Xicanx: merging social movements’ history and political artivism with dreams and trailblazing

Merging social movements’ history and political artivism begins with dreams and the willingness to change. For the first time in Canada, 33 Xicanx artists are being showcased at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology (MOA).

“I believe where art does its activist work is by insisting that we stop, look, and reflect about what we see; ask what we think the artists’ intentions are; and ask ourselves questions about the relationship between art and the ideas it leads us to consider,” says Jill Baird, curator of education at MOA.

Jointly curated by Baird and by Greta de León, MOA’s upcoming show celebrates artivism and the fight for social justice with Xicanx: Dreamers + Changemakers / Soñadores + creadores del cambio and runs May 12, 2022– Jan. 2023.

Provocative response

Visitors can expect provocative and visually interesting creative manifestations, says Baird, that address the rich traditions of Xicanx artists. Xicanx practices draw on their Mexican-American heritage and generations of activism that began as part of the Chicano civil rights movement El Movimiento.

Tres Marias (detail) by Judith F. Baca.| Photo courtesy of Judith F. Baca

“Each work will insight different responses – some may be puzzling, some may be emotional, some may align with our own worldviews or challenge our perceptions,” she says.

Art has always been part of activist and revolutionary movements, points out Baird, and is braided together to allow a deeper connection between creative and political expressions.

“Although it is unfair to highlight only one piece, when as curators we have selected over 40 works, I think Salon de los illegals by Carlos Fresquez is a provocative example: using ready-mades, found paintings from thrift shops, with painted silhouettes on them of a fleeing family. Hung salon style, in front of an outline of the United States, I think pictorially hits the mark of a contemporary political issue from the perspective of a Chicano artist,” she says.

To Baird, rather than trying to give a history lesson, this exhibition’s main objective is to hold the microphone, allowing the selected artists to have their perspectives and vision highlighted. In the curator’s vision, the show was thought to actually spark dialogue and debate: about the works exhibited and about the political issues they address.

Vibrant and unapologetic: multiple artistic voices as a fiery place in Xicanx culture

“Trying to present the evolution of a political-social-art movement since the 60s was a very enjoyable challenge,” says de León, the executive director of The Americas Research Network and co-curator of the exhibition.

Xicanx artists are quite different now than in the 1960s and 1970s, says de León, allowing other voices (more women, more queer) to emerge and enrich the social and political discussions of the Chicano civil rights movement. However, she adds, the fight for equality, rights and recognitions are still current and alive.

Muneefist Destiny by Alfred Quiroz.| Photo courtesy of Aldred Quiroz

“I think the video performance, a component of the altar installation by David Zamora Casas will engage and confront the audience because his poetry is fantastic. And the glossary he put together, and his characterizations will present and confront the audience to a profound glimpse of a Xicanx-queer realty,” she says.

There are a few essentials viewers need to know about the Chicano civil rights movement, says de León, before coming to the gallery.

“Three main points. First, the Chicano movement is often overlooked as a key component of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. [It] was and still is absolutely essential in creating labor-agricultural-educational-voting rights. It needs recognition and validation,” she says.

Xicanx culture has many artistic manifestations, says de León, including the Xicanx Digital (the digital catalog to be released by MOA) showcasing music, film, literature and cuisine as cultural manifestations.

When coming to the exhibit, de León reminds viewers Xicanx artists are incredibly diverse – and not a stagnate monolithic social movement, but rather a vibrant, unapologetic and bicultural/bilingual movement.

“Mexican-Americans are about 40 million people (more than 10 per cent of the population in the U.S.) and a large percentage is reclaiming the Xicanx identity,” says de León. “It is safe to say that Xicanx art and culture is here to stay.”

For more information please visit: www.moa.ubc.ca