“In a sick society, wellness is rebellion. Art is medicine.” – Climbing Poetree
“Any attempt, therefore, to require or suggest the certain aesthetic parameters, both in terms of subject matter and style, dishonors, I believe, the legacy of Latino and Chicano poerty’s first adherents – both living and dead. A legacy, to be sure, that involved creating art informed our community’s stories and our social and political struggles, struggles that continue today, but which are also joined by a celebration, as well as an exploration of language.” (Aragon 10).
I usually don’t think too much about art, its power or purpose. Honestly, until fairly recently I believed that art was only that which was found in a museum. Art has the ability to fuel revolutions, to challenges norms, and to uplift the people.
This blog post goes out to the artists, the dreamers, the visionaries and lovers. To those who remember that creativity is the opposite of destruction.
“ Artists are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” – Cornel West
At the Social Justice Real Justice conference at the University of Oregon in mid-February, the spoken word duo Climbing Poetree conducted a workshop on art as a means of resistance. From them I heard of the Zapantera Negra (ZPN) project. This project is a collaboration between Emory Douglas, former Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, and Zapatista artists. Douglas’ graphic art was featured in the newspaper The Black Panther to illustrate the harsh realities that made the revolution necessary and to “construct a visual mythology of power for people who felt powerless and victimized.” His drawings depict the struggles of the poor and working class, while also maintaining the dignity and active agency of the people. The Zaptista movement, which began as an indigenous movement in Chiapas, Mexico, has been named the first post-modern revolution and is known for using an array of media outlets and information formats to increase awareness of the movement and build solidarity.
The ZPN combines the graphic imagery style of Emory Douglas and the vision of Zapatista embroiderists and painters. The project links two movements across time and space in an effort to highlight the role of art in social movements. Revolutionary art provides not only an opportunity for self-representation, but also allows for the imagining of other worlds. The art of Douglas captured the plight of poor blacks, fueling the fire of the 139,000 subscribers to The Black Panther in 1960s and 1970s. His work was a reminder of the need for revolution. However, arguably more important is the fact that Douglas’ depiction of blacks stood apart from the servant/sidekick image present in popular media. Essentially it allowed for the Black Panthers to disidentify with the representation of blacks as simply poor, disenfranchised subjects. The collective efforts of Douglas and the Zapatistas allow for the envisioning of a movement that is not bound by the constraints of time and space, and racial category.
“…the canvas [of Latin@ art] is now larger, its border expanded to include subject matter that is not overtly political.” (Aragon 1)
“What are the possibilities of politicizing disidentification, this experience of misrecognition, this uneasy sense of standing under a sign to which one does and does not belong? It may be the affirmation of that slippage, that that the failure of identification, is itself the point of departure for a more democratizing affirmation of internal difference.” – Judith Butler
Interviewer: “Why is this Chicana poetry?”
Lorna Dee Cervantes: “It’s Chicana poetry because a Chicana wrote it.”
Throughout the course of this class we have been attempting to deconstruct the notion of latinidad. What is included in this category? As we discussed in the beginning of the class, latinidad is, in essence, Latin@ness and this is not simply language or nationality. In an attempt to put this “ness” in a box, we frequently attempt to attribute some sort of unifying characteristics to latinidad. For Latin@ artists (as well as other artists of colors) this means that their art must explicitly address race. Latin@ artists that do not adhere to this criteria are critiqued for in some way betraying latinidad (an interesting parallel to Malitzin who is despised for speaking for herself and not her people). Not only does this limit Latin@ artists, but it also limits the audience. Viewing or reading a piece allows the audience to reflect on their own responses and interpretations. A wonderful reminder came to light during Wednesday’s class when we discussed Fefu and her Friends. Maria Irene Fornes does not include the race of any of the characters in her play. In doing so, she forces the audience to make their own assumptions. Not only did this remind me that white is still the norm in my mind if race is not specified, but it also sparked again this desire to define latinidad by the presence of the identifiable trope of explicitly non-white characters. By not identifying with the notion of Latin@ness proliferated by popular media, this work illuminates the variation of what constitutes latinidad and forces the audience to sit with our discomfort in the ambiguity.