Mexic-Arte Museum presents the virtual exhibition, Resistance, Reaffirmation & Resilience, on view now through the Museum’s website and the Museum’s CultureConnect portal.
Throughout 2021, Mexico is observing and commemorating major events in history: the falling of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán, the invasion by Spain, and the Independence of Mexico. Mexic-Arte Museum will present an exhibition and programs in conjunction with Mexico’s 2021 events, and reaffirm our common cultural history.
The exhibition MX 21-Resistance, Reaffirmation & Resilience is divided into three sections: Resistance, Reaffirmation, and Resilience.
Resistancerefers to the Original Peoples resisting the Spanish invasion and occupation of Mexico, which was really not “conquered.”
Reaffirmation speaks to affirming the unique history and cultural diversity of our shared heritage.
Resiliencerepresents the on-going evolution of Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and other Latinx peoples, despite and because of struggles to achieve liberty, social justice, and plurality. Invited artists respond to these themes to help the public better understand and appreciate how Mexico’s history has impacted and inspired our shared U.S.- Mexico cultural history in the Americas, as Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and Latinx peoples.
Participating artists include Luis Abreux, Santa Barraza, Cande Aguilar, Angel Cabrales, Tomas Filsinger, Eduardo Garcia, Tita Griesbach, Mari Hernandez, Michael Menchaca, Delilah Montoya, Juan Navarrete, Yelaine Rodriguez, Sergio Sanchez Santamaria, Andy Villarreal, “Kill Joy”, and artwork from the Mexic-Arte Museum Permanent Collection.
CultureConnect is a new mobile tool that Mexic-Arte Museum is utilizing to make exhibitions and artwork accessible to the community. Through CultureConnect, Mexic-Arte Museum can present curated information about the artwork and give the viewer a chance to explore the artist and artwork in depth!
Before the Spanish arrived in the Western hemisphere, this land was densely populated by an advanced civilization. It was not called “America”. The First Peoples inhabited every region living within the diversity of the land and developing cultural lifeways dependent on the land. Five hundred years have passed since the invasion and fall of the Mexico-Tenochtitlan. The inhabitants moved from violent rebellion, to a more understated version. Rather than give up ancestral traditions, the Aztecs and other First People continued practicing their traditions, sometimes in clandestine manners. They resisted the Spanish invasion, occupation, and assimilation from the beginning, and throughout the centuries. Resistance, however small or however revolutionary, became the way of life for communities of “occupied” lands. Resistance was expressed in dances, hidden behind masks, or worshipping “idols” behind altars. Endurance itself is resistance.
Artists document, appropriate and retell stories to inform and to educate. Artists call attention to the five hundred years of resisting invasion, ethnocide, genocide, ecocide, sexual violence, slavery, exploitation, forced relocation, psychic destruction, and xenophobia. At every opportunity, native and mestizo heritage have been celebrated and preserved. Artists identify with Cuauhtémoc, sympathize with La Llorona and La Malinche, dispel myths of yesterday, proudly wear the Aztec Calendar (Piedra del Sol), and use the pandemic of centuries ago to bring awareness to the pandemic of today.
Women are central forces in the histories and culture, and symbolize the earth and blender of duality. The mestizo is born from the cataclysmic invasion that brutally appropriated Indigenous women’s bodies, labor and land. Women were condemned as immoral and the mestizo children as illegitimate. The invasion imposed male domination, racial inequality, and class stratification.
Contemporary artists are influenced by pre-Columbian, revolutionary ideologies, civil rights movements, social, political and cultural issues. Communities continue to work to resist and challenge dominant social norms and stereotypes for cultural autonomy and self-determination. Some have focused on building awareness of collective history and culture, restoration of human rights, and equity. Throughout history, artists have used art to express cultural values, sometimes as protest or at other times for aesthetic value. Art has evolved over time not only to illustrate current struggles and social issues, but also to inform new generations, unifying around culture and histories. Artists are influenced by images and concepts of the past, and use these icons to reinterpret or retell the struggles. Art utilizes public forums to emphasize otherwise “invisible” histories and people of the Americas today.
The adoption of indigenous Mesoamerican imagery and history allows artists to assert an indigenous identity and, more importantly, helps to build a communal sensibility based on spiritual and cultural concepts. The world has transformed, and today is a product of historical acts. Artists continue to be the voice of survivors, and nurturers of culture, in recognizing 500 years of resistance to domination and colonization.
In the early 1960s, socio political movements by people of color organized into a unified voice to create change for the community. These movements focused on a fight for civil and political rights of its people, and sought to bring attention to struggles for equality throughout the United States. The civil rights movement addressed police brutality, lack of social services, education and other social issues. It represented generational concerns. Strikes, marches, and boycotts raised awareness. Today, we still see this resistance taking place throughout the Americas with people of different backgrounds coming together through shared causes and fights for equality, equity, and freedom.
