Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Blogero or Bloggero?

I can't decide which is better, blogero or bloggero. The correct spelling in Spanish would be "bloguero," (Correction thanks to Abelardo at but somehow the double "g" gives it heft, no? Anybuey, I suppose I could make an argument for adding the @ sign at the end to make it genderless or include the female blogera simultaneously in one of those genius coinages that came out of the "mechista" attempts to examine our internalized sexism, that is, machismo built into the language itself. Still, the irregular words are interesting. Like the word for problem, for example. "Problema" should be preceeded by the feminine article "la", but is instead introduced properly with the masculine article "el". Does this mean that, most of the time, problems are of male origin? All of this is round about way of saying that I was impressed with the 12th Annual Mujeres de Maiz presentation at Farmlab. Roughly a thousand participants caught some of the heavy hitter wombyn poets, musicians, actors, dancers, drummers, artisans and visual artists from the West Coast and beyond. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of wrapping up the latest issue of Brooklyn & Boyle, and I was also signed on to watch the goats Farmlab brought in to graze the former cornfield which will soon be a garden in the shape of a mystical pre-Colombian symbol, according to former Teatro Campesino stalwart as well as Native and Environmental rights activist/media artist Olivia Chumacero, who was the Farmlab liaison. Thanks to Felicia Montes and "y la tropa indefatigable de mujeres" that includes Womyn Imagemakers Aurora Guerrero, Maritza Alvarez and Claudia Mercado. Aurora was in town to begin work on a new movie. Karla Legaspy is helping her. Even Sleepdealer writer/director Alex Rivera popped in to check out the MdM event.

Still more MdM events to come, and it so happens that I'll post as I go. For the moment, I'm pleased that the Brooklyn & Boyle gallery space has hosted three exhibition thus far and is working on a fourth in honor of Earth Day in April. The East LA blogeros/as were here on Monday and we had a round of Purgatory Pizza. It was extremely cool to finally meet some of those on my blog roll in person. Random Hero was, of course, the star. This is partially due to the fact that he's been adopted by most of us viejos and viejas, and blogs from his iPhone in a manner befitting a true Bladerunner boy. I've warned him about growing up to to be completely "necio" like Gerry Meraz or Victoria Delgadillo, the two most sardonic of the Eastsider bloggers. Talk about dry wit and detached bemusement. It'll take me some time to upload links and an image or two... it has indeed been a minute or so since this semi-weekly spatter of notes and observations from El Sereno and the rest of NELA down to 4th and Boyle was kept current. Don't forget the Grand Opening at Tia Chucha's new location. You won't want to miss Ruben "Funkahuatl" Guevara jamming with former Doors drummer John Densmore.

I was fortunate to hear Funkahuatl get down on on the mic with sum poetree & bluez at a birthday soiree for Adolfo Guzman López, founding member of the Taco Shop Poets and a reporter at KPCC. A certain "clashero" described the event as a chicano/chilanga/chileno collision of culture. Couldn't have said it better me-self. Props to Willy Herron for hosting. Willy was joined by Sid Medina and Xiuy Velo for some new musical material and a few choice blasts from the now glittering punk past. Can't get over how cool Willy has ornamented his goth-rock pad. It's a veritable museum to not-too-over-the-top classical "churrigueresco" (let the art mavens, the phantom sightlookers and the cultural curators look that one up, que no, Will?) done up City Terrace style.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Muralismo Part 2

At home, he nurses the muse, gets his hands dirty on a few guerrilla mural projects, including an anti-apartheid mural on a makeshift shanty on the west mall in the middle of the Univerity of Texas campus, which he paints alongside his brother-in-law Rolando Castro, a gifted young artist from Del Rio, Texas. The mural and shanty are torched within days by anonymous perpetrators. It is his first experience with politically motivated vandalism that seeks to whitewash the historical facts and erase the evidence of oppression. Perhaps the low-budget mural had made frat boys and racists uncomfortable enough to lash out.
Today, as an editor and a cultural curator who was finally brave enough to make his way westward to the creative homeland that first touched him with those monumental murals born in the fire of change and anEast LA renaissance, he has to ask himself, have things really changed that much? Fledgling graffiti artists are persecuted and often mistakenly profiled as gang-affiliated even though the art form has been validated at the highest echelons of internationally elite art institutions. A moratorium on new murals in Los Angeles is gridlocked in a process that city politicians, policy makers and bureaucrats seem unable to unravel. And finally, the children in neighborhoods that are consistently deprived of arts and humanities in a steadfast effort to deny them the very things that make them less likely to become statistics and vandals are no longer connected to their own cultural and artistic traditions. They are largely disassociated from the history and thus the significance of murals that spoke to the generation that came before.

