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Futuros Fugaces: Armory Chinampas



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This was an image I’ve had in mind in some form or other since the late 90s, when the old Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition crashed a party held by the Mayor to celebrate turning the dilapidated National Guard Armory into a server farm. For years the city had discussed turning it over to the community for a dollar, but no one had the cash to bring it up to seismic safety standards, and finally the Mayor just gave it to his tech investor friends. The server farm didn’t last long, and then it became the home of, till that also went away. Today, with National Guard troops mobilizing around the country to quell uprisings, the building had a different resonance. I remember writer John Ross telling the story of how Mission activists had surrounded the Armory in 1966 to stop troops from mobilizing to put down the Hunter’s Point uprising.

The Armory sits over a natural spring, and its basement floods with every rain. I originally imagined it sitting on a lake, with squatter shacks hanging off its walls like the hills above Guayaquil or Caracas. But as I thought more of rising seas and adapting to the new climates we will all be facing, the image that stuck was of the chinampas, the floating gardens of Tenochtitlan, still practiced in Xochimilco. Will our streets become canals, traveled by colorful lanchas, the sidewalks farmed in chinampas wherever the old creeks and marshes, now paved over, return to their watery state? The background image is adapted from a map of chinampa farm tributes, ca. 1542, from the National Institute of Anthropology and History, Mexico.

Futuros Fugaces was a way to explore themes and relationships that have concerned me for a long time: what it means to reclaim ancestral knowledge, how we re-imagine the future, and what this looks like in the particular of the Mission/Excelsior Latinx community I’ve worked with for the last 30 years. Thanks to the SF Arts Commission for funding my first Individual Artist Grant.

In imagining a Latinx futurism, the project took me in unexpected directions, beyond a more literal extrapolation of futurism, to a more mythical layering of Mesoamerican imagery as a way to connect past and future cosmic time. The emergent utopias of our communities of color will not be sterile or sanitized; they will contain hints of the dystopias we’re already living through, and they will contain the messiness and contradictions of our cultures, a collage of rasquachismo, rooted in a reclamation of ancestral traditions and collective memory to urban land struggles and queer ecologies. As I thought of a Latinx futurism, the cyclical nature of Mesoamerican time, cyclical, perhaps helical, expanding outward but always returning. Or perhaps it is a simultaneity of times, layered in parallel existences informing the present, accessible through ritual and ceremony. Mesoamerican time gave me a layering of myth and history and contemporary cultures and utopian visions. Utopia has to coexist with the present, accessible through our cultural practices and our arts, to inform our actions. Glimpses or shadows of that utopia found their way into these images.

The images were created in pencil, scanned to create the line drawing, then watercolored and scanned again, and additional colors and backgrounds applied digitally in Photoshop. They were printed as giclée digital fine art reproductions at East Bay Giclée in North Oakland.


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