When Smithsonian Institution museums reopen again after shutting back down in October of 2020 due to the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Smithsonian American Art Museum will do so with a dynamic presentation of Chicano Graphics.
In the 1960s, Chicano activist artists forged a remarkable history of printmaking rooted in cultural expression and social justice movements that remains vital today. The exhibition “¡Printing the Revolution! The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now” presents, for the first time, historical civil rights-era prints by Chicano artists alongside works by graphic artists working from the 1980s to today. It
Chicano Graphics considers how artists innovatively use graphic arts to build community, engage the public around ongoing social justice concerns and wrestle with shifting notions of the term “Chicano.”
Mexican Americans defiantly adopted the term Chicano in the 1960s and 1970s as a sign of a new political and cultural identity. Graphic artists played a pivotal role in projecting this revolutionary new consciousness, which affirmed the value of Mexican American culture and history and questioned injustice nationally and globally.
The exhibition is on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s main building from May 14 through Aug. 8, 2021. It includes 119 works, ranging from traditional screenprints to digital graphics and augmented reality (AR) works to site-specific installations, by more than 74 artists of Mexican descent and other artists who were active in Chicanx networks. All of the artworks on display are part of the museum’s permanent collection of Latinx art, one of the leading national collections of its kind and one of the most extensive collections of Chicanx graphics in an American art-focused museum.
This exhibition features donated artworks from major collectors and an ambitious program to purchase artworks for the collection to create an inclusive view of American art that features Chicanx voices and contributions. The exhibition is organized by E. Carmen Ramos, acting chief curator and curator of Latinx art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, with Claudia E. Zapata, curatorial assistant for Latinx art.
The museum is limiting the number of visitors permitted in the galleries and has established new safety measures in the museum to accommodate safe crowd management and implement safe social distancing. Visitors are required to obtain free, timed-entry passes in advance and should review new safety measures online before arriving at the museum.
“Since the late 1970s, the Smithsonian American Art Museum has demonstrated a deep commitment to building a rich collection of Latinx art in the nation’s capital,” Stephanie Stebich, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, said. “SAAM is uniquely positioned to engage in a conversation about an inclusive view of American history that features Chicanx voices and contributions, and we are proud to present the first major museum exhibition dedicated to this subject matter from a national perspective.”
Graphic arts as voice of a community
The artists in the exhibition use graphics as a vehicle to debate larger social causes, reflecting the issues of their time period, including immigrant rights, opposition to the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Vibrant posters and images announced labor strikes and cultural events, reimagined national and global histories, and, most significantly, challenged the invisibility of Chicanos in U.S. society. The exhibition offers an expanded view of American art and the history of graphic arts, featuring previously marginalized voices from Chicano art, including women and LGBTQ+ individuals.
The influential Chicano Graphics movement has been largely excluded from the history of U.S. printmaking. “¡Printing the Revolution!” challenges this historical sidelining of Chicanx artists and their cross-cultural collaborators.
“Chicano graphic artists were among the first to immerse themselves in civil rights activism, many working to support the United Farm Workers union founded by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta,” Ramos said. “The exhibition explores how this early civil rights activity set the foundation for a truly noteworthy, politically engaged graphic arts movement among artists of Mexican descent and their cross-cultural collaborators that continues to thrive today, over five decades later. At a time when U.S. society is grappling with how to face a history of systemic racism, this exhibition presents a long line of artists doing exactly that.”
Chicano artists in “¡Printing the Revolution!” exhibition
“¡Printing the Revolution!” includes iconic works by major artists like Rupert García, Malaquias Montoya, Juan Fuentes, Ester Hernandez, Yolanda López and members of the Royal Chicano Air Force collective (RCAF), and later generations working after the height of the civil rights era. It features works produced at major print centers, organizations and collectives located in cities across the U.S., including Austin, Texas; Chicago; Los Angeles; New York City; Sacramento, California; San Francisco; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Oakland, California.
The exhibition is the first to consider how Chicanx mentors, print centers and networks collaborated and nurtured other artists, including multigenerational stories like that of Chicana artist Yreina D. Cervántez, who mentored her student Favianna Rodriguez, born to Peruvian immigrants in Oakland. Rodriguez herself would go on to mentor digital artist Julio Salgado, a Mexican-born artist and DACA recipient, who is well known for his work exploring the intersection of LGBTQ+ and immigrant rights.
Visitors enter the exhibition through a site-specific installation, “Justice for Our Lives,” by San Francisco Bay Area artist Oree Originol. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this artwork, which Originol also presents online and as public art interventions, includes memorial portraits of Oscar Grant, Alex Nieto, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others killed during altercations and interactions with law enforcement. Begun in 2014, Originol continues to add portraits to the work. The project reflects a major undercurrent within Chicanx graphic arts to respond immediately to urgent concerns as they are unfolding.
About the Smithsonian American Art Museum
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the home to one of the largest and most inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal America’s rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today.
The museum’s main building is located at Eighth and F streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station.
Its Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft and decorative arts, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. Admission is free.