They have no idea who Yreina Cervantes or Judith Hernandez or Judy Baca are or what SPARC (Social & Public Art Resource Center) was all about. They were never told or taught about Wayne Healy or Frank Romero or Carlos Almaraz or even Eloy Torrez, all artists who have lived or worked on the Eastside or in Downtown LA. Meanwhile, the iconic Anthony Quinn mural, a symbol of everything good and beautiful in Los Angeles, falls into disrepair. Almost makes one think there are those only too happy to see a legacy fade. All soapbox rants aside, the mural is LA. The city is not Hollywood, not some snooty invitation-only reception at the Getty that helps the landed or the moneyed gentry feel somehow superior. It lives, instead in it’s forgotten status as the mural capital of the world, a laurel that no longer applies.
Murals are an antidote, and art heals. There can be no other explanation. Consider this: millions are spent yearly on graffiti abatement while NOTHING is spent on mural programs that engage the young people who are crying out desperately to be noticed. Where do you think tagging and graffiti begin? They are emblematic symbols of fragile human identities, young souls who spray paint on walls because they have no other modes for self-expression. The solutions are there. The artists are still here. They are only too happy to revisit the neighborhoods where they first began transforming public spaces into outdoor galleries and museums. Our city needs them more than ever. Our children will die without them, rotting in jails or medicating themselves into oblivion because art is necessary. It is not a luxury or a privilege. Don’t you see? (Image above: El Corrido de Boyle Heights, mural at César Chavez and Soto by David Botello, Wayne Healy and George Yepes.)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Muralismo in the Mirror of Nostalgia, Phase I

The murals loom large and surreal over downtown LA. While his studies have not thus far included a formal survey of Chicano art history, he knows enough from magazines sent home to Texas by a sister on the West Coast to appreciate the spectacular vista before him. A two-year stay during childhood in La Puente and regular drives along I-10 had exposed him early to some of the movimiento politics and the Chicano-centric images gracing walls on buildings and public spaces he suddenly finds himself gawking at in amazement.

A Che Guevara t-shirt at nine, a copy of Black Elk Speaks at 12 and marches in protest of police brutality alongside a local chapter of the Brown Berets had solidified his ideas but the luminous beauty of the LA murals had already marked him forever in more important ways. They were beyond the ideological, beyond the politics of liberation and justice for the descendents of Mexicans in the U.S. Southwest. Skimming through copies of Con Safos, Regeneración, Avance and Xismearte magazines while assisting at a small space in Austin called the “Museo del Barrio” established the League of United Chicano Artists (LUChA), an arts non-profit), he was often lost in his own world, a universe colored in brilliant hues and peopled by a panorama envisioned by LA’s Los Streetscapers.

One might say he was steeped in art, art history and Chicano art history in particular long before the formal exposure in a college reader compiled by Dr. Jacinto Quirarte for a groundbreaking class with Dr. Ramon Favela, an instructor who introduced him to the Cubist work of Diego Rivera. Shortly after that pivotal visit to the City of Angels, he would enroll in Favela’s course. Similarly, he was destined to immerse himself in the learning even more, avidly devouring the lesson plan in Favela’s class before moving on to a Latin American Art History section with Dr. Jacquelyn Barnitz. The small, bird-like professor would bring him to the work of many others, successors to revered Mexican mural masters— “los tres grandes” as she liked to call them—who had triggered the LA Chicano mural movement still lingering in his imagination.

So at the moment, he’s tooling around the left coast in a BMW with Daniel Verches, a young political operative he’s met only once before in at a “Latinos in the Peace Movement” conference held in Denver. Danny, who prefers to go by Dan, is an aide to California Assemblyman Art Torres. While obviously the less strident of the two, Verches is, in fact, the Eastside native, even if his aspirations are more middle class than revolutionary, more Gucci and Armani than Mexica and Red Road brotherhood. He is patient and kind as he humors the art hungry activist kid from Austin.

From Placita Olvera he is whisked away to a Democratic Party presidential campaign function at a community center on Brooklyn Ave. in East LA where he is introduced to Mrs. Michael Dukakis and a smart young woman who also happens to be student body president at Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights. From there, the pair head first to Melrose and then toward Venice Beach. For days after his departure, the murals decorating walls from East LA to the Victor Clothing Company building downtown and a score ocean front rooming houses, surf shops and head shops glow incandescently in his head. (Image: Kent Twitchell, Bride and Groom, 1972, Victor Clothing Company, 242 South Broadway. North wall, latex and acrylic on masonry. 70'x70')

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Mural is LA.

So we haven't been posting for a few months. Took the time to launch the REAL Eastside arts and culture magazine. And I don't say that lightly. Kind of interesting that New Angeles Monthly, who I was happy to write for, is now only going to publish quarterly. Say hello to Brooklyn & Boyle: Art & Life in Boyle Heights and Beyond, our humble effort to create a print space for good writing and community. Everyone knows by now that Tu Ciudad Los Angeles went belly up. The gravy train was good for awhile, but again, the business model was flawed. Not that mine isn't, but we're four issues into our modest monthly and the response has been overwhelming. Most of our support has come from small art galleries, studio spaces, local eateries, mom-and-pop businesses and artists or arts promotion professionals themselves. Who says EastSiders aren't proud of their progress and their cultural contributions? I'm happy to host the next blogero meeting at the gallery/artspace that came about as a result of a collaboration with Josefina Lopez (REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES), who is one of the most produced Chicana playwrights in the country and a now a formidable novelist in the Chica Lit scene. So here's a piece in the current issue, now that that the mag is catching it's stride. With four down and another in the hopper, B & B is a proud part of the emerging East 1st arts corridor as a new neighbor on a three block stretch that includes East Side Luv, Liliflor Open Studios, Casa 0101 theaterspace and the soon to be open arts hall where our very own Josefina López will be celebrating the publication of her book with a birthday party. Read the essay in several parts over the next few posts and try to make it by the community fundraiser for An Unfinished Dream, a documentary film in progress on students working their way through college next Thursday on the 19th. We're hosting the event and have invited Darren DeLeon, a Bay area poet and spoken word artist to throw down some palabra.

An excerpt from this month's Brooklyn & Boyle: The Mural is LA - Part I