speech rights of all Americans.

The Daily News reported the Reverend saying “I was handcuffed while I was speaking in the middle of expressing my beliefs in a public space. This is the most basic form of American freedom.” On Wednesday the police released the Reverend on his own recognizance.

In a message to his supporters posted on his website, the Reverend said that “I shouted ‘Black Lives Matter’ a few times in Grand Central Station and police rushed at me like I was a fiend.” But his note was also conciliatory, he wrote: “The cops can be reached and changed. That must happen. It will come from black lives and white lives being unafraid to talk to them in public space. That was always how it was. We have to bravely go to them and change them - and that is a strange transfer, like wrestling with very old culture.”

I have the highest regard and fondness for Bill Talen and what he does… though I am not in full accord with him. When all is said and done our differences do not matter, for we are kindred spirits. I will say the same for the movement that has sprung up in the U.S. in opposition to police violence against “minorities.” I shrink back from its naiveté and political disorientation, yet at its core there are incontestable truths regarding race and class in America. Ultimately, this post is not about the Reverend Billy at all. Rather it is about all of those individuals, who, despite the odds, work to uproot the poison of racist terror that continues to exist in American society.

In my July 2011 article, An Exorcism at Tate Modern, I detailed a performance the good Reverend had just conducted at the Tate Modern in London to protest the museum taking sponsorship from the oil giant, BP. The article included a short video of the Reverend’s antics at the Tate, which were nothing short of inspirational and illustrative of the powerful performance art Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir engage in.

In 2013 I had the pleasure of meeting the Reverend when he came to Los Angeles to perform at a local venue with punk icon Exene Cervenka. I covered the event in my article, The Burning Palm Tree Epiphany, which I concluded with the following words: “Talen’s love of humanity, the earth, justice, and beauty, finds expression not in dry political discourse but in artful burlesque; he speaks a language community organizers are by and large unfamiliar with, or willfully disdainful of - the vernacular of art. The conformist machine society is equally non-aesthetic, so, the Reverend Billy Talen provides us with a revelation - art and action leads to salvation!”

Out With the Old, In With the New

I am continuing with my tradition of writing a “year in review” column, a habit that I have inflicted on the masses since 2008. So here are ten articles from this artist regarding cultural events of the past year; a collection that comprises my “Best of 2014.”

xxxx

Lost Horizons

Lost Horizons: Edward Biberman
“Biberman (1904-1986) was an American realist painter that carved out a place for himself in mid-20th century Los Angeles, despite the ascendancy and domination of abstract expressionism.

His figurative paintings examined social inequality, racial oppression, and the plight of workers, placing him in the school of Social Realism. But his paintings focusing on the architecture of Los Angeles and the new - at the time - freeways of L.A., exposed his modernist side.”

Agony of Ukraine

Agony of Ukraine

The Agony of Ukraine
“Stepping into the quagmire stoked by super power geo-strategic interests, are a number of artists, arts organizations, and arts publications, some of which I will criticize in this article.

Oddly enough, none of the artists or artworks mentioned in this article present a cogent reason for exactly why Ukraine’s integration into the EU would result in a more prosperous and democratic Ukraine. This is especially interesting since millions of people from Spain to Greece have been demonstrating in opposition to the tough austerity measures of the EU.”

Screamer

Tomata du Plenty

Who was Tomata du Plenty?
“As for the query regarding Tomata’s identity, answers might be found - to some extent - in a surprising exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, Boxers and Backbeats: Tomata du Plenty and the West Coast Punk Scene.

The show is an examination of Tomata’s naïve paintings in the context of the original 1977 L.A. punk rock milieu, and having been one of the earliest admirers of Tomata and the Screamers, it is a unique honor for me to have some of my drawings included in the exhibit.”

Police State

Police State

Police State
“In 1973 I created a drawing in my student sketchbook that was meant purely as an exercise; I never intended to show the sketch to anyone. Considering our tenuous collective future, I think it is important to show, and explain the artwork. I made the freehand drawing with a “rapidograph” technical pen, a tool I used often in those days. Symbolic of mute terror, the angst ridden face in the ink drawing was left without a mouth. A wordless homage to the Viennese savage, the face was loosely based on a photo of Kokoschka by Danish photographer Erling Mandelmann. But Kokoschka and his fellow Expressionists were not the only thing on my mind during those days.”

