Emigdio Vasquez’s work can be found all over Orange County – in the cities of Orange, Fullerton, Santa Ana, and Anaheim. He is responsible for over 30 public murals and has been referred to as “The Godfather of Chicano Art” – though most people have never heard his name and have never seen his work. From the 1970’s Chicano Civil Rights Movement to the time of his death ,Vasquez drew inspiration from his heritage – the Cypress Street Barrio in Orange, and most of all his respect for the working class. His works invoke the same feeling of “the Three Big Ones,” Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. His murals follow similar patterns that combine marxist ideology, a call for the rights of the working class, and aztec iconography. His work created historical timelines designed to teach, inspire, but most of all immortalize the contributions of Chicanos in a city historically hostile toward them.
Vasquez’s mural “El Proletariado de Aztlán” was recently acquired and restored by Chapman University and served as the inspiration for the exhibit “My Barrio” (referring to the Cypress Street Barrio). It features some of his lesser seen studio work as well as the work of contemporary artists: Ken Gonzales-Day Cynthia Herrera, Dulce Soledad Ibarra, Patrick Martinez, Shisu Saldamando, Alejandro Sanchez, and Ana Serrano.
The exhibit itself recreates the feel of the Orange neighborhood as it was – the walls are adorned with paintings, photos, and faces of individuals barely recognized by society let alone seen in art galleries. The everyday scenes feature people standing on corners, posing in the park, drinking with friends, dancing, roller skating, and working. It beautifully depicts the private moments people share in public places and illustrates how those spaces become the heart and soul of the barrio because of the way people interact with them.
There are also small detailed cardboard houses that recreate typical homes from Latino neighborhoods and well as shops and corner stores.
And most unusual of all was the table and folding chairs made with city plans, sitting on dirt, set up in a way someone might use to observe passersby from their front yard.
Another really interesting part of the exhibit was a nopal looking white piñata with projected photos of orange trees mixed with Catholic imagery and children singing songs in the background. There were also words that were obstructed by the piñata that said things like: “We don’t really belong anywhere” and “The trauma of displacement continues.” To me it is what really set the tone for the entire exhibit because trauma and displacement are two very prevalent themes in the current treatment of Chicanos in the City of Orange. Once a lively working class neighborhood, the Cypress Street Barrio has become a shell of what it once in the wake of the City of Orange’s 2009 gang injunction and as Chapman University continues to take over the neighborhood for university housing. So although it is great to see a representation of the Barrio Vasquez loved so dearly it might not be there for much longer.
You can see the exhibit and the latest mural at the Guggenheim Gallery at Chapman University through January 5, 2018.
Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles. Led by the Getty, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is the latest collaborative effort from arts institutions across Southern California.