Chagoya Thesis Antithesis

But when I went there, back in the seventies, it was, perhaps the best school I could go to study. There were a lot of political refugees from Latin America teaching at the university, a lot of intellectuals who fled from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Central Americans, as well as Spanish refugees, some of them were already old, but from the Spanish Civil War, and a lot of really good Mexican intellectuals, as well. He was not sure he did the right thing, and he just could not sleep. EC: Either that or he had a big ego, he could not make mistakes. We had a small period of time exploring Texas, as well, in 1977. When I came here, in Berkeley especially, I met a lot of musicians. EC: We were trying to see if we could work because we were working with peasants in Vera Cruz. So I went back to Mexico and applied for a permanent residency. Unfortunately, the university’s quality of education is going down, as far as I know, just hearing from students who have quit that school. Because my sense is that the existence of that institution and you studying social anthropology must have been formative. So I switched careers in a year, basically; I was studying political economy at the National Autonomous University. And it’s funny to read that Lenin could not sleep when he was thinking that he did something totally wrong. Then she came here by herself first in ’78, and then I joined her in ’79. And that area of the border in Texas is so conservative, so segregated, that it was a place I never lived before. So the contrast between Texas and Berkeley was enormous. I did some posters in support of the literacy campaign of Nicaragua, things like that. S., you were still doing those kinds of jobs, or was this something you did earlier in Mexico, the poster? See, one thing I didn’t mention, in Mexico, when I was a student of economics, I was also doing a lot of cartooning for newspapers. EC: I was doing a lot of cartooning for union newspapers and for student newspapers, as well, on and off designing posters. EC: I was also a tourist and I didn’t like being as a tourist in a different country, and getting all of the politics.Done on amate paper, as in pre-Columbian times, and in a way similar to the ancient text of which so many were burned by the invaders, they deal with ancient, past and current history. They are filled with paradox and are convoluted as well as playful at times and are charged with political and visual information.

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Taking his cue from Hegel, Chagoya named it Thesis/Antithesis (1989).

In his Artist’s Statement, he writes that his art is “a product of collisions between historical visions, ancient and modern, marginal and dominant paradigms—a thesis and antithesis—in mind of the viewer.

And you are currently on the faculty at Stanford University. I was in a different high school in the south of the city, in Coapa, which was less political and… ” And we were ready to confront these people, with their bamboo sticks. I began to read a lot of Marx, a lot of Mao Tse-tung, a lot of Che Guevara. You said they weren’t particularly political or ideological. PK: You mean there was no sort of major or program in art? And even people who were very supportive of Fidel in Mexico, people like Eduardo del Rio Ruis, who is a very famous cartoonist in Mexico, he did a lot of books, like Cuba for Beginners, Che for Beginners, things like that, he recently did a book about Cuba, and criticizing Fidel heavily, so even the left in Mexico has been critical of Fidel. Any revolution that needs a leader for more than a few years is doomed, because when that leader is gone, so is the revolution, basically. Within a month or six weeks, you could teach somebody how to read and write. The rest of the population had a big rate of coming back. I was involved before with the Galería by helping first as a volunteer.

He became a fire fighter, and then eventually, he got a very interesting job in the Central Bank working as an internal intelligence for the bank. I began to do all kinds of drawings, cartoons with my friends and my teachers. PK: Sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt, but it sounds very much like the late thirties, but especially with the advent of Nazism, with the terrific influx into the U. I think it might have been opened in the early sixties. PK: This is really interesting, because you’re self-describing a part of the student movement of those days that was very powerful, very potent, and there was a big attraction — at least in France — to Chairman Mao, which I have to admit, I thought was a bit wrong-headed, and now almost everybody agrees with that. EC: She wanted to stay in Mexico and live in Mexico, but she didn’t have papers, so I married her. But she was scared of living in Mexico after that, so she wanted to move back to the States. And we didn’t like it, so I went back to Mexico City, and then she went to Berkeley, and I joined her. My ex-wife was friends with jazz musicians and painters here, so I just loved it. Not that there’re some good artists in Texas, too, in other places than the border, but the border was just really bad at the time. We were trying to see if we could work, maybe, with a union in Texas, but the union was not doing anything with the peasants. It still took a year before I was able to get all the papers, to get all the permits.

Here the border clash looms large in a nearly seven-foot square charcoal and pastel on paper: Mickey Mouse’s gigantic thrusting hand, with “English only” written on its middle finger, is poised to flick an innocent little Latina out of the picture, out of the country.

