Art And Soul
Searching for the roots of MoCo's thriving Latino art community.
Thursday, March 30, 2000
It is one of the least understood and appreciated aspects of Monterey County''s cultural history. You could look for it in this area''s museums and art galleries, but you probably won''t find it there. If you''re willing to venture out into the streets of Salinas and other towns throughout the Salinas Valley, however, it is there that you will encounter the rich and vital artistic legacy of Monterey County''s Latino artists.
For Amalia Mesa-Bains, a former MacArthur Fellow who heads CSU Monterey Bay''s Visual and Public Art Institute, uncovering the antecedents and ongoing contributions by local Latino artists goes to the heart of her Thursday night lecture on the cultural and artistic history of Monterey County''s Latino community.
"I want to make those links for people to see the long, deep roots of the Latino community in this region," says Mesa-Bains, whose talk and slide show presentation represents the fourth and final lecture in a series on regional art history entitled "Central Coast Vision."
According to Mesa-Bains, this project comes at a critical juncture, when the mass media has coopted the dialogue and images that supposedly represent the Latino community at-large.
"When I was younger I thought art was a reflection of society, but now you come to the sense of the way identities are constructed by mass media," she explains. "The perfect example is how we see one another through the lens of the Internet and advertising.
"There is a lot of material being generated now around the notion of ''cultural citizenship,'' a way of talking about how communities claim their space, rights and identity through what they contribute to society with their labor and celebrations, and how that becomes a part of American culture in the broader sense," she continues. "Artists need to penetrate the media systems to create life-affirming images that don''t create fear."
In trying to capture and define what she characterizes as the "energetic spirit" of Monterey''s Latino artists, Mesa-Bains admits to having a sketchy historical record to build upon.
"My experience coming here as an outsider is that the region''s history comes in bits and fragments," she says. "I don''t have a sense of continuity, and one of my goals is to find the links to early history. I think that the concern with everyday life, the affirmation of family and home, and the way people see themselves as family-centered communities are a thread. You find that in the way founding families lived and the images they made of each other, and the way that [today''s] artists like Jose Ortiz developed murals that reflect family and youth, and affirm the vitality and value of our culture."
Mesa-Bains'' efforts to develop a true "history" of Latino art in Monterey County embody many of the guiding principles behind CSUMB''s art programs.
"One reason I formed [the art program at CSUMB] was to look at the way artists function in a truly public society, and how the artist stands at the threshold between the private expression of art and the community," explains Mesa-Bains. "The artist has the role and responsibility to foster a healthier sense of peoples'' own identities, the respect and connectedness to other people."
Amalia Mesa-Bains and Edna Kimbo present "The Energetic Spirit of Monterey''s Hispanic Artists" tonight at the CSUMB music building, Bldg. 30, 6th Avenue, Seaside, at 7pm.