Eric Almanza: “Lo que no se puede ver”
(We Cannot be Seen)
I stumbled upon Eric Almanza while doing research on Mexican art during the Trump era. I thought this would be an appropriate topic to examine following the politics of Mexicans in America during the time of the Chicano Art Movement. Unfortunately, not much has changed for Mexicans in America since then. The president has made several blanket statements perpetuating negative stereotypes about Mexican Americans. America has a new view of Mexican immigrants as being criminals and rapists. Talk about the wall has done nothing but further isolate the Mexican culture from the rest of America. It is a common theme in Mexican American culture to not know where they belong; if they’re not safe on either side of the wall, then where do they stand as Americans? Contemporary Mexican art has been greatly influenced by the politics since the last election.
Fifty years after the Chicano Art movement, contemporary Mexican art is following the same trends. Eric Almanza is a typical middle class American, he works as an art teacher at the Harts Academy in Los Angeles. Like many other Mexican artists, he feels as though it is his responsibility to advocate and give a voice to the people who have not yet been seen. His art has been featured in exhibits such as “E Plurabis Unum: Out of Many, One” held at the Studios on the Park in Paso Robles, and “Art as a Resistance: Paintings in Protest of a Trump Presidency” held at the Avenue 50 Studio in L.A. He curated that exhibit himself and included a number of other Mexican Artists. Including other artists in his exhibits is another form of activism and advocating because he is using his platform as a recognized artist to show other important political art to the people of the art world.
Judith Baca, an art critic writing for the L.A times states in an article that “Almanza’s work marks a welcome return to the political roots of Chicano art after decades of trying to win recognition from art critics and museums.” Almanza states on his personal website that “Chicano art is about resistance and affirmation of a culture.” These statements are true to Mexican art throughout history and today. Almanza uses his painting as a political tool by illustrating the lives of his friends and family and shedding light on what it is like to be a Mexican in America. One of his collections that stood out to me is titled “Lo que no se puede ver” which translates to “we cannot be seen.” The title itself makes a statement about the lack of empathy towards minority groups. Constantly, people of color are labeled as “less than” white Americans. Almanza’s collection features ten portraits of his personal friends and family. The portraits are hung up side by side, each at the actual height of the person portrayed in the painting. The collection on the wall is meant to look like a police line up. Almanza does this to shed light on the stereotypes about Mexicans; they are criminals, they don’t belong in this country. When in reality, what Almanza is trying to communicate through his art is that they are people. They are family, friends, brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents, and they are demanding to be seen.
Mexican American art has come a long way in the past fifty years, but I believe it still has a long way to go. Going from being excluded from museums and not being taken seriously by critics, to now, having Mexican artists curating their own exhibits and finally being recognized by critics is a big step forward. However, most of this action is going on just in L.A. I believe this era of contemporary Mexican American art is a beginning for this style of political art. This type of art is currently most prominent in Mexican American communities, especially in California. Mexican American art is currently site specific to where Mexican communities are in America, they are the only ones who can truly understand and relate to the politics being communicated through this art. However, art is only a political agent when it is being seen by people other than the minority groups it pertains to. This is what I meant when I said that contemporary Mexican art still has a long way to go. Chicano art is still being excluded from contemporary art canons because it has yet to gain recognition from the art community outside of the west (coast). Artists like Eric Almanza are using their political art to bridge that gap between “us” and “them” and hopefully spread their messages across the nation and make the same civil rights impacts as Chicano artists in the 70’s. Contemporary Mexican art has essentially picked up where Chicano artists during the first civil rights movement have left off, and hopefully they will be able to make more significant progress.