When Los Angeles artist Francesco Siqueiros visited colleagues in Mexico City, he discovered something exceptional.
"I was taken by their group projects and by the discussions they held every week," Siqueiros says. "It was stimulating talking about art issues."
He was so moved by their group sharing and cooperation that he wanted to tell the world about it. Or at least Southern California. "How could I bring these artists to Los Angeles?" he asked himself.
Siqueiros pictured the two art communities meeting each other and opening the lines of communication through an exhibition and art workshop. He proposed the idea to Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions in 1988 but he says he "got a lot of bureaucratic run-around from them. They didn't know what to do with this project.
"It was more than putting together a show just for viewing. I wanted something with the intellectual friction and historical tension that exists between the two countries," Siqueiros says.
Mentioning his idea to friends at a party, Siqueiros was told to go to Edward Leffingwell, then the new director at Barnsdall's Municipal Art Gallery in Hollywood. Leffingwell, Siqueiros learned, had been exploring a similar idea.
Yet, it was Siqueiros' vision of getting together onto the same stage Mexican as well as Mexican-American artists that won Leffingwell's interest. He extended the city's support through the auspices of the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, with additional financing from the Los Angeles Festival.
What Siqueiros and Leffingwell, along with co-curator Gabriela Cortines, have assembled is Aqui y Alla (translation: Here and Over There), an exhibition of contemporary works by Nahum Zenil, Diego Toledo, Eloy Tarcisio, Ruben Rosas, Mario Rangel Faz, Ruben Ortiz Torres, Monica Castillo of Mexico City and Victor Estrada, Yreina Cervantez, Anthony Zepeda, Margaret Garcia, John Valadez, Frank Romero and Patssi Valdez of Los Angeles. The exhibit will run through Nov. 4 at the Barnsdall Park Arts Center. In addition, the artists will meet this month and next in several panel discussions on contemporary Chicano art.
The exhibit will also be shown in Tijuana and Mexico City.
Leffingwell promises that the exhibit "will be about ideas."
Like those of Patssi Valdez of East L.A., a painter who now deals extensively with on-site installations.
"I like to work with chance," she says. "Life is chance. We never know what's going to come in life."
Chance is not an element of Yreina Cervantez's art. The daughter of farm workers, she paints images of her inner pain and conflicts.
"My work uses personal symbolism and cultural symbolism," the Los Angeles artist says, "but it gets back to identity, which is so important.
"We have to be open up to our experiences. We're all very different, but there are basic truths. Art manifests changes in the community. As artists, we have responsibilities. We are visionaries."
Facing the past and placing it into perspective, as Cervantez has done on a personal level, is what the Chicano art movement is about, she says.
However, Victor Estrada of Los Angeles warns against any temptation to categorize the Chicano art movement as solely political. To do so, he says, implies that Chicano artists cannot do anything else.
"What happens to the ability to express one's self? The social issues are going to come out in the work anyway," he says defending his abstract style. "Some artists make their art specific, and in other's the issues just come out.
"The more room there is for difference, the greater power art has. If you try to control culture, it's another form of facism. Artistically, people have to assume their right to exist. Freedom is not given, it's taken."
But master printer Anthony Zepeda of Los Angeles says he could never be political with his work.
"My art is more like poetry," he says. "It's the only way I know how to express myself."
Zepeda says he views the Aqui y Alla exhibition as an expression of ethnic and artistic pride.
"I'm interested in this particular show because I want my father to come see it," he says of his father who migrated to the United States in 1905 during the Mexican Revolution. "He's essentially more Mexican than me. I want him to be happy that it's happening."
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