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What are the conditions for a thriving political art movement? A case study.

January 27, 2011


If you are in the Bay Area, check out Galeria de la Raza’s 40th anniversary exhibit in San Francisco, which closes this Saturday, Jan 29th.
I have a special bond with Galeria de la Raza because it’s one of the spaces that influenced my formation as a radical, political, feminisit, brown artist. As a teenager, I remember walking into Galeria and seeing the work of Chicano artists, Rupert Garcia (art below on left) & Juan Fuentes. This art gem, located in SF’s Mission district, has played a key role in fostering public awareness and appreciation of Latino/Chicano art.
“The exhibition traverses through the organization’s inception born of cultural activism to its current standing as an international forum for examination and expression of artistic concepts central to the Latino/Chicano experience,” explains Galeria’s website.
Speaking strictly in terms of political posters (my field of interest), what many people don’t know is that the biggest, ongoing output of political posters is from the Bay Area!

YES, the Bay Area is an epicenter for political art in particular, and I believe that it’s due not only to the community organizing that’s emerged here in which political movements have thrived (American Indian Movement, Black Panther Party), but also the concentration of a politicized Chicano/Latino community.
Chicanos have been at the forefront of the political poster canon, creating some of the most prolific collectives and nurturing some artistitic power hitters, including Ester Hernandez, Yolanda Lopez, Malaquias Montoya, Rupert Garcia, Juan Fuentes, and Rene Castro.  And it didn’t stop at that generation – think about the political art work of Jesus Barraza & Melanie Cervantes of Dignidad Rebelde (also my beloved friends, co-conspirators and fellow Just Seeders), Rio Yañez (son of one of the founders of Galeria de la Raza), and of course myself. Many of us were trained and mentored by the previous generation in the art of political graphics. And yes – even that deliberate relationship building that occurs between generations has played a key role in making the Bay Area the political poster capital of the world.

But it doesn’t stop there!
ADD to that the concentration of community-run and/or worker-run spaces that have for years, provided access to printing equipment to artists or printing services, such as Mission Grafica & Inkworks Press. (poster printed @ Inkworks shown to the right)
“Access to affordable space plays a significant role in the ability of artists to produce artwork and contribute to the fabric of communities,” explains a report by
Then ADD to that a government infrastructure that has supported the arts such as City of San Francisco’s Hotel Tax Fund for the Arts, which since its inception in 1961 has distributed over $300 million to hundreds of nonprofit cultural organizations in SF.
What I’m getting at here is that it requires many variables for socially-engaged art to thrive. They are (in no particular order):

  • 1. Strong social movements that help inform the work of the artists and drive a radical agenda.
  • 2. Artists from affected communities (i.e. artists of color, disabled artists, women artists, queer artists) being at the forefront of the creative push. These artists usually self organize and support each other, via the formation of collectives or guilds.
  • 3. Access to public spaces where artists can work or can get their work produced at an affordable price. These institutions usually have some commitment to both the artist community and the social movements.
  • 4. Public funding! Yes, because remember its our tax dollars we are talking about. Public services funding should always include money for artists, because our labor is often leading to a better quality of life for the community.

All of this to say….. check this exhibition out. The exhibit spans artworks from 1970 to 2010 and is a part of history – a manifestation of what can occur when these four variables come together. I have a piece in this exhibit together with some of the freshest Raza artists around. 
Galeria 4.0, A Retrospective is on display through Saturday, January 29, and is free and open to the public.
2857 24th St. @ Bryant, San Francisco
more info


Art by Melanie Cervantes, of Dignidad Rebelde, who is in the show as well!


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