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Reexamining a History of Injustice

Works from California and Arizona resonate with humor and indignation.


There is nothing new being said in the exhibition "Borders, Barriers & Beaners: Attacking the Myths," but more important, there is no message conveyed within the show that we can afford to regard as old. Since when are social, political and economic injustices tiresome subjects? Only when they're not being attacked, satirized and undermined as vividly as they are here.

The exhibition, a collaboration between the Social and Public Art Resource Center (where it appears) and UCLA's Center for Latino Health, Cesar Chavez Center and Office of the Vice Chancellor-Academic Development, brings together 18 artists from California and Arizona whose works burn with humor, pain and good old righteous indignation. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which, in 1848, made Mexicans foreigners in their own land, remains a raw wound, kept fresh by today's anti-immigrant vitriol. The work in this show is anchored in both the past and present; at its most vigorous, it mines the practices and misperceptions that fuel continuity between the two.

More than a few of the paintings and mixed-media works included here by exhibition coordinator Reina Alejandra Prado Saldivar are dragged down by the very cliches they strive to dismantle. But nuance, subversive wit and graphic power are still in ample supply.

In a series of beautiful, poignant prints called "The Border Botanicals" (1997), Amalia Mesa-Bains explores the de-legitimization of a living culture that occurs in the course of colonization. Ester Hernandez's coin-concealing "Immigrant Woman's Dress" (1997) re-creates a personal relic that speaks eloquently of the outsider's perpetual fear and insecurity.

The show's piece de resistance is Alfred Quiroz's "Muneefist Destiny" (1997), a large, multi-panel painting raging with cartoonish exaggeration and caricatural irreverence. In what amounts to a visual textbook in the shape of the U.S., Quiroz strips the gloss from our country's self-justifying history to tell of the greed and violence that put the white man in power. The settling of the West is a far more unsettling story than most history lessons attest, and Quiroz's wildly clever work educates as it entertains, and does both lavishly.


"Borders, Barriers & Beaners: Attacking the Myths," Social and Public Art Resource Center, 685 Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 822- 9560, through Jan. 31.

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