CSRC Archival Treasures: Findings On Chicana/o/x Murals

La Dualidad copy
La Dualidad © Guillermo “Yermo” Aranda and Los Toltecas en Aztlán. Located inside El Centro Cultural de la Raza. 1970 – 1984.

Gabriela Rodriguez-Gomez
January 31, 2020

The UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center (CSRC) is a learning environment where students, scholars, and researchers from all over the world will find important information regarding the Chicana/o/x and Latina/o/x experience in California and the greater U.S. This past academic year represented the end of my third year as a doctoral student in the Chicano/a studies program at UCLA and the completion of my master’s thesis, “Chican@ Time Warp: The Enduring Legacies of Chicano Muralism Displayed in Guillermo “Yermo” Aranda’s and Los Toltecas en Aztlán’s Mural La Dualidad (The Duality). The mural is located in San Diego, California, inside El Centro Cultural de la Raza. My thesis is the first comprehensive study of La Dualidad (The Duality) that analyzes the use of Mexican and Amerindian iconography, and how that iconography has changed throughout the project’s fifteen-year span. With support from UCLA Graduate Division and the Institute of American Cultures, I was able to conduct fieldwork and examine archival materials. At UCLA, the CSRC’s special collections proved critical to advancing my research on Chicana/o/x murals of the late 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s in California.

The two CSRC special collections that became significant resources for my thesis research were the Nancy Tovar Murals of East L.A. Collection and the CARA Records, Parts I and II (also known as CARA Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation Exhibition Records). The Tovar Collection offers an extensive documentation of public murals, many of which no longer exist, in a slide format that were scanned and digitized at the CSRC (the collection is now available online through the UCLA Digital Library Program). Meanwhile, the CARA Records contained copies of photographs showing rare viewpoints of each mural. Together, these images served as primary source material for my visual analysis.

In February 2019, I had the privilege of presenting my thesis research to an audience of art historians, curators, artists, and other members of the College Art Association (CAA) at its annual conference. The paper that I presented discussed the significant information I found in CSRC holdings that contributed to my visual analysis. In addition to using the CSRC’s digitally archived images for my own work, I emphasized the value of these resources and how services that share rare content online ultimately connect the community with the university. I also participated in a panel discussion organized by Dr. Constance Cortez, titled “Decolonizing the Web: Challenging the Limitations of Internet and Art Portal Discoverability,” with fellow panelists Dr. Karen Mary Davalos and Ms. Karen Li-Lun Hwang. My presentation focused on online databases dedicated to Chicana/o/x murals in California dating from the early 1970s to the 2000s.

Image 1
College Art Association (CAA) 2019 Conference presentation title slide: “On Public Online Access to Visual Databases: Focusing on Chicana/o Murals of California.” PowerPoint screenshot. 2019. Copyright Gabriela Rodriguez-Gomez.

In my presentation, I discussed how the Tovar Collection provided examples of Chicana/o themed murals in East Los Angeles that were similar to the mural La Dualidad (The Duality) in San Diego. I described how once I found comparable murals to conduct my analysis, I organized the images using a checklist to identify and critique the symbols and styles depicting the mural’s theme. La Dualidad (The Duality) is based on an ancient Mexican concept that stems from Aztec (Mexica) mythology of two gods, Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, shown in the act of a cosmic battle to create the balance of elements and the four cardinal directions. These Aztec gods are commonly depicted as a jaguar (Tezcatlipoca) and the feathered serpent (Quetzalcoatl); therefore, finding images of murals with similar iconography allowed me to contextualize the significance of this theme or subject in Chicana/o and Mexican history.

Image 2

Tezcatlipoca and Quetzacoatl
David Botello, Juan González, and Robert Arenivar. Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca. Screenshot of webpage. 2019. The Nancy Tovar Murals of East L.A. Collection. UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center (CSRC). http://digital2.library.ucla.edu/viewItem.do?ark=21198/zz0025kszc

In this regard, the mural titled Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca, completed in 1975 in East Los Angeles by David Botello, Juan González, and Robert Arenivar, was an important find. I compare this type of discovery to that of searching for gold; it takes a lot of patience and detective work but the rewards are great. In fact, this mural by Botello, González, and Arenivar no longer exists. This speaks not only to the ephemeral quality of public murals but highlights how essential the Tovar Collection is for future researchers of Chicana/o/x muralism.

Included in my presentation were snapshots of the digital holdings and their metadata, which gives additional substance to the images. For example, metadata indicated the cross streets where Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca had been located. In addition, the names of each of the artists were linked to other images of murals in the collection produced by that artist. By being guided to other examples, I was able to pinpoint and analyze the style and technique of each artist. Finally, each image in the collection is a reproducible digital copy of an original photograph and slide. Such access is invaluable to research and illustrating one’s findings in publications. Thanks to the CSRC, this remarkable resource is available to the public.

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Gabriela Rodriguez-Gomez conducting research on Chicana/o/x art at the CSRC. July 2019. Copyright Gabriela Rodriguez-Gomez.

In addition to the Tovar Collection, my research drew upon the CSRC’s collection of slides in the CARA Records, which chronicles the exhibition Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation exhibition that toured the U.S. from 1990 to 1993. The exhibition included Chicana/o/x themed murals from the late 1960s to the 1990s and made an important contribution to the fields of art history and Chicana/o studies. The CSRC’s archive of the CARA exhibition includes literature such as the exhibition catalogue, correspondence letters between the exhibition curators and artists, early planning materials, and other information about Chicana/o art. A film that accompanied the exhibition, Through Walls, was noted as featuring several murals from the Chicano mural movement and a glimpse of the original concept drawing and a detailed view of the left wall of La Dualidad (The Duality). I then found the presentation slides, which revealed specific details and changes to the mural, from its first design to the final version on view inside El Centro Cultural de la Raza in San Diego.

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University of California Regent John Pérez visits CSRC on May 8, 2019. Digital photograph. 2019. Todd Cheney, photographer. CSRC Instagram @ucla_csrc

Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss with University of California Regent John Pérez the value of research centers such as the CSRC. I advocated for continuous UC support of these resources for graduate and undergraduate students — but most importantly, that such centers and archives remain accessible to the public. Other colleagues and I agreed there is a great need for scholarships and fellowships at research centers like the CSRC, and these sources of knowledge and information that must remain available to scholars, students, public school teachers, and the community at large. In the image above, I stand next to Regent Pérez and fellow graduate students and alumni who are invested in Chicana/o/x studies research and pedagogy and hold genuine appreciation for spaces of learning like the CSRC.

Gabriela Rodriguez-Gomez is a Chicana artist and scholar born and raised in Watsonville, California. Currently, she is pursuing a PhD at UCLA in Chicana/o studies. Her research focus involves contemporary murals and social art utilizing an interdisciplinary approach to art practice and theory. Her artwork and scholarship draws influence from her Mexican heritage and culture with a Chicana feminist perspective about identity and spirituality.