Picturing Mexico

Picturing Mexico

Alfredo Ramos Martínez: Picturing Mexico
“I have long admired the works of the Mexican artist Alfredo Ramos Martínez (1871-1946), and over the decades I was fortunate to see a handful of original works by him. I was always puzzled that so few in the U.S. remembered him, especially those of us living in Southern California where Martínez came to live and exercise considerable influence. Once a renowned and much sought after artist, the sands of time have buried Martínez, but an amazing exhibit of his works at the Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA), Picturing Mexico: Alfredo Ramos Martínez in California, should stimulate a new appreciation for his art.” Also read: Ramos Martínez & The Flower Vendors.

TRAC 2014

TRAC 2014

Roger Scruton at TRAC 2014
“My day at TRAC 2014 began with the keynote address delivered by British conservative philosopher, activist, and author Roger Scruton. Well-known in Britain, Scruton remains an obscure figure for most Americans, apart from those conservatives that take pleasure in reading weighty cultural/political criticism.

He is perhaps best known, at least in artistic circles, for his 2009 BBC documentary, Why Beauty Matters, which hauled postmodern art over the coals while praising the virtues of traditional representational art.” Also read TRAC 2014: Part II.

... oh, please

... oh, please

Newseum: Super-Sized R-Rated Version
“On Nov. 14, 2013, the Newseum in Washington, D.C. opened what it hoped would be a ‘blockbuster’ show, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy - The Exhibit. If there was ever a more blatant abuse of a museum’s mission, I cannot think of what it might be.

Slated to run until Aug. 31, 2014, the exhibit was created in partnership with Paramount Studios to promote its latest movie, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, written and directed by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.

Prometheus

Prometheus

Prometheus: José Clemente Orozco
“The first modern fresco mural to be painted in the U.S. by a Mexican artist was titled Prometheus, and it was painted in 1930 at Pomona College in Claremont, California by José Clemente Orozco.

I photographed the mural in late January 2014, and those photos are the focus of this web post: close-up details that show the artist’s hand and the technical bravura of Orozco’s fresco painting.”

Serigrafía

Serigrafía

Serigrafía: Chicano Art at the PMCA
“As I have argued over the years, Chicano art is a well-spring that may help to invigorate the long dormant genre of American social realist painting.

While Serigrafía focuses exclusively upon silkscreen prints, it is worth noting that a number of the exhibiting artists are also painters (including this writer), and that Chicano/Latino print circles have long had very close association with the creation of public murals. If Serigrafía has a weakness as an exhibit, it is that it freezes its artists in a moment of time, and does not even hint at broader artistic production outside of poster making.”

¡Pobrecita Frida!

¡Pobrecita Frida!

Frida in Dubai-landia
“Let me be frank in my appraisal of contemporary Chicano art. It is far from its origins, and that in part is what this article is about. The roots are still viable, though the foliage is looking peculiar and in need of pruning.

The greater part of Chicano art is mired in tired clichés, as if portraits of ‘exotic’ Latinas wearing traditional clothes and posing with antique pistolas says anything meaningful about our past, present, or future. The school has largely reduced itself to painting those scenes of lush tropical jungles filled with colorful birds and happy peasants that David Alfaro Siqueiros detested and refused to paint. Something more is required today, and that is also a reason for this article.”

“Silent Night, Holy Night”

This post is part of my notionally annual, but in point of fact, irregular attempt at spreading Christmas cheer on my web log. This year, when I heard the old Christmas standard Silent Night, I began to think of current events in Mexico, for reasons that will be apparent if you read this yuletide message in its entirety.

In 1963 Leonard Bernstein conducted the New York Philharmonic in a rendition of Silent Night, showing why the 1818 composition by Austrians Franz Xaver Gruber (1787-1863) and Joseph Mohr (1792-1848) remains eternal around the world. Mohr, a Catholic priest and writer at St Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Salzburg, had written a six-stanza poem on the birth of Jesus titled Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht (Silent Night, Holy Night). Mohr asked Gruber, the organist and choirmaster at St Nicholas, to write a melody around the poetic message of peace. Mohr and Gruber first performed the song at St Nicholas Church on Christmas Eve, 1818. In 2011 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared the song a part of the “Intangible Cultural Heritage” of the human race. Over the years the song was translated into English and shortened to three-stanzas, but it still retains its original message;

“Silent night! Holy night! Which brought salvation to the world, from Heaven’s golden heights, mercy’s abundance was made visible to us: Jesus in human form, Jesus in human form.”