After 1680, Spaniards built three missions in the El Paso area, which connected many missions along the border and around the state. The Spanish constructed Catholic missions to convert the people of the region, abusing religion as a means to control the Original People. Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, and by 1836 residents of Tejas declared independence from Mexico as the Republic of Texas,
appealing to the U.S. for annexation.
Texas was not annexed until 1845 due to Texas’ slave trade practices, and in 1846, President Polk declared war on Mexico as a bid to continue the campaign of Westward expansion. The U.S. won the Mexican-American War in 1848, and forced Mexico to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The U.S. bought the Southwest for $15 million, and when the Gadsden Purchase (or treaty) was signed in 1853, the Rio Grande became the U.S. and Mexico borderline. With the development of the new borderline came a new borderland community, and its distinct economic, cultural, and social practices emerged.
Online visitors can view Resistance virtually by visiting the Culture Connect link!
Artworks in this section speak to affirming the unique history and cultural diversity of our shared heritage, complex identity and vitality shaped by experiences in the Americas. First People throughout the Americas have struggled to affirm a place and identity. The notion of affirmation has to do with culture, as well as politics. Affirmation of one’s culture is to strive for political change. Artists work to affirm, self-determine, and resist racial stereotypes. Our plurality represents First People, the African, the Mexicano, Mexican Americans, and other Latinx peoples. Our struggles to achieve liberty and social justice are one. We affirm our similarities and embrace our differences. Artists respond and create to contribute to the understanding of these complexities in the pursuit of social justice today.
With this exhibition, we reflect on history and current reality here in the U.S., reclaiming and reaffirming shared history and experiences. Africans torn from their homeland, brought to work the land; women forced through rape to produce a new generation of workers to fuel the colonial economy. Thousands of Asian individuals were brought to Mexico as slaves.
They were of diverse origins, bought from the Portuguese or captured through war like the Moros, Malays, Javanese, Bengalis, Arabs, and other ethnic groups, including Japanese and Chinese people. Indigenous, Asian and African people in Latin America are decentered and blurred from history.
Artists have recovered, rewrote, and reconstructed history. Reclamation of indigenous roots has become a symbol of belonging. Casta paintings were depictions of racial mixtures of the inhabitants of Spain’s American colonies. They were presented most commonly as depicting a man, woman, and child, arranged according to a hierarchy of race and status. In an idealized Mexico where people of African, European, Asian and indigenous heritage were intermingling in seeming harmony, the Casta paintings were a reminder to Spaniards that there was still a strong hierarchy of racial purity — with Europeans on top. Today artists use century old canons to retell family lineage today with DNA testing to demystify the concept of purity and to combat xenophobia.
It is essential that we acknowledge the physical, economic, and psychological trauma that colonialism has inflicted on so many communities throughout the Americas. It is also essential to acknowledge historic and momentous moments of resistance and human rights movements continue today. Artists affirm cultural identity through iconography and key elements of their cultures. As new generations unfold, art plays a role in educating about essential histories, traditions and identity affirmed through daily life. Artists draw upon these traditions, experiences and images to reflect the importance of self-determination and cultural differences.
Latinx artists embrace art forms from all the Americas, expressing their shared, yet diverse culture and identity. Many artists preserve connections to heritage by incorporating ancestral imagery into their art as a way for historical and cultural affirmation.
Doves, the Mexican eagle, burrowing owls, ground squirrels, coyotes, mountain lions, Black bears, Gray and Kit foxes, rabbits, rattlesnakes, Brown Recluse spiders, and scorpions are among the many creatures found in El Paso. In 1883, J. Fisher Satterwaite, El Paso Parks and Streets Commissioner, introduced alligators to a newly founded San Jacinto Plaza in downtown El Paso. The alligators thrived, and soon became the central attraction for tourists and El Pasoeans alike. Unfortunately, by the 1950s, violence and vandalism against the reptiles were on the rise, and by 1965, they were moved to the El Paso zoo. The history of the alligators lives on in San Jacinto Plaza (Or La Plaza de los Lagartos) with the installation of acclaimed El Paso born artist Luis Jiménez’s fiberglass statue Los Lagartos. Jiménez was among the spectators to see the alligators in downtown El Paso as a child, and the alligators have become a symbol many in the region recognize as distinctly “El Paso”.
Cacti are plentiful in the region, including yucca, sotol, ocotillo, cholla, barrel cactus, prickly pear, lechuguilla, and agave. Trees like the date palm, the windmill palm, cypress, mesquite, live oak, and flowering bushes thrive. Some distinctive habitat types in the Chihuahuan Desert include yucca woodlands, playas, gypsum dunes, and a diverse array of freshwater habitats. The borderland, its flora, and fauna are a shared experience for borderland inhabitants.
