Saturday, January 19, 2013

'Estampas de La Raza' Exhibition Showcases Chicano Artists

In a couple of days (1/27/13) an important exhibition of  printmaking will close at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas. I was fortunate to see the exhibit firsthand upon a recent trip to San Antonio, and this is a first class view of contemporary Mexican American and Latino printmakers dating from the 1960s to the present. It is part of a gift from longtime print collectors Ricardo and Harriet Romo. I will address the exhibition first, and then provide information about the Romos, who were instrumental to bringing this exhibition to the public.

Estampas de la Raza features more than 60 prints by 44 artists. The subject of these images crosses traditional Latino cultural practice with social, political and angst. The diversity images, and artists gives the viewer insight into a popular, yet still unknown aspect of Latino concerns. Popular images of Frida Kahlo, tattoos, and the Virgin of Guadalupe serve as a part of the exhibit, but also defining the exhibit are the more personal statements of the artists - self-portraits as icon-like gang-bangers or the Virgen de Guadalupe. 

Colorful, hand-drawn prints of women in bars, all dressed up and expectantly waiting a client, crying cocks with their throats cut, the Statue of Liberty rising above the faceless brown people parading before it as they strive for citizenship. 
All of it all together gives a pretty good idea of Chicano concerns, their interests in self-image and the image they portray to people other than themselves. Richard Duardo's quad portrait of Frida Kahlo is inspired, basing itself upon the Latino perspective of an Andy Warhol and popular cultural idol worship. 
More popularly known is Esther Hernandez' iconic Sun Mad Raisins image of a skeleton happily holding the insecticide-poisoned grapes acidly speaks volumes of the travails of this country's migrant workers and their fight for better working conditions.
The play of Disney's Mickey Mouse and a Posada-inspired sharp-shooter, as seen below, show another blending of cultural humor. 
All in all, this exhibition packs a wallop, and gives a vivid, candid and provocative voice to the artists' represented. I came away with a better appreciation for this loud and proud group of images and sincerely hope this exhibit will travel the country so more people will become familiar with this genre. 
About the collectors....Harriett and Ricardo Romo started to collect art when they were teaching in Southern California in the late 1960s. They felt collecting art from the Chicano community would help support the young artists and build their cultural community. They worked with and purchased much art from East LA's printshop, Self Help Graphics & Art. After returning to Texas, the Romos, sought to support Coronado Studio, a printshop located in Austin.

They said they were inspired to collect from the artists who they met on their travels to mexico and the artists they saw in southern California. For anyone to be in a position to collect art is a fine thing indeed, but the Romos decided this area of printmaking was under-recognized. Their commitment to collect more in this vein was based upon the strong visual messages of these artists, and the reinforcement they saw their collecting had to helping artists continue working. Their efforts have helped artists forge a path in this society that doesn't always recognize the merits or worth of an image to make an impact. The Romos understand this and thankfully they are continuing to bring art to the masses with their gifts and their sponsorship. An interview with the Romos can be seen at
To give a little biographical information about the Romos, Ricardo Romo is a native of San Antonio, having grown up on its west side. He attended the University of Texas at Austin , holds a master's degree from Loyola Marymount University and a PhD. from UCLA Romo is an urban historian and  author of "East Los Angeles: History of a Barrio". 
His achievements include:
George W. Bush appointed him in 2002 to the President's Board of Advisers on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 
Former Secretary of State Collin Powell appointed Romo in 2004 as a U.S. representative to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Romo received the Isabel la Catolica award, the highest award given to non-Spanish subjects, bestowed by King Juan Carlos of Spain, in 2007. 
He also received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Texas Exes Alumni Association, in 2008.
He currently serves as the president of University of Texas at San Antonio, one of the fastest-growing colleges in the country.
Romo's wife, Harriett, is currently a sociology professor at UTSA. She also serves as director of the UTSA Mexico Center and the Bank of America Child and Adolescent Policy Research Institute (CAPRI). 

The Romos' private art collection includes works by Luis Jimenez, Carmen Lomas Garza, Cesar Martinez and Vincent Valdez, as well as print suites from Self Help Graphics and Coronado Studio. Due to the Romos' generosity, the McNay Art Museum is now known for having one of the best print collections of Chicano and Latino artists to be found anywhere.

A catalogue of the Estampas de la Raza exhibition is available through Amazon.

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