Here I should mention that moment during World War I, the night before Christmas in December of 1914 to be exact, when German and British soldiers stopped fighting, climbed out of their muddy trenches, and defied their orders to kill one another by fraternizing in the no-man’s land. It started with the sound of German soldiers singing Stille Nacht, the melody wafting over the bomb scarred wasteland. British troops responded by singing Silent Night, and soon the two armies were exchanging handshakes, gifts, and playing soccer on the killing field. What united the two antagonists was a song with meaning and significance understood by both parties… something to be remembered in the war-mad present.

Most Americans remain blissfully unaware that Gruber and Mohr’s Silent Night is a Christmas standard in the Spanish speaking world as well. Known as Noche de paz (Night of peace), it differs from the English language version only in that each stanza begins with the words, Noche de paz, Noche de Amor. But the words “Silent Night, Holy Night” take on new meaning during the Christmas Season in today’s crisis shattered Mexico.

Screenshot of the Ayotzinapa Christmas tree at the Benito Juárez monument from a video by the Guardian.

Screenshot of the Ayotzinapa Christmas tree at the Benito Juárez monument from a video by the Guardian.

In the weeks just prior to Christmas, religious and political activists raised a Christmas tree decorated with artworks depicting the 43 missing students of Ayotzinapa kidnapped by government forces on Sept. 26, 2014.

The tree was erected in Mexico City’s Alameda Park at the Neoclassical monument dedicated to President Benito Juárez. The group, Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir (Catholics for a Free Choice), invited the public to come light the tree “For truth, justice, and peace in Ayotzinapa,” and also to “call for solidarity and accompany the families of those who have been victims of state violence, because if their families are not complete, then as a society, neither are we.” On Dec. 16th, the tree was consecrated in an evening ceremony before hundreds of people.

Affixed to the top of the Christmas tree was a Star of Bethlehem ornament that read, Justicia (Justice). The gathered crowd said a prayer for the eradication of corruption and government impunity. Hymns were sung and candles lit while 43 white balloons representing the missing students were released into the night sky. Photos of the event went viral, and that árbol de Navidad para Ayotzinapa was seen all over the world.

On Dec 22, the parents and relatives of the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students delivered a Christmas message to the world in the form of a short video, “We wish you a Merry Christmas, and ask that you don’t forget about us.”

But in truth what actually got me thinking of Mexico when I heard Silent Night, Holy Night, was the announcement that dozens of organizations and activists had called for a huge Marcha Silenciosa (Silent March) to be held in Mexico City the day after Christmas. Starting at the capital’s Ángel de la Independencia statue that memorializes those that died in the 1810-1821 war of Independence against Spain, the silent throng will converge on another symbolic site, the Monumento a la Revolución, which commemorates the revolution of 1910. The idea of an immense but silent multitude dressed in black and carrying candles representing the people’s fallen, a determined crowd that through their silence demands justice and liberty, no doubt terrifies the country’s vampiric ruling class.

On December 21, 2012, there was another silent march in Mexico, it took place in San Cristobal de las Casa, Chiapas when up to 40,000 indigenous supporters of the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista Army of National Liberation - EZLN) marched in absolute silence to show the world that they exist and have not succumbed to government threats or intimidation. No speeches were made that day, the people just marched in steely, disciplined silence. It should be noted here that the EZLN has given full support to the families and supporters of the missing Ayotzinapa students.

A number of poster images announcing the 2014 yuletide demonstrations have been circulated in Mexico, three of which illustrate this article.

"Marcha Silenciosa" (Silent March) - Anonymous artist. 2014. Poster announces a mass Silent March in Mexico City the day after Christmas.

"Marcha Silenciosa" (Silent March) - Anonymous artist. 2014. Poster announces a mass Silent March in Mexico City the day after Christmas.

The poster Marcha Silenciosa (Silent March) announces the silent march in Mexico City the day after Christmas; drawings of all 43 disappeared students appear on the poster. The announcement exclaims in the voice of the people that “it has been three months and we are still waiting for them, alive.”

