October 15, 2019
In Give Us Our Flowers: Latinx Artivist Portraits, an exhibition that will open this fall at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Library, I present watercolor portraits of six emerging and established artivists—artist-activists who are responsible for visual culture in contemporary social movements. The title of the exhibition articulates my belief that artivists of color, who work to dismantle structural oppression, should be nourished while alive, not ignored until after their deaths. The livelihoods of these artists are often at risk because their creative work is devalued within our society, especially when they promote social justice and call out the socioeconomic inequality found within what artivist Favianna Rodriguez calls the “art ecosystem.” Although the role and responsibility of this ecosystem—which is made up of sectors such as philanthropy and journalism, art organizations and audiences—is to support artists, Rodriguez points out that many of these sectors do not support artists of color. The ecosystem is predominately white. It caters to the elite, privileges whiteness, and excludes the majority of artists of color from grants and other resources. The phrase “give us our flowers” is a call to action for recognition and support of artists of color.
In my work I utilize an interdisciplinary, multimethod approach that combines the histories of social movements, visual analysis of emerging political artwork, in-depth interviews, and collaboration. For the series being shown at the CSRC, titled Flowers: Latinx Artivist Portraits (2019), I worked with the six artivists to develop portraits that they felt comfortable with. Each portrait features the artivist’s favorite flower or plant. I wanted to incorporate this element not only to honor the activists by offering them flowers in life but also to indicate each artivist’s personal aesthetic. I also interviewed the six artivists extensively, and excerpts are incorporated into the exhibition, where they offer context for the portraits and describe the relationships that the artivists have with one another. Two pairs—Jessica Sabogal and Elizabeth Blancas, and Favianna Rodriguez and Julio Salgado—have a mentor and mentee relationship, and Melanie Cervantes and Jesus Barraza have worked together for over fifteen years as partners in the project “Diginidad Rebelde.” These collaborations, which developed through online and offline interaction, highlight the ways in which our current digital landscape can support working-class artists of color. Constant communication via private messaging on social media fosters partnerships that bridge physical distance, enabling artists of color to develop digital artivist kinship networks that provide a system of support and increase opportunities for exposure, income, and social capital. The use of digital tools to create and distribute political art has changed the format of the art collective.
The exhibition at the CSRC is a visual appendix to my dissertation, “Envisioning a Chicana Radical Aesthetic: Digital Artivism in the Twenty-first Century.” Drawing on over fifteen years of contemporary Chicanx and Latinx art production in the United States, my research provides a Chicana feminist analysis of the visual tactics used by contemporary Chicanx and Latinx digital artivists in California from 2000 through 2015. As a scholar, an educator, and an artivist of political graphics, I argue that the work of Chicanx and Latinx artivists shapes the ways in which we view political work in a contemporary digital moment. The digital realm allows us to witness how art is used to mobilize mass gatherings, advocate for climate change, educate others on the importance of inclusive language, and create international solidarity. The motivation for my work came out of my frustration with the ways in which traditional research is conducted. In addition, I wanted general audiences to engage with my work. The portraits in Give Us Our Flowers will be posted on my website and social media platforms, allowing a larger audience to engage in conversations about the role of artist-activists of color.
Latinx scholars speak to the neglect and underrepresentation of Latinx artists in the contemporary art world, despite decades of participation. Scholars note that major institutions and museums borrow Latinx artwork but fail to integrate it into their collections, a symptom of an “unintegration in art histories of the United States.” Latinx artists who work with twenty-first-century tools and who are frustrated by this neglect use social media and digital technologies as a means of finding a place for their work on the walls of major public art museums and galleries or rejecting invitations to do so. Without an interdisciplinary analysis of Latinx artists as activists and digital participants, we undervalue their impact, which ultimately leads to a one-sided conceptualization of Latinx art in the internet age.
My goal is that those who view the portraits in Give Us Our Flowers will think about the tangible ways in which we support artists whose work contributes to our political consciousness in the United States and abroad. My hope is that the series will encourage us to honor and support artivists in life by sharing their work, crediting them for their art, and paying them fair wages for their labor, so that they can continue to do their work in a sustainable way.
Give Us Our Flowers: Latinx Artivist Portraits will be on view in 144 Haines Hall through the fall quarter during regular library hours. The exhibition will officially open at the CSRC open house on October 17th, where Becerra will further discuss her work.
Angélica Becerra is a queer immigrant artist and femme, a podcast producer, and a scholar of political graphics. She is a PhD candidate in Chicana/o studies at UCLA. Her dissertation, “Envisioning the Chicana Radical Aesthetic: Digital Artivism,” focuses on how contemporary Latinx artist-activists use digital tools to produce and exhibit their work and to build supportive networks. Becerra and Jack Caraves produce the podcast Anzaldúingit, which explores their lives as queer Latinx individuals in academia. Becerra’s art has been featured in Vice and Latina Magazine and has been shown at the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), the ONE Gallery in West Hollywood, and the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.
- The exhibition’s title was inspired by the work of trans artist B. Parker, who incorporated the phrase “Give Us Our Roses While We’re Still Here” into a poster created for the International Trans Day of Remembrance in 2015.
- Chela Sandoval and Guisela Latorre, “Chicana/o Artivism: Judy Baca’s Digital Work with Youth of Color.” In Learning Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media, edited by Anna Everett, 81–108 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008).
- Laura. E. Pérez, Chicana Art: The Politics of Spiritual and Aesthetic Altarities (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007).