On the roof of a single-story house, a man is yelling into a megaphone. His hair is long, his white tube socks are pulled up to his knees, and his fist is in the air. He appears to be protesting.
But because this is a photograph, an image from Mario Ybarra Jr.'s "Go Tell It" series, we hear nothing, not a single slogan or plea for justice. There is no caption, no context, no clues as to where he is--just a man shouting on a roof in the midst of empty sky.
He is protesting alone, to no one, from nowhere, in silence.
Because Ybarra is 31 years old and Chicano, it's hard not to read the image as a next-generation commentary on the artistic legacy of the 1960s-'70s Chicano movement. The empty skies could represent empty protest. The solitude of the protester in an unidentified neighborhood is perhaps a symbol of fading collectivity. For Chicano artists of Ybarra's generation, the title of his series carries an implied question mark: Go tell what? To whom? And is it even worth telling?
It's been more than 35 years since Chicano art grew out of the political urgency of the Chicano civil rights movement. The earliest examples of the work were aesthetically raw posters and banners inspired by the farmworkers' struggle and by protests over social issues in cities throughout the Southwest. It quickly grew into a more refined body of work that often was marked by familiar religious and cultural images--La Virgen de Guadalupe, Day of the Dead skeletons, pre-Columbian figures, lowriders. The genre, dominated by narrative painting executed with lush palettes, took its place as a distinct movement in the American art scene. Los Angeles--by virtue of its role as one of Mexican America's most important capitals, and the sheer number of artists working here--became the center of the Chicano art universe.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday January 13, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 77 words Type of Material: Correction
Chicano art -- An article on Chicano artists in Sunday's Los Angeles Times Magazine misspelled the surname of Rita Gonzalez, an assistant curator with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as Gonzales. It also stated that the touring exhibition "Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge," organized by actor and art collector Cheech Marin, will be shown at LACMA in 2006. A selection of items from Marin's private collection is scheduled for a 2008 LACMA exhibit.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 30, 2005 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Part I Page 4 Lat Magazine Desk 2 inches; 75 words Type of Material: Correction
The article on Chicano artists ("The New Chicano Movement," Jan. 9) misspelled the surname of Rita Gonzalez, an assistant curator with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as Gonzales. It also incorrectly stated that the touring exhibition "Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge," organized by actor and art collector Cheech Marin, will be shown at LACMA in 2006. A selection of items from Marin's private collection are scheduled for a 2008 LACMA exhibit.
Today, a rapidly expanding pool of young Southern California artists is actively redefining what it means to make Chicano art in the new millennium. Where the social movements of the past once supplied muralists and painters with a rich iconography to choose from and social causes to speak to, the new school wants icons for the events and experiences of its own time.
The far-ranging diversity of these events and experiences has caused a shift in Chicano artistic consciousness. What once was a necessary and useful catchall category now represents a more complicated set of choices and consequences for young artists who know their history from art school and MTV as well as Chicano Studies classes. This new generation of artists also reflects the larger transformation of L.A.'s Chicano community, which continues to grow and assimilate in new and unpredictable ways.
"There's the old avant-garde idea that you're better off if you rupture antecedent traditions and forge something new," says veteran Chicano art critic Tomas Ybarra-Frausto. "But contemporary Chicano expression is not just about rupture, it's a real negotiation between tradition and change. There is rupture, but there is also continuity. There are still murals, but the murals are being done through digital media. There is still figurative art, but it is more conceptual and abstract."
The artists Ybarra-Frausto dubs "the millennial generation" are disciples of digital technology and fans of hip-hop and Japanese anime. They include known figures such as Ybarra, Salomon Huerta and Artemio Rodriguez, and newcomers such as Marissa Rangel and Shizu Saldamondo. They have the catalog to the landmark 1990 "Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation" exhibition on their bookshelves, but it's right next to "Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the '90s," the Museum of Contemporary Art's 1992 show that featured provocateurs such as Charles Ray and Chris Burden.
"You can't say there is one rite of passage the way you could 30 or 40 years ago," says Chon Noriega, director of UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center. "They are coming up with different things and you think, Well, is it Chicano? How do you label this? The category is still useful, but it's not entirely accurate. Sometimes it's the only category by which these artists will get some sort of recognition, but they are reaching out to other people as well."
Perhaps no young artist better exemplifies the new rubric than Camille Rose Garcia, 34, who grew up in the suburban hinterlands of Huntington Beach and is the daughter of a Franco German muralist mother and a Chicano filmmaker father from Lincoln Heights. Her experiences and work perfectly reflect the crossroads at which this new generation of artists has arrived.
"I was always made aware that I was a 'beaner' by other kids, but I don't have the same viewpoint of someone who grew up in East L.A.," says Garcia, wearing an AC/DC T-shirt at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery in West Hollywood, where she recently had her first major solo show. "I don't feel like I fit into a totally Chicano scene. I'm one foot in and one foot out."