A rather crazed looking militant Santa Claus is featured in the poster, De la Universidad a las calles (The University to the streets), a poster announcing three Holiday Season student activities against the corrupt government of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Yes, Santa knows if Presidente Nieto has been naughty or nice, and by the look on the face of the irate man in the red suit, Nieto ain’t gettin nuttin’ for Christmas.

Señor Claus’ white fur-lined red suit is unbuttoned to reveal a black t-shirt emblazoned with the words, ¡Fue el Estado! (It was the State!), the popular slogan that charges the government as being responsible for the kidnapping of the Ayotzinapa students. Old Kris Kringle’s suit is also ornamented with patches that read, Ya Me Cansé (I am tired), and 43, the number of kidnapped students.

"De la Universidad a las calles" (The University to the streets) - Anonymous artist. 2014. Poster announcing Holiday season activities in Mexico City to protest the disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa students.

"De la Universidad a las calles" (The University to the streets) - Anonymous artist. 2014. Poster announcing Holiday season activities in Mexico City to protest the disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa students.

The placard that Father Christmas holds over head is actually a calendar listing of activities in Mexico City to protest the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students. On Dec. 21 there were “Artistic activities and discussion forums at the Palacio de Bellas Artes” (Palace of Fine Arts).

On Dec. 26 Saint Nicholas encourages one and all to participate in “the 6th Global Day for Ayotzinapa,” which includes the massive silent march in downtown Mexico City.

And finally, St. Nick announces that on Jan 4, the Casa del Lago art & media lab at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) will host “arts, discussion forums, social health brigades, and various workshops” related to the Ayotzinapa crisis.

The poster Marcha Silenciosa, No Más Desaparecidos (Silent March, No More Disappeared), was designed by an arts group and announces the Dec. 26 silent march. The poster uses an altered version of the painting The Scream, by the Norwegian expressionist painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Munch’s original 1893 oil painting depicts a disturbed individual shrieking in abject terror while standing on a bridge against an undulating backdrop of a bloody red sunset.

"Marcha Silenciosa, No Más Desaparecidos" (Silent March, No More Disappeared) - Anonymous artist. 2014. Poster announcing the Dec. 26 silent march to protest the disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa students.

"Marcha Silenciosa, No Más Desaparecidos" (Silent March, No More Disappeared) - Anonymous artist. 2014. Poster announcing the Dec. 26 silent march to protest the disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa students.

The painting has become iconic of modern day angst and trepidation. The artist that created the Marcha Silenciosa poster counted on people recognizing Munch’s vision; the horror portrayed in Munch’s original painting was intensified in the Mexican poster by making the figure absent. That is the dismay and alarm that grips Mexico today.

It is highly unlikely that you will read any authoritative accounts of Mexico City’s post-Christmas Silent March in the pages of the New York Times or other U.S. newspapers, who altogether have barely covered the earth shattering changes washing over Mexico since September 2014; but that is not to say those events never happened.

I am amazed by the artistic and cultural responses to the Ayotzinapa crisis now flowing from cultural workers in Mexico, and their efforts have only just commenced. A powerful new art of social concern is blossoming across Mexico as I write these words, the likes of which have not been seen for decades. I will continue to document, encourage, and participate in that rising tide of artistic resistance.

– // –

UPDATES 12/27/2014

On the YouTube video channel for Ruptly TV you can view a brief video that documents Mexico’s Silent March of December 26, 2014.

"Monumento a la Revolución." Dec. 26, 2014. Photo courtesy of www.webcamsdemexico.com

"Monumento a la Revolución." - Photo of protestors massing at the Monument to the Revolution in downtown Mexico City, at the end of the Dec. 26, 2014 Silent March. Photo courtesy of www.webcamsdemexico.com

"Marcha Silenciosa" - Anonymous photographer. December 26, 2014.

"Marcha Silenciosa" - Anonymous photographer. December 26, 2014.

