Monday, November 04, 2019

Legendary L.A. Chicano Art Space, Self Help Graphics, Honored in First Major Museum Show in Austin

Now at the Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas in Austin is a new exhibition Arte Sin Fronteras which honors work from the legendary Self Help Graphics & Art studio of Los Angeles. This is the first time the pioneering and innovative arts center is honored in a major museum show. The exhibit opened on October 27 and runs through January 12, 2020.

Formed during the cultural renaissance of the ‘70s during the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, Self Help Graphics gave a vehicle and a voice to artists in the LA community, allowing access to art, socioeconomics aside. A spirit of rasquachismo, pride in making do with limited resources, permeates everything they do.

There is much see in this exhibition, including a selection of works documenting Self Help Graphic’s history as an organization and the artists’ complex construction of Chicanx and Latinx identities. Another section focuses on prints that challenge traditional gender roles and engage in an intersectional exploration into Chicanx and Latinx and queer identities. The show will also feature Mexican-American religious traditions and issues of migration and life at the United States/Mexico border.

The exhibit is curated by Florencia Bazzano, Assistant Curator, Latin American Art, Blanton Museum of Art, and Christian Wurst, Curatorial Assistant, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs, Blanton Museum of Art. They took time from their hectic schedules to chat with La Bloga about this wonderful, exciting exhibit.

Patssi Valdez: Calaveras de azúcar

DANIEL OLIVAS: Can you talk a little bit about the importance of Self Help Graphics and the Chicano art movement?

CHRISTIAN WURST: I think Self Help Graphics & Art was integral in the continuation of the Chicano art movement that began in the sixties. When the institution was founded in the early seventies, their goals were to connect the local Mexican American community in East L.A. to their cultural roots. With the prints they produced in the studio, Self Help took early examples of ephemeral Chicano and Mexican art like murals and posters and helped in the development of a Latinx art market.

FLORENCIA BAZZANO: Most of the works in the exhibition were produced in the 1980s and 1990s, which represent a different moment in Chicanx art, one where social and aesthetic objectives are equally important. In the work produced at Self Help Graphics during this period we find strong and individualized artistic voices, rich imaginaries grounded in politics and intersectional cultural identities, as well as printmaking of the highest technical quality. Artists focused on their rights to be considered part of the American art scene.

Yreina D. Cervántez: Ocelotl

DO: Was there anything that surprised you in curating this show?

CW: What really surprised me is the reoccurrence of certain symbols and motifs. For example, barbed wire in a print would stand in for the border or immigration. I also saw many artists also depict Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent in Mesoamerican mythology, in more contemporary settings.

FB: I was more familiar with Chicanx art of the 1960s and 1970s. I discovered that the work these artists produced in the following two decades was not less amazing and powerful. These prints have a commanding presence.

Alex Donis: Rio, Por No Llorar

DO: What do you hope visitors get from this exhibit?

CW: I hope our audience recognizes a lot of the imagery when they walk into the galleries but come away with a more in-depth understanding of their rich history.

FB: I hope our visitors get a better understanding of the Latinx community and recognize the amazing contribution that Latinx immigrants are making to the United States.

Dolores Guerrero-Cruz: Untitled


In other news, I wanted to share with you an essay I wrote for the Los Angeles Review of Books titled, “From Dystopia to Absurdity: On Being a Chicano Writer in the Age of Trump,” and which you may read here. In it, I discuss the writing of my first play, Waiting for Godínez, which was inspired both by Samuel Beckett’s iconic Godot play and the virulent anti-immigrant environment—though not new—that is at fevered pitch today in this country. I have queried various theaters and so far, five have agreed to read it. If you are an artistic director interested in reading my play, please feel free to drop me an email at: olivasdan at

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