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Just Another Poster? Chicano Graphic Arts in California

June 20 - September 14, 2003


The Crocker Art Museum, in conjunction with La Raza/Galeria Posada, proudly presents the exhibition, Just Another Poster? Chicano Graphic Arts in California. Both venues combined will feature nearly 100 works representing the rich tradition of Chicano artists and activism. The exhibition comprehensively explores, for the first time, the role Chicano posters and other graphic materials play in California's Chicano communities. (right: Louie 'The Foot' Gonzáalez, This Is Just Another Poster, 1976, Silkscreen, Collection of CEMA)

Once displayed on building walls, telephone poles, and any available surface, Chicano posters have typically been powerful graphic works created by artists seeking to raise awareness and consciousness of social issues critical to Chicano communities. Artists included in the exhibition have embraced the poster format to confront negative stereotypes, alert workers to unsafe working conditions and protest unfair immigration policies. These artists have imbued the poster with striking imagery and symbolism to vividly communicate social messages and cultural pride.

The poster became the primary form of cultural expression in Chicano communities throughout America as part of the Chicano civil rights movement of the 1960s. In Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and in smaller communities, Chicano artists began to forge an identity for themselves in order to overcome prejudice and stereotype. They came together in collectives (centros) such as Centro Cultural de la Raza of San Diego, the Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF) and Galeria Posada of Sacramento. The production of posters by the centros provided an opportunity for artists to develop and showcase their talents outside mainstream galleries and museums. The collectives also provided inspiration for younger Chicanos to train and pursue professional art careers.

The posters often served as the decisive means of inviting Chicano communities to come together for an event. Silkscreen and offset lithography techniques permitted artists to affordably advertise exhibitions, concerts and theatrical productions aimed at Chicano audiences. They alerted community residents to forthcoming protest demonstrations and mass meetings, and nurtured and sustained collective memory by commemorating important moments in Mexican and Mexican American history.

The exhibition examines the profound role that graphic art has played in the Chicano civil rights movement and the remarkable effectiveness of the poster medium itself. Chicano artists employed myriad rhetorical strategies in combination with striking graphics to convey their messages. These strategies are exemplified by the use of allegory, irony, historical reference, cultural icon, and the inversion of figures of authority and commerce into examples of humor and political satire. Many images, such as Ester Hernandez's Sun Mad (1982), a poster in which a woman on a well-known raisin label has been replaced by a skeleton (calaca), have become iconic images in their own right.

No other state compares with California in the scope, complexity, and range of Chicano poster production. In the decades since the Chicano civil rights movement, the art produced by the individual centros has developed distinct iconography. The Chicano poster has gradually transitioned from political tool to art product since the 1980s as artists have come to rely on poster sales and reproduction fees to support their endeavors. Even with the dramatically changing social, political and technological landscape, Chicano artists continue to find the poster a dynamic and compelling medium for personal and universal expression.

This exhibition is organized by the University Art Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara.

Editor's note: Please also see our prior article Just Another Poster? Chicano Graphic Arts in California (6/12/00) covering a prior venue for this exhibition.

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