The Marcha Silenciosa photo shows a banner of the Virgen de Guadalupe carried by the crowd. Mexico’s Catholics believe that Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), is the protector of the poor and downtrodden. It is said that she appeared to an Aztec/Mexica peasant named Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin on Dec. 9, 1531 on the Hill of Tepeyac, an ancient place of worship for the Aztec Earth Mother goddess, Tonantzin. Speaking to Juan Diego in the indigenous language of Nahuatl, the Virgen asked that a Church be built on the spot of her miraculous appearance. Today that church, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in México City, is the most visited Catholic site in the world.

But the Guadalupe is also a battle emblem of Mexico’s insurgents. On Sept. 16, 1810, the Catholic priest Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla issued his famous Grito de Dolores (Shout of Dolores), a call that marks the beginning of Mexico’s War of Independence against the colonial power of Spain. Hidalgo led an army of 90,000 poorly armed indigenous soldiers under the banner of the Virgen de Guadalupe. This is beautifully depicted in a detail from the mural La Independencia de México by the great Mexican muralist Juan O’Gorman that hangs in Mexico City’s museum at Chapultepec Castle.

With the banner of the Virgen of Guadalupe leading the way, the triumphant rebel armies of Emiliano Zapata and Francisco Villa entered Mexico City in 1914 during the Mexican Revolution. Even today’s Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista Army of National Liberation - EZLN), has adopted the Guadalupe, as evidenced by this EZLN poster announcing their First World Festival of Dignified Rage, held in Mexico City in December of 2008.

"Santa Claus did not bring me the 43" - Screenshot from a Euronews video on the Dec. 26, Silent March.

"Santa Claus did not bring me the 43" - Screenshot from a Euronews video on the Dec. 26, Silent March.

AYOTZINAPA SOMOS TODOS: Free Poster

"Ayotzinapa somos todos" (We are all Ayotzinapa) - Mark Vallen 2014 ©

"Ayotzinapa somos todos" (We are all Ayotzinapa) - Mark Vallen 2014 ©

AYOTZINAPA SOMOS TODOS - Free downloadable 11 x 17 inch poster.

Created by Los Angeles artist Mark Vallen
in solidarity with the 43 kidnapped students of Ayotzinapa Normal School in Guerrero, Mexico.

Download and publish the poster on any printer that takes 11 x 17 inch paper.

The black and white poster is offered in two formats:

.pdf (2 megabytes) or .jpg (23 megabytes)

Artist’s Statement:

I began to create my artwork, Ayotzinapa somos todos, immediately after the 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Ayotzinapa Normal School were attacked by police in Iguala, Mexico on Sept. 26, 2014. I made my drawing with black colored pencils on textured handmade paper, producing an artwork that looks like a classical lithographic print. Over the decades I have created an abundance of images with socio-political themes, publishing them as multiples and freely distributing them with the objective of raising awareness and initiating activism; my Ayotzinapa somos todos drawing is no different in that regard.

I created Ayotzinapa somos todos as an expression of solidarity with the Mexican people who struggle so valiantly to build a free, democratic society. The title of my artwork is one of the slogans currently used by Mexico’s pro-democracy movement. I am greatly alarmed by the kidnapping of the 43 students, a heinous crime that provides the clearest evidence yet of collusion between the Mexican government and the drug cartels that run much of the country.

The woman in my drawing could be any Mexican woman. She might be a family member of one of the kidnapped students, a protestor outraged by the abductions, or perhaps someone that hears gunfire coming from one of the secret fosas clandestinas (clandestine graves) that pockmark the countryside. She may be a person who knows one of her country’s 26,000 desaparecidos… those who have been forcefully “disappeared” by the authorities or the drug cartels since 2006. For that matter, she might be an American woman declaring sympathy with the Mexican people and their yearnings for justice.

I wanted to distribute my artwork internationally to as many people as possible, so I decided to circulate a digitized poster version that people could print on their own. After adding some hand-drawn text to the digital artwork, and setting it up to be published on any computer printer, I uploaded the poster to the internet’s global community. My fervent hope is that my Ayotzinapa somos todos poster will bring much needed attention and support to the suffering Mexican people, and help them to achieve their dreams of a liberated country.

The official story presented by the Mexican government regarding the kidnapping and now presumed killings of the 43 Ayotzinapa students continues to unravel; anger, shock, and fury continues to rise amongst the people.

