On April 27, the Hood Museum of Art hosted a panel discussion on the exhibition “¡Printing the Revolution! The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now.” The panel was moderated by professor Mary Coffey and featured artists Scherezade García and Sonia Romero as well as co-curator of the exhibition Claudia Zapata.
The exhibition, which explores the history of printmaking in Chicano art and its significance as an emblem of political activism throughout history, is currently on display at the Hood. “¡Printing the Revolution!” was originally on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum between 2020 and 2021. The exhibition is currently on a national tour, and it was brought to the College by The Orozco Fund.
The exhibition showcases the influential prints and posters created by Chicanx artists during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. It also highlights the importance of Chicanx art and activism within the larger context of American history — spanning issues including police brutality, immigrant rights and racial discrimination. In an interview, art history professor Mary Coffey emphasized the diversity included in the exhibition.
“While we call it Chicanx print movement or Chicanx print culture, one of the things the show helps people understand is that although Chicano is a political identity which we tend to associate with Mexican-Americans — which is certainly true — the print communities that were arriving around and through the civil rights initiatives… were always multinational and multiethnic,” Coffey said.
The panel hosted two artists featured in the exhibition, Scherezade García and Sonia Romero.
The exhibition showcases García’s print, “Day Dreaming / Soñando Despierta,” which includes a face resting horizontally at the bottom of the piece below a map of New York City. During the panel, García discussed how the print — like many of her works — conveys a complicated sense of belonging to many cultures. García plays with contrasting symbols to represent the duality of her identity, being from the Dominican Republic but living in New York. She specifically noted the “banana-shaped planes” as one of these symbols – the banana shape representing her Dominican heritage and the planes representing New York City.
During the panel, García also talked about how much of her work is embedded with history and attempts to portray cultural pluralism. Her artwork usually has many layers and incorporates different techniques. García said she often uses a “cinnamon color” in her art, created by mixing all the colors on a pallet, which again conveys the motif of “multiplicity in identities.”
Romero walked the audience through the development and inspiration behind her print, “Bee Pile,” which she created using a block printing technique on hand-sewn felt. Romero began employing the motif of “piles” in her artwork after seeing a 1990s fertilizer company photo that featured a looming pile of bison skulls. The brutal massacre of American Bison by industrial growth destroyed an important resource for Native Americans. Romero said she was reminded of this image when considering the disappearance of commercial bee colonies and the profound impact this has had on national agriculture. Thus, Romero was inspired to use the pile image to depict the deterioration of bee populations as a result of harmful pesticides.
At the panel, Romero also talked about her experience as a public artist, creating “location-based” artwork usually commissioned by government agencies. Her work is displayed throughout Los Angeles, California, including a mural in Mariachi Plaza, a Serape in El Sereno and neighborhood identification markers in Little Tokyo.
Dartmouth student Will Perez ’24 highlighted the value of the panel discussion in providing insight into the personal lives, artistic journeys and specific pieces of the artists.
“[The panel] provided a lot of context for some of the pieces that a gallery description alone cannot give,” Perez said. “It also gave a way to connect with the artists. For example, I’m also from Northeast Los Angeles and have roots in Northeast L.A., and being able to talk to Sonia, who works in the same areas, was amazing because we connected on a much deeper level.”
Speakers at the panel also discussed the process of curating the exhibition. In an interview, co-curator Zapata said that curating the exhibit at the Smithsonian during the height of COVID-19 was a challenge. Curators were required to shift toward creating virtual content to promote the exhibit’s outreach.
“Public programming was largely online due to COVID, as well as panels with scholars and artists,” Zapata said. “We also did promotional videos with the education department [at the Smithsonian] such as closer looks at individual artworks and artists. Finally, we also did a 3-D tour using software to create a virtual walk through the spaces.”
Despite the difficulties posed by the pandemic, “¡Printing the Revolution!” has had visible impact, particularly here at Dartmouth where it has made its way into coursework, including an art history and Latin American, Latino and Caribbean studies course offered by Coffey this term. Coffey said that her involvement with “¡Printing the Revolution!” has provided a unique opportunity to showcase an exhibition in a classroom setting.
“The thing that is particularly different about this exhibition is that I was involved from the start in the petition to take the show and schedule it,” Coffey said. “I was able to set up my teaching so that my teaching would coincide with the run of the exhibition.”
Due to the success of “¡Printing the Revolution!” Zapata emphasized her desire for a “part-two” of the exhibition in her interview.
“There are so many works that artists, social justice artists or activist artists have done during major moments that happened in 2020 and in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement,” Zapata said. “There is just a whole new body of work that has come out as a result that needs to be included, especially if you are thinking of a show related to political graphics. It’s just a chapter that cannot be overlooked or excluded at this point.”
“¡Printing the Revolution!” will be open at the Hood Museum until June 17, 2023.