Los Angeles Times: Chicanx bodies front & center

Two exhibitions — at VPAM and the Cheech — put Chicanx bodies front and center


Carolina A. Miranda
Jan 2, 2024

The most accessible and reliable material an artist has is their body. A body can be used to stage a self-portrait, a parade or a dance. Bodies can function as canvas or they can support an elaborate costume. Bodies are flexible and dynamic; they elicit desire and revulsion. Race, gender and sexuality imbue them with an array of social and political meanings. Art about bodies is almost as old as the body: Some of the oldest art in the world consists of simple stencils of hands in ancient caves.

For Chicanx artists in the 1970s, working with few resources and little institutional support, the body was an elemental material. For contemporary artists it remains a potent subject. Two exhibitions currently on view in the Southland — “Teddy Sandoval and the Butch Gardens School of Art” at the Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM) in Los Angeles and “Xican-a.o.x. Body” at the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture in Riverside — provide a groundbreaking look at the ways several generations of Chicanx artists (along with a handful of their colleagues in Latin America) have employed the body in their work.

Together, the shows reveal an array of philosophies, identities and formal approaches. Bodies appear as points of historical inquiry; they convey bawdiness too. In the Sandoval retrospective, close inspection of a charming little drawing of palm trees on 8th Place in Long Beach reveals their fruits to be not coconuts, but pert penises. (8th Place was a famed cruising spot.)…

…A gallery featuring works related to resistance is beautifully installed. There, De la Loza’s powerful bodily protest images hang within view of Ken Gonzales-Day‘s elegant photographs of California hang trees. (Sometimes the absence of a body can be just as poignant as its presence.) A sculpture by Narsiso Martinez titled “Magic Harvest,” from 2019, occupies the center of the room. It is crafted from fruit packing boxes, the sort emblazoned with bold logos and appetizing names like “Wonderful Sweet Scarletts Grapefruit.” Martinez arranged these into a tower, adding larger-than-life monochromatic figures of farmworkers in ink and charcoal — figures that appear almost spectral against the bubbly graphic design. Martinez takes bodies often rendered invisible and makes them central to the narrative.

And that is what ultimately makes “Xican-a.o.x. Body” — as well as the Teddy Sandoval show at VPAM — worth seeing. As Chicanxs remain underrepresented in popular culture, their bodies frequently criminalized, these exhibitions offer complexity and nuance. The Chicanx body is many different types of bodies — filled with beauty, resilience, rage and marvelous, burning desire.

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