On Dec. 11, 2014, Proseso, an important news weekly in Mexico, published a report by scientists and researchers from the National University of Mexico (UNAM). The opinion has been translated into English and published at Borderland Beat. The finding contests the government’s insistence that the bodies of the murdered students were destroyed in a huge fire pit built in a landfill by their drug gang assassins; three members of the Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors) drug cartel are in government custody and have allegedly confessed their guilt.

The government claims the drug gang stoked the fire with trees, tires, and gasoline. The scientists at UNAM said that was impossible; to burn 43 human bodies and leave no remains would have taken “33 tons of tree trunks, four inches in diameter” and “about 1000 passenger car tires.” The smoke from the burning pyre “would have been seen 5 or 6 miles away.” Government investigators said that “three to 15 members” of Guerreros Unidos were involved in burning the remains, but the UNAM scientists asked how that number of men could possibly have moved 43 dead bodies and tons of wood and tires?

Looking at the photo of the landfill that appears in the Proseso article, one can see that from the rim of the landfill to its bottom is a very long and steep descent. According to the government, the narco-gang drove trucks filled with their 43 victims to the precipice, and one by one threw them off the sheer drop into the dump where they were then allegedly stacked and burned. According to the UNAM scientists, “in places of the greatest free fall, the bodies should have left traces of skin, blood and bones or pieces of clothing should have attached to articles in the landfill, which would serve as sources of genetic material for identification.” No such forensic evidence was ever found. The government of President Nieto never responded to the Proseso article. But Proseso was only just getting started.

On Dec. 13, 2014, Proseso published an explosive article by investigative reporter Anabel Hernández and journalist Steve Fisher titled, Iguala: La historia no oficial (Iguala: Unofficial History). Supported by the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California, Berkeley, the report presents convincing evidence that Mexico’s federal authorities were directly involved in the kidnapping and killing of the Ayotzinapa students.

A number of Mexican news publications have picked up the report, including Univision Noticias and El Diario. As of this writing, the Guardian has published the story and the Los Angeles Times published a short mention. The Huffington Post presented a detailed report on the story, which also includes a 20 minute video interview with Anabel Hernández and Steve Fisher.

The government of President Enrique Peña Nieto has so far said it knew nothing about the attacks on the students and their kidnapping until after the crimes had transpired. It also claims that the mayor of Iguala and the local police were behind the attacks, and that the police turned the 43 students over to the Guerreros Unidos, whose gangsters murdered the students, burned their bodies, and disposed of their remains.

The Iguala: Unofficial History report shows that Federal Police and the Mexican Army were active participants in the attacks on the Ayotzinapa students, because the authorities opposed “the ideological structure and governance of the institution” (the Ayotzinapa Normal School), and due to the fact that the Federales saw the students as “political activists in training.” The Federal Police were watching every move of the Ayotzinapa students as they left their campus on Sept. 26, monitoring their travels all the way to Iguala. It was there that the Federal Police stopped the students and began shooting them.

Moreover, the Federal Police informed Mexico’s massive C4 intelligence center of the first gunshots fired at the students at 9:40 in the evening. C4 (for “Command Center, Control, Communications, Computation”) was launched in Mexico City in 2011 with a budget of $460 million dollars. Connected to Mexico’s central government, is the largest intelligence gathering center in all of Latin America. If C4 was informed of the attacks on the students as they occurred, then the government of President Nieto also knew of the assaults.

Furthermore, Steve Fisher, the co-author of Iguala: Unofficial History, told teleSUR News: “We cannot say whether or not Guerreros Unidos was ultimately involved with this, or not, but we can say that the evidence we have acquired was that they were tortured before their testimonies were given. It is thus suspect that they could actually get proper testimonies considering the fact that they were tortured brutally, including electric shocks to testicles and extreme beatings.”

The chant heard on Mexico’s streets since late September 2014, Fue El Estado (It was the state), now rings true for millions. While the ruling class of Mexico and its Narco-state government reels from the anger of a defiant populace as well as the accusations made in the Proseso exposés, a familiar face from El Norte emerges to help prop-up President Enrique Peña Nieto.

