Art of Engagement: Visual Politics in California and Beyond
Art of Engagement takes the first comprehensive look at the key role of California's art and artists in politics and culture since 1945. Tracing the remarkably fertile confluence of political agitation and passionately engaged art, Peter Selz leads readers on a journey that begins with the Nazi death camps and moves through the Bay Area's Free Speech Movement of 1964, the birth of Beat and hippie countercultures, the Chicano labor movement in the San Joaquin Valley, the beginning of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, and some of the most radical manifestations of the women's movement, gay liberation, Red Power, and environmental activism. It also deals with artists' responses to critical issues such as censorship and capital punishment. Selz follows California's outpouring of political art into the present with responses to September 11 and the war in Iraq. In the process, Selz considers the work of artists such as Robert Arneson, Hans Burkhardt, Jerome (Caja), Enrique Chagoya, Judy Chicago, Llyn Foulkes, Rupert García, Helen and Newton Harrison, Wally Hedrick, Suzanne Lacy, Hung Liu, Peter Saul, Miriam Schapiro, Allan Sekula, Mark di Suvero, Masami Teraoka, and Carrie Mae Weems. Abundantly illustrated and beautifully produced, Art of Engagement showcases many types of media, including photographs, found objects, drawings and prints, murals, painting, sculpture, ceramics, installations, performance art, and collage. Readers will come away from the book with a historical sense of the significant role California has played in generating political art and also how the state has stimulated politically engaged art throughout the world.
Copub: San Jose Museum of Art
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After graduating from Art Center College in Los Angeles in 1966 I went to live with my sister in Fresno, California. It turned out that despite my cum laude degree I was not some one that would be hired by an advertising agency, nor would I have a gallery showing. I simply wasn't part of the system, and therefore not "saleable". I went to work for the Welfare department. In driving around the County I ran into a small office in Del Rey of a group called El Teatro Campesino, directed by Luís Valdés. I was enchanted by their performances in the middle of the César Chávez grape strike. Having grown up in Mexico, I saw something authentic in the Teatro, a kind of carpa, not those sorry excuses for Chicano life portrayed in the Hollywood media with their gang-driven violence (totally fake, although it endures as a kind of incubus in the colonializing culture), and I immediately joined. My purpose in painting the mural was twofold; to educate people on some aspects of real Mexican culture, not the fake "Hispanic" culture popularized in the US, and to integrate the Chicano movement within the wider movement of civil rights and ethnic identities. I found it absurd that Americans still considered Blacks their property in the US while denying the obvious--Blacks are Latinos, too, and as much a part of Latin America as Mexicans are. On the left I painted a panel of Mayan figures from Bonampak, with a sly ahistorical branch of weed in one of their hands. On the right was the Soldadera, Villa, Zapata, Murrieta, Chavez, Tijerina, Malcolm X and Dr. King. I painted it expressely for the farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley, my people, and never dreamed it would get the wider attantion that it did. The mural is listed as the first Chicano mural, and I am grateful for the attention it has received. It has been published and mentioned in several publications and has a place in the Wight Gallery at UCLA.
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