Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Enrique Chagoya at Electric Works

Born in Mexico City and raised in California, Enrique Chagoya can claim, with accuracy to be a product of both cultures. He attended the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico. There he worked on several rural development projects, which formed his interest in political and social activism. Later he immigrated to the United States and attended the San Francisco Art Institute, earned his MA and MFA at UC Berkeley and is now a professor at Stanford.

His most successful work is his postmodernist take on the Mesoamerican codex. His narrative drawings, in a horizontal, scroll-like, format are sometimes done on paper that recreates Native American bark paper. He combines images from Ancient Mesoamerica, Central American folk art, surrealism and American pop culture including cartoons and comic books to celebrate Mexican folk ways while criticizing contemporary American culture. George Bush and minions are fair game; Western imperialism is eviscerated. In this, his work reminds me of another artist, Matsuma Teroka, who combined traditional Japanese woodblock prints with diverse images from contemporary American culture to create work that also makes a critical commentary on certain aspects of 20th century life. In Teroka's work, McDonald's meets Hirosage and you will never look at either the same again. Chagoya's graphic drawings are cruder than Teroka's but just as effective.
Chagoya portrays the collusion between European and Native peoples in a complex, multi-layered, non-linear format. He criticizes the culture of contemporary America in the most caustic and derogatory way but is most successful when he lets go and lets the images speak for themselves, rather than forcing them into rigidly political statements. He is ambivalent about American culture while using its diversity in provocative and humorous ways. Given the rich tradition of Mexican political posters that his work evokes, it's a shame that he doesn't turn an equally critical eye on the corrupt governments of South and Central America and their harsh and brutal treatment of their own people.

The pieces at Electric Works are somewhat different in focus and scale. For this show, they commissioned eight fully functional slot machines, the latest release in their large-scale multiple series.

The theme of this work is 2012, the end-year of the ancient Mayan 5125 year calendar,
a time of great portent. Replete with his unique imagery, subjects in the machine's graphics include materialism's discontent, environmental catastrophe and, possibly, the end of the world as we know it.

Electric Works: 130 8th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
Open: Monday-Friday 11 AM – 6 PM, Saturday 11 AM – 5 PM
Opening night photos up at SF Mike’s blog:
Profile on Spark: http://www.kqed.org/arts/programs/spark/profile.jsp?essid=4375

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