The girl with a bleeding heart evokes the image of the virgin of Guadalupe.Among the earliest works in the compelling exhibition are a series of 20 intaglio prints, grisly nightmares, locating Goya’s Los Caprichos and Disasters of War in the present.In Against the Common Good (1983), for instance, we see a smirking President Reagan as King Ferdinand VII in Goya’s print.Often the result is a nonlinear narrative with many possible interpretations.” ENRIQUE CHAGOYA: BORDERLANDIA Through May 18 at the Berkeley Art Museum, 2621 Durant Ave. Size: Transcript: 95 pages Format: Originally recorded on 7 sound cassettes. The interview takes place at Chagoya's home in South San Francisco (sessions 1,2) and at Karlstrom's San Francisco office (session 3). PK: At any rate, I guess one could say, very well established here in the community. And he gave me my first lessons in drawing and painting when I was about seven years old. I ended up studying political economy for four years. EC: In the Universidad Nacional Autonòma de Mexico, or the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She saw a police shooting an eleven year old kid, and she was very upset. This was before the massacre of October 2nd, which was the end of the movement. How you would describe your position, in terms of ideology and the world events. I mean, we criticized the Communist Party as being infallible, making mistakes because everything the Communist Party did was wrong from the beginning. The school was great, because a lot of refugees that have dealt with many problems with all the Communist Parties in Latin America, or with just bureaucracies, even with the left, had a very critical perspective. EC: Tenochtitlan is about fifty miles to the east of Mexico City. They tortured her for about a year until she got appendicitis and ended up in the emergency room of a hospital in Mexico City. EC: Yes, we were exploring what place would be interesting for us. I never finished my thesis, unfortunately, and because of that I didn’t get my degree in economics. And that’s when a lot of things were happening in Nicaragua and in Central America, so there were a lot of activists in Berkeley. That’s when I decided to take chances of becoming an artist. She didn’t think I would be able to do something like that. That was the beginning of the conflict I had with her. I began to check art schools in the Bay Area and then I was able to go to the San Francisco Art Institute. The minute I got into the Art Institute, I don’t know how to describe it, but I felt I was able to express my ideas without being afraid of being killed, for the first time.Chagoya, in his paintings, codices and prints, fuses the depravities of the past with those of the present and does much more.In 1979, after having studied political economics at the University of Mexico, he moved to Berkeley and studied art at UC.I just want to say that I’m looking forward to this, because I’ve admired your work. But the demonstrations were forbidden by the government since 1968. And in ’71, we don’t know, but somewhere between 70 and a hundred people were killed. There was a point when we got confronted by paramilitary groups that had bamboo sticks with knives at the end of the bamboo. I remember behind me, there was a group of kids from a high school in Coyoacàn. PK: You mean they allied themselves with the state, with the government. EC: No, they pretended to be students, but they looked like, to us, twice as our age. That was happening in all the high schools, not only ours, even in Coyoacàn. Somehow we got some social consciousness at a very early age. I mean, there were some points when you want to believe that there is a new future for the world, where everybody’s going to be equal; that the revolution’s around the corner and you are very idealistic about it. The dogmatisms of some of the leftist groups are in the hopes that that will be changed in the future. EC: No, but then we learned that when the means are inhuman, it means the ends somehow are also, inhuman. We don’t need to carry, on too long, but you must’ve been very interested in Castro and what was going on in Cuba. But that was the beginning of a very complex relationship with a place like Cuba. And I think, it is not different than most bureaucracies all over the world. I lived in France, in Paris, for eight months, and the bureaucracy there was horrible even as bad as Cuba. But Aztec King Nezahualcoyotl created the biggest library in the continent. But he was also against the sacrifices, the human sacrifice. And he created his own version of what God is like. That was one of the illustrations I did for one of the books. It’s a Brazilian pedagogist, Paolo Freire, F-R-E-I-R-E. I did one of Ronald Reagan as Mickey Mouse and it changed my artwork forever. EC: Before in Mexico, when I was doing art I had a friend who was an artist, who I met in one of these art workshops I was taking for no credit. There were gardening, computer programming, all kinds of things.Just to give some context to this — it seems to me, over recent years you’ve been getting more and more prominence, with many exhibitions. This was the very first demonstration and it was forbidden, but we did it anyway. They were the children of the intellectuals of Coyoacàn. And sometimes they smuggled drugs into the school, or they will actually clean your money; when you enter the school, there will be a little bunch of them, and they will go through your pockets. So anyway, the kids from Coyoacàn were behind us in this demonstration, and they were all screaming, “Don’t run, don’t run! And we were reading everything that was forbidden, maybe. And as I said, my mom, the only thing she was afraid of was of me being killed. Then all of my friends went to study social sciences. I was taking some woodcut workshops that were given for no credit by the university, as well. But the thing about Cuba was that it was a hope for Latin America that collapsed. We were using the methodology of Paolo Freire, who was a Brazilian pedagogist, whose theories of literacy were used in Cuba first, and then they were used in places like Mexico, and then later were used in Nicaragua for the really quick teaching of reading and writing. So I had to illustrate about twenty words with images. Some of these people who took those classes never went back to prison.These prints were first exhibited in a show at the San Francisco Art Institue in a show, “Artists Call Against U. Reagan, sporting the Mouse’s ears, paints the message “Ruskies and Cubans out of Central America” on the wall, while Dr.Henry Kissinger, the smaller Mouse, graffities “By the Way Keep Art out of politics.” The exhibition is subtitled “Borderlandia,” and the logo of the show is the painting When Paradise Arrived (1989).


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