TUSCUMBIA–Borderline: Chicano Voices Speak is a special exhibition on view Aug. 22 through Sept. 30 at the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art. The exhibition features woodcut and linoleum relief prints, paintings, and mixed media pieces from nine different artists, all exploring Mexican, Chicano, and Latino culture, as well as the immigrant experience. An opening reception, featuring renowned San Francisco-based artist Juan R. Fuentes, will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 23 from 5 to 8 p.m.
Museum curator Jonathan Cain has been working on this exhibition for over two years, contacting artists and building context for their work.
“The word ‘Chicano’ was first used as a derogatory term used towards lower income Mexicans living in the United States,” says Cain. “Though originally used as a classist and racist slur, by the 1940s, Chicano was being reclaimed as a term of pride by Mexican Americans who have a non-Anglo self-image.”
The title of this exhibit, Borderline: Chicano Voices Speak, “was intentionally chosen to engage those very discussions—racism, division, identity, and cultural pride,” says Cain.
Participating artist Juan Fuentes says that his personal experiences reflect Cain’s vision for the exhibition.
“I grew up as Mexican American, but as a result of the Chicano Movement of the 1970s, I began to identify as Chicano,” says Fuentes. “It was a political and cultural decision for many of us. I felt that the term Chicano gave us our own identity as well as embracing our indigenous roots while we struggled for social and racial equality.”
Visitors to the exhibition will see artwork by Fuentes, Carlos Barberena, Celeste De Luna, Diego Marcial Rios, Eugene Rodriguez, Fernando Marti, Frank Estrada, J. Leigh Garcia, and Raoul Deal.
Many of the pieces in the exhibition are examples of printmaking that has been inspired by the Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP), which is Spanish for the “People’s Graphic Workshop.” TGP was an artist’s print collective, founded in Mexico in 1937 by artists Leopoldo Méndez, Pablo O’Higgins, and Luis Arenal.
Its artists produced work that promoted revolutionary social causes. The collective survived until its closure in 2010 due to financial struggles. The influence of TGP continues, not only through Chicano culture but through artists around the world.
Fuentes says he is honored to be part of an exhibit that is showcasing this cultural heritage to museum visitors in Alabama. “Our art and our people’s contributions to American society are part of the fabric that gives us our strength as a nation of many cultures,” says Fuentes.
Cain says that Borderline: Chicano Voices Speak is part of the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art’s mission to explore the artwork of different cultures. Specifically, the museum seeks to highlight cultures that are present in the local community but are often underrepresented in our institutions. In 2022, the exhibition and series Darshan: Visions of India put a spotlight on the art and traditions of Indian Americans. Borderline seeks to bring a similar focus to the experiences of Mexican Americans.
“As a person of color, I have always had to navigate between two worlds,” says Fuentes. “First, that of mainstream ‘White’ America and then our Mexican/Chicano culture and identity. Being Chicano has meant we have to define or exert ourselves in order to be seen or recognized as equals in any profession.”
“Though we have made strides since the Civil Rights Movement for equality,” says Fuentes, “there still continues to be questions of diversity and accessibility for people of lower income or of color in many institutions.”
With so many ideas to explore, Cain believes that this exhibition will be a powerful and thought-provoking experience.
“I described my vision of the exhibit to the artists as ‘a beautiful gut punch,’” says Cain. “Art should evoke a response—admiration, discomfort, wonder. Art has the ability to make you feel something, encourage thinking, and elevate social consciousness. I think these pieces have that ability.”
Museum hours are Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The opening reception, featuring discussion with Juan Fuentes, will be August 23 from 5-8 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students, and free for members of the Tennessee Valley Art Association.
To learn more about the Tennessee Valley Art Association, which also runs the Ritz Theatre in Sheffield, visit tennesseevalleyarts.org or call 256-383-0533.