Saturday, April 21, 2012

Chicano Male Unbonded

For one of my out-of-class lectures, I went to go see artist/activist Harry Gamboa Jr. speak about his work. Gamboa Jr. was one of the key players in a performance art group Asco, a Chicano artist collective active in Los Angeles in the 1970s, who created radical works of art to highlight the lack of representations of Chicano art. In addition to Asco, Gamboa Jr. has continued to work on numerous solo projects. While all of his work is powerful, I was most struck by a photography series that he started work on in 1991. The series is called Chicano Male Unbonded and you can see the photos here: Gamboa Jr. began the project in response to a security message that was sent to him to the effect of "Warning: Suspect in the area. Chicano male, 35-50 years old." When he got that message, Gamboa Jr. started considering all of the wonderful men he knew in his life who fit that description, and would now be interpreted as "suspects." The photography series consists of 150+ photographs of Chicano men, all of whom contributed in some way to Gamboa's own understanding of his Chicanismo. The photographs include well-known Chicano Studies scholars, such as Rudy Acuña, as well as personal role models for Gamboa, such as his own father. Each subject is photographed at night from below, so that the subject appears to be looking down on the viewer. This series effectively highlights the absolute absurdity of such warning statements, and of the vilification of men of color. Parallels could also be drawn between this series and the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the continued racial targeting of young men of color by police across the nation.

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