It has been announced that President Obama’s first meeting of the New Year will be with President Nieto at the Oval Office in the White House on Tuesday, January 6, 2015. The White House press secretary said that Obama looks forward to working with Nieto on “economic, security and social issues, as well as underscoring the deep cultural ties and friendship that exist between our two countries.” Also on Jan. 6th, Vice President Joe Biden will host the second U.S.-Mexico High-Level Economic Dialogue meeting with cabinet secretaries of the Nieto regime, talks intended to “give strategic direction to initiatives designed to improve economic competitiveness.”

President Nieto has been dismantling Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), the state-run oil company created by Mexico’s left-leaning President Lázaro Cárdenas after he nationalized Mexico’s oil in 1938. Nieto is selling what remains of PEMEX to foreign oil companies. Since Mexico is the third largest oil producer in the Western Hemisphere and the ninth largest oil producer in the world, I am sure Mr. Biden will have much to discuss with the Mexican government. One can deduce that the massive violation of human rights in Mexico will not be a topic of discussion.

It is ironic that January 6th is also the Christian celebration of Epiphany, known as El Dia De Los Reyes in Mexico, or Day of the Kings, the final day of the 12 days of Christmas which celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings in Bethlehem and their presentation of gifts to the infant Jesus. How fitting that the new world ‘kings’ will meet on the Day of Kings… but I fear that Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, has not been invited.

In the aforementioned Huffington Post video interview with Anabel Hernández and Steve Fisher,  Professor John Ackerman of the National Autonomous University of Mexico was included as a speaker. He had this to say:

“The government account of what happened in Ayotzinapa is full of lies, full of contradictions, and it’s the federal government who is the central actor… who is responsible for these disappearances. And this lays directly on the shoulders of Barack Obama and the United States government, because Barack Obama and the United States government has been supporting Enrique Peña Nieto throughout this entire process and supporting his cover-up of  the situation, and never insisting on any investigation of human rights violations.”

The So-Called Torture Report

vallen_bagram

“We don’t torture, we’re a civilized nation

We’re avoiding any confrontation

We don’t torture, we don’t torture.”

Ten Year Anniversary of AFC Blog

Artist Mark Vallen at an undisclosed secret locale somewhere in greater Los Angeles, 2014. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe.

Artist Mark Vallen at an undisclosed secret locale somewhere in greater Los Angeles, 2014. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe.

¡Ay, Caramba! Today marks the 10th anniversary of my founding the Art For A Change web log.

This labor of love was brought into existence on November 27, 2004. In prior years, I wrote articles that appeared on my website and e-newsletter, but in 2004 I made the change to the blogging platform due to its immediacy.

As a lifelong realist painter, printmaker, and draftsman, I felt compelled to write about the visual arts, not just for other artists, but for those with little engagement in art. Being an artist was not enough, it was also necessary to be an advocate for art.

But what kind of art? As the name of this site suggests, one of my concerns is that we remember how to summon art as a means of authentic progress, community, human solidarity, and social transformation. Once integral facets of art, those ideals have been severely weakened as the art world continues its fall into commodification and hyper-commercialism. So it was also necessary for this web log to take an activist stance.

There is another meaning to the title, Art For A Change. After surveying the paucity, artlessness, and detachment of today’s official art world, the name proclaims that art will have to be found elsewhere. It will rise from the ground up, outside of officialdom - it lives here.

The first post I made to this web log was a quote from the American photojournalist Dorothea Lange. Celebrated for documenting life in the U.S. during the Great Depression, Lange said:

“Everything is propaganda for what you believe in actually. I don’t see that it could be otherwise. The harder and the more deeply you believe in anything, the more in a sense you’re a propagandist. Conviction, propaganda, faith, I don’t know, I have never been able to come to the conclusion that that’s a bad word.”

While this web log focuses on the visual arts, over the years I have made mention of dramatists, photographers, writers, and others who share my philosophy regarding art. Though I have not mentioned her before in my writings, one such person is the American author Ursula Le Guin. In a speech given by Ms. Le Guin at the National Book Awards as she received the 2014 Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the 85-year old author described the world of publishing in much the same way as I describe the art world;

“I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality.

Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art - the art of words.”

The Art For A Change web log shall continue to be a voice for those artists “who can remember freedom,” and a wellspring where “resistance and change” begins in art. In the future, you can expect from this blog a number of exciting projects designed to undermine the divine right of kings, both in the art world and otherwise.

Happy holidays and…

Ferguson photo by Associated Press ©