The stories of Chicanos are told in the vivid art of posters, which were originally displayed on building walls, telephone poles, and other surfaces within the urban landscape. These powerful graphic works, created by artists to raise awareness and rouse conscience, will be shown in the groundbreaking exhibition, "Just Another Poster? Chicano Graphic Arts in California," on view at the UCLA Fowler Museum June 16 through December 9.
"Just Another Poster?" is the first comprehensive exploration of the critical role posters and other graphic materials play in building community, stimulating political action and influencing social and cultural consciousness within Chicano communities in California. The exhibition includes more than 100 graphic images (mostly silkscreen prints) by 56 artists, including Lalo Alcaraz, Leonard Castellanos, Yreina Cervantez, Richard Duardo, Ricardo Favela, Rupert Garcia, Louie "The Foot" Gonzalez, Ester Hernandez, Ralph Maradiaga, Jose Montoya, Malaquias Montoya, Herbert Siguenza and John Valadez.
Most of the posters have been drawn from the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives (CEMA), Department of Special Collections, Davidson Library, University of California, Santa Barbara. The archives of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles also provided many posters.
The exhibition examines not just the profound role art played as a part of the Chicano civil rights movement, but also the remarkable effectiveness of the poster medium itself. The form and content of this art reflects the bilingual and bicultural context of Chicanos living in the United States. No other state in the United States compares with California in the scope, complexity and range of Chicano poster production.
Most of the work in this exhibition was produced or shown in association with major art centers or collectives - Centro Cultural de la Raza of San Diego; Self Help Graphics and Art, and the Mechicano Art Center of Los Angeles; Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF) and Galeria Posada of Sacramento; and La Raza Silkscreen Center/La Raza Graphics and Galeria de la Raza of San Francisco. These centers became social sites for gathering, arts training and poster production, and for display and distribution. For largely working-class communities marginal to the mainstream world of galleries and museums, these art centers were the first public places where Chicano artists could develop and showcase their talents.
The exhibition begins by questioning whether Chicano graphic art is more than "just another poster," an expression borrowed from the text of Louie "The Foot" Gonzalez' 1976 "boycott Gallo, boycott Coors" announcement poster. The ironic implication is that this playful silkscreen print is doing something more than calling for political action. Rather, Chicano posters are distinctive artistic devices meant to express the values and concerns of the communities their images depict.
The investigation continues with an in-depth look at how Chicano posters function to stimulate political action, build community, oppose U.S. immigration policies and promote solidarity with international liberation movements. For example, Andrew Zermeno's famous 1965 poster "Huelga!" introduces the United Farm Workers (UFW) eagle, which became a key symbol of the movement. Other posters advertised community events, ranging from musical productions and art exhibitions to demonstrations and rallies, filling the public spaces of Chicano communities with images that provoked powerful memories and associations. Many posters called for the end of unfair immigration practices and others expressed solidarity with similarly oppressed peoples at home and abroad.
The second part of the exhibition explores the distinctive iconography of Chicano posters, which the artists drew from Mexican cultural and artistic legacies even while forging a unique Chicano visual language. Traditional cultural symbols are reinforced, such as the Virgin of Guadalupe or the calavera of the Day of the Dead. Images of pachucos, cholos and punks express alternative youth culture and are emblematic of contemporary Chicano urban identities, as epitomized in Jose Montoya's famous 1978 "Zoot Suit."
"The poster is ideally suited to the Chicano experience in all its diversity and complexity," according to the exhibition's curators. "Its formal qualities can be appreciated on their own terms, while its content and messages reveal much about Chicano history and culture." The images in the exhibition move from the political activism of the 1970s to the impact of global capital, national politics, and mass media in the 1990s. Over these decades, graphic images created in limited numbers by hand have given way to the electronic age's limitless possibilities. But despite the changing social, political and technological landscape, the exhibition concludes by showing that the poster remains a dynamic and aesthetically compelling medium for Chicano artists.
"Just Another Poster? Chicano Graphic Arts in California" is on view Wednesdays through Sundays, noon to 5 p.m.; Thursdays until 8 p.m.; the museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The Fowler Museum is located just west of Royce Hall on the UCLA campus. Parking is available for $6 in Lot 4. Admission is $5 for adults; $3 for seniors (65+), non-UCLA students, and UCLA faculty/staff and Alumni Association members with ID; $1 for UCLA students with ID. Admission is free to Fowler Museum members and to visitors 17 and under. Admission is free to everyone on Thursday. For more information, the public may call (310) 825-4361.