Visions of Aztlán — Chicano Reality vs. Establishment Art
When the director Jesus Salvador Treviño finished co-producing the four-part landmark PBS documentary Chicano! History of the Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement in 1996, something in the back of his mind said he wasn’t done with this subject. He had a lucrative career directing TV dramatic series like Crossing Jordan and ER, but his roots kept calling to him.
“We had always wanted to do something talking about Chicano art, but we kind of ran out of money,” he said. “I kept thinking about it, and a couple of years ago, I decided to undertake it on my own.”
The result is Visions of Aztlán, broadcasting at 9 p.m. tonight on KCET. The documentary uses the voices and work of 23 Chicano artists — people like Judy Baca and Gilbert “Magu” Lujan — to tell the story of how a new art movement grew up not around a particular style, like impressionism or cubism, but around the identity of a people. Its roots go back to the early 1930s, when the artist David Alfaro Siqueiros visited Los Angeles and painted three murals here.
The Chicano art movement of the 1960s and 1970s followed Siqueiros’ original vision of making art truly public, communicating a strong — even political — message, and giving the Mexican-American community imagery it could use to express its own identity, Treviño said.
“Here in Chicano art, we had men and women using different styles,” Treviño said. “But they were unified by content and theme.”
Treviño said the artists were working across the country, in San Antonio, San Francisco, Los Angeles, at first individually and unaware of each other, but then uniting in collectives and communicating with each other.
“They were defining who we are as a community, through their artwork,” Treviño said.
In doing so, they forsook what could have been very lucrative careers as artists who conformed to what was then mainstream styles: realism, minimalism, modernism. Instead, they went back to their communities, Treviño said, and painted scenes they had known from the cradle: low-rider cars, brown faces, colorful neighborhoods. And, Treviño said, the genius of these artists became evident in their staying power. They were here to stay.
“The artists that are covered in this documentary have continued through a lifetime doing Chicano art,” he said. “Where before they were originally singled out as ‘folk artists,’ ‘not-serious artists,’ or ‘colloquial artists,’ what has been proven over the last forty years is that they were doing very universal art, art that is now appreciated on a worldwide scale.”