Allegorical symbols from the region include artist representations rejecting the appropriation and negative stereotypes of fauna and land, affirming both the pain and strength associated with their symbolic nature. The print Howl by El Paso artist Luis Jiménez rejects these stereotypes, celebrating his Mexican heritage, and much like the Mexican wolf he depicts, he is howling for the forgotten Original People, the struggle of his own people, and for the fast disappearing western frontier.
Online visitors can view Reaffirmation virtually by visiting the Culture Connect link!
Resiliency springs from adaptation to, and under, the most difficult situations. Communities reshape themselves and the environment in response to adverse elements. This is the very definition of self-determination. Using symbols such as the black eagle helped raise awareness of social issues. Aztlán unified the Mexican Americans under a term of inheritance of land and culture. The imagery articulated cultural and historical identities through connections to indigenous heritage, religious icons, revolutionary leaders, and current life. Some iconography included Quetzalcoatl, Emiliano Zapata, Coatlicue, undocumented workers, La Virgen de Guadalupe and others. Art today continues as an activist endeavor, challenging the social constructions of racial/ethnic discrimination, citizenship and nationality, labor exploitation, and traditional gender roles in effort to create social change.
Activism often took form in representing alternative narratives to the dominant through the development of historical consciousness, illustrations of injustices and indignities, and evolution of a sense of belonging within the United States. Art provides a venue to challenge xenophobic stereotypes about Mexicanos and Latinx, bringing awareness to the broken immigration law and enforcement system, while simultaneously politicizing and mobilizing its audience to take action. Latinx artists put stronger emphasis on working-class struggles as both a labor and civil rights issue, and recognize the importance of developing strong symbols that represented the movement’s efforts. A good example of this is the eagle flag of the United Farm Workers, exemplifying dignity and visibility to an often-invisible working population that continues to be used by artists.
Other artists embrace Nepantla. Nepantla is used in Chicanx and Latinx anthropology, social commentary, criticism, literature and art. It represents a concept of “in-between-ness.” Nepantla is a Nahuatl word, which means “in the middle of it” or “middle.” It is a term first used by Nahuas. The Florentine Codex preserves the knowledge of the “ilamatlācah” or wise old women: “We travel along a mountain ridge while we live on earth, an abyss yawning on either side. If you stray too far one way or the other, you will fall away. Only by keeping to the middle way does one walk on and live.” The concept of being “in between” was useful to describe how the experience felt, and created their own “in between” culture. Nepantla also refers to living in the borderlands or being at literal or metaphorical crossroads, living within two different “worlds” or “cultures”. In the arts, Nepantla is a creator’s imaginary world that encompasses historical, emotional and spiritual aspects of life.
Outside of imaginary worlds, 3-D images, projections, augmented reality are predicting and envisioning the future beyond the earth; expeditions into new worlds and universes, multiple visions and diverse versions – both in quest of advancement and inevitably in pursuit of wealth. New frontiers exist in the universe, frontiers where no man, woman or non-binary person has traveled. Today space rockets, not sail ships, transport the new adventurers. The future will reveal whether the “new worlds” will be embraced, befriended, or as in the past, invaded and exploited.
Geography, immigration, and displacement are common themes in Chicanx and Latinx art. Taking an activist approach, artists illustrate the historical presence of Mexicans and Original People in the Southwest, human rights abuses of undocumented immigrants, racial profiling, and the militarization of the border. Art provides a venue to challenge xenophobic stereotypes about Mexican Americans, and bring awareness to our broken immigration law and enforcement system, while simultaneously politicizing and mobilizing its audience to take action.
Another common theme is the labor exploitation in agricultural, domestic work, and service industry jobs, particularly of the undocumented. Artists worked to politicize the community and make a call to mobilize in an effort to stop immigration raids in the workplace and boycott exploitative and oppressive corporations, while exemplifying dignity and visibility to an often-invisible working population. The U.S. has a dubious history concerning immigrants, and economic and political forces determine how they are treated according to the “push – pull” factor.
Immigration is much more diverse today. Migrants from Latin America during the early twentieth century came almost exclusively from Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. Today, immigrants come from every country in Latin America, and even migration from Mexico has diversified: people come not only from the historical sending states in the Mexican heartland, but also from Mexico’s gulf coast, from the southern states, and from other areas that sent few migrants before the 1980s and 1990s. That means that Mexicans and Latin Americans are creating truly new communities in the United States – communities based around a pan-Latin American identity, as opposed to a regional homeland identity.
Online visitors can view Resilience virtually by visiting the Culture Connect link!