Change Makers

The power, lasting impact of activist Chicano artists

Many of the Chicano graphic artists featured in ¡Printing the Revolution! The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now, a new exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, honed their craft during potent moments of social change in America. Starting in the 1960s, Chicano artists produced prints fueled by movements for civil rights, feminism, LGBTQ+ rights and more. Their work combines the personal and political—melding complex explorations of identity with political activism.

Chicano Art
LEFT: Malaquias Montoya, Yo Soy Chicano, 1972
(reprinted in collaboration with Dignidad Rebelde, 2013).
Gift of Gilberto Cárdenas and Dolores García © 1972, Malaquias Montoya (2019.51.1)
RIGHT: Rupert García, Frida Kahlo (September), ​​​​​from Galería de la Raza 1975 Calendario, 1975.
Gift of the Margaret Terrazas Santos Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum
© 1975, Rupert García (2019.52.19) 

The exhibition places prints made during the civil rights movement alongside contemporary works by Chicano artists, and explores a legacy of activism and innovation. For decades, Chicano artists reinvented and improvised upon the form, integrating portraiture, satire and pop art techniques in their prints. Their work then and now has reshaped the legacy of printmaking in the United States—and gives a human face to issues such as workers’ rights, immigration and criminal justice.

Although the museum is closed temporarily due to the pandemic, you can explore many of the 119 prints, including portraits of iconic figures such as artist José Guadalupe Posada and activist Dolores Huerta, online. In addition, stories, videos and digital programs—including a five-part conversation with Latinx artists, scholars and activists—illuminate key themes, including cross-generational mentorship and broadening understanding of the history of, and key contributors, to the graphic arts.

“For Chicanos in the 1960s and 1970s, printmaking was an affordable, culturally resonant and generative vehicle that allowed artists to address a public, especially a Chicano public, that was coming into awareness of itself.” 

chicano art 2
Yreina D. Cervántez, Mujer de Mucha Enagua, PA’ TI XICANA, 1999.
Museum purchase through the Samuel and Blanche Koffler Acquisition Fund,
Smithsonian American Art Museum © 1999, Yreina D. Cervántez (2020.40.1)

At the Smithsonian American Art Museum, curator E. Carmen Ramos has built a robust collection of work by Latinx artists and mounted exhibitions that highlight Latinx contributions to American art across generations and mediums. Drawn entirely from the museum’s permanent collection, the show includes work collected by Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, Gilberto Cárdenas and Dolores García, Ricardo and Harriett Romo, and the estate of Margaret Terrazas Santos, all of whom began collecting after participating in the civil rights movement.

This is the first major exhibition dedicated to Chicano printmaking and its influence on American art.

chicano art 3
LEFT: Xavier Viramontes, Boycott Grapes, Support the United Farm Workers Union, 1973.
Gift of Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, Smithsonian American Art Museum
© 1973, Xavier Viramontes ​​​​(1995.50.58)
Gift of the Margaret Terrazas Santos Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum
© 1971, Rupert García (2019.52.2)

¡Printing the Revolution! The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now, is made possible with the generous support of Michael Abrams and Sandra Stewart, the Honorable Aida Alvarez, Joanne and Richard Brodie Exhibitions Endowment, James F. Dicke Family Endowment, Sheila Duignan and Mike Wilkins, Ford Foundation, Dorothy Tapper Goldman, HP, William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment Fund, Robert and Arlene Kogod Family Foundation, Lannan Foundation, and Henry R. Muñoz, III and Kyle Ferari-Muñoz. Additional significant support was provided by the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center. | Runs through Aug. 8, 2021

Published April 2021 in IMPACT Vol. 7 No. 2

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