Folk music from northern Mexico greeted more than 200 guests June 17 during the Chicano Collection/La Coleccion Chicana Exhibition presented by Cheech Marin, actor and CSUN alumni, at the main gallery in the Art Department at CSUN.
“I chose CSUN partially because I am an alumnus and because they have the largest Chicano Studies program,” Marin said. “I want people to recognize the stories told in the pictures and experience the different aspects of Chicano life.”
A major objective of the project is to increase awareness of Chicana/o art and its contributions to American art, Marin said.
The limited-edition reproductions at the exhibit were drawn from Marin’s collection, which he began in the 1980s.
“The technique of these artists is astounding, but no light has been shed upon them,” Marin said. “We live in a media savvy world. It takes a lot of work to get someone’s attention, but I’m in the position to do so.”
Otono Lujan, founder and accordion player of the conjunto-style band, Los Pochos, played at the reception.
Lujan shares a significant bond with one of the artists in the exhibition.
“My father is the famous Chicano artist known as ‘Magu’,” he said.
Lujan’s father, Gilbert “Magu” Lujan, created a painting called “Blue Dog.” The art piece depicts a muscular, blue dog with a mischievous grin.
Gilbert Lujan along with 26 top Chicano artists, including Wayne Alaniz Healy, Margaret Garcia, and David Botello, works were presented in collection by Marin.
Artist Artemio Rodriguez, whose work is part of the exhibition, created black and white linocut-print portraits of each artist that were displayed next to their work.
Louise Lewis, director of the art gallery, said the exhibition demonstrates that international art is American art.
“Look at our student body and the world,” said Lewis, who taught art history for 30 years. “We are an international mix of people.”
For Jorge Garcia, Chicana/o Studies professor at CSUN, the paintings represent a movement that started 40 years ago.
“It reminds me of when I was involved in the Chicano movement at Fresno State in the 60s,” Garcia said. “This is a drive to represent all the dynamics of the culture. It’s something that’s alive and still going strong today.”
The 60s were an even more important time for Chicano artists, Garcia said.
Chicana/o artist Margaret Garcia, who studied at CSUN, said the 60s were an awakening.
“The 60s were great,” Garcia said. “Anti-war protests, hippies, birth control and women’s liberation. We (artists) weren’t as judgmental because we were still learning.”
Greg Truex, assistant dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, said the paintings at the exhibit still resonate with people outside of the Chicana/o movement and culture.
“We all relate to it,” Truex said. “We see ourselves in it.”
As guests made their way through the exhibition, the substance of the artwork appealed to observers in several different ways.
Several observers discussed the “Hombre que le Gustan las Mujeres (The Man Who Loves Women)” painting by Cesar Martinez. The painting is of a strong man with tattoos of a prostitute and a girlfriend on his forearms. A larger image of the Virgin of Guadalupe is tattooed on his chest.
“We can see who he has on his arms,” Lewis said. “It’s the Virgin of Guadalupe who seems to dominate. Look at her facial expression and the way she’s looking down at the prostitute.”
Yreina Cervantez, artist and Chicana/o Studies professor, offered another viewpoint.
“It can be seen from the Chicana feminist perspective,” Cervantez said. “It’s like the mother-whore complex. Women are seen in these traditional, rigid roles where they have to choose to be one or the other, but not both.”
“Janine at 39, Mother of Twins” by Margaret Garcia was also a topic of conversation for many guests.
“‘Janine’ is actually Janine Watkins who works at ( the Watts Labor Community Action Committee),” Garcia said. “She came to me when she was 39 and she looked stunning. She was having twins and she said, ‘I want a painting of me at this age.'”
The painting depicts a sensually posed full-figured, expectant mother with skin the color of ripe mangoes.
“Janine is actually a blend of many things,” Garcia said. “She looks Latina in the painting. Maybe that’s me infusing that in her.”
Exhibit observers expressed similar sentiments.
“She’s a beautiful woman,” Lewis said of the painting. “The ultimate incarnation of a woman who’s independent and enjoys her sexuality.”
Discussion is an element Garcia enjoys most about having her work shown in a gallery.
“My favorite part is the camaraderie,” she said. “It’s about connecting and understanding different perspectives and appreciating them. It motivates you.”
Competition also plays an important role, Garcia said.
“You want to make sure you’re not shown up,” she said. “You compete with yourself and the (artists) that you respect. I always feel like my next painting is going to be better.”
Although the CSUN Art Galleries have held numerous international exhibits, Lewis said she would like to see more work by female artists.
“Women are now a strong presence in the art world and that aspect of art is marginalized,” said Lewis, part-time graphic design lecturer.
Garcia expressed similar sentiments.
“We’re a minority within a minority,” said Garcia, the only female Chicana artist at the exhibit. “Men don’t support women, but then women don’t support women. A lot of women don’t support each other in this business.”
Whether or not a person is familiar with Chicano culture, Lewis said, the art at “The Chicano Collection” could leave individuals with a lasting impression.
“The exhibition is a lively, intense, dramatic interpretation of art,” Lewis said.