Our new volunteer Amber Ruelas writes about Axis Mundo:
As I stumbled upon Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A., I felt an instant and very human connection with the work on display. My first visit to the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, I found the museum nestled rather inconspicuously behind another campus building. The entrance was serene, and the lobby had that soothing, characteristic stillness of a gallery. The gallery itself is vast, with brilliant white walls that stretch way out into four corners. But, as I stepped in, the artwork stood its ground nevertheless, occupying the space with vibrancy and assertion. The room felt bustling and larger than life. Suddenly, I was being introduced to something new. And, rather than existing as an outside observer looking in, I was being given an insider’s perspective. It felt like a celebration of originality and self-expression. It was organic, and there was a real sense of authenticity that enclosed me. I was excited to learn that this was the first time much of this work has ever been brought before the public eye. In fact, a travelling exhibition on its second stop of the way, Axis Mundo marks an unprecedented display of LGBTQ Chicanx art as a recognized movement within both academic and public domains.
It was refreshing to see such an eclectic assortment of objects and artistic genres in one space at one time. There was an extraordinary mix of media platforms, from painting, collage, and photography, to postcards, scrapbooks, zines and homemade video. There was no hierarchy, every piece inhabited the space as an equal, arranged in visual harmony. It was a pleasant surprise to see a fashion mannequin, dressed in a flamboyant denim-centric outfit, staged amongst the paintings. There were candid photos of good friends posing elaborately together in homemade fashions, and colorful mixed media portraits of decoratively dressed performers. Snapshots of pride parade participants looping arms in solidarity and wearing matching t-shirts were displayed alongside their associated artefacts. It was a thrill to see one of the homemade yellow t-shirts on display right next to a photo of it being worn. For me, this was a perfect representation of the interrelationship between art and history. Having real life objects on display encouraged me to approach the artwork in a different way, allowing me to make a more tangible, human connection with the moments in time they represented.
It felt like a journey into unchartered territory as I navigated my way through the exhibition. As well as being a reference to the exhibition’s central figure, artist Edmundo Meza, Mundo for short, the title ‘Axis Mundo’ is a play on the word ‘mundi’, which means ‘world’ in Latin. I began my journey with Meza’s eye-catching ‘Merman with Mandolin’ (1984), which was proudly inhabiting a large fraction of the far gallery wall. It depicts a mythical, idealized merman version of Meza painted boldly in black and white acrylic. Bare-chested and god-like, Meza dominates the canvas with confidence and self-assurance. He looks away as though to accentuate the classical beauty of his profile, and he shows off his scales with pride. In this image, he exudes the idea of being comfortable in one’s own skin.
In a perpendicular self-portrait from 1983, Meza emerges behind sketchy white brushstrokes as a more quiet character, although he confronts the viewer with his gaze. His blank, matter-of-fact, if not worn expression contrasts with his merman. He appears to be fading away behind the layers of paint. It is as though he is offering us a glimpse into the diverging facets of his existence.
Through their work, I think the artists have asked us to consider the wider range of their experiences. They introduce us to their personalities, and bring us into their social scene, but we are also invited to gain some insight into the harsher aspects of their reality. The piece that moved me the most was ‘Equipped’ by Ray Navarro. In his triptych of black and white photographs, taken during the final months of his life in hospital suffering from AIDS-related illness, Navarro communicates ideas about society’s judgment of those impacted by the AIDS crisis. Having lost his eyesight, Navarro collaborated with Zoe Leonard who fabricated the work. The photos depict three pieces of Navarro’s hospital equipment, looking tilted and abandoned, in their cold and clinical hospital settings. Underneath each one, he imitates the hospital signage with three embossed slabs, giving each photograph a tongue-in-cheek, suggestive title. I appreciated the juxtaposition of the humorous titles below the bleak and muted images of Navarro’s lonely looking wheelchair, Zimmer frame and walking stick. Humor is often used as a coping mechanism, but to me this spoke of resilience, and displayed a successful attempt to humanize a stigmatized group. For me, this epitomized the strength of the artists as a collective, and the power of art to challenge perspectives.
Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A. was an exciting introduction to Latinx artists from Los Angeles, and I left the exhibition feeling inspired. The unrestrained spirit and creativity of the artists struck me as a display of expression that is so raw and human, everybody can relate. I felt excited at the prospect of the art world expanding its recognition of artists and art genres, and at the possibilities that could arise in future for overlooked movements and communities. I thought about the educational value of the show as I left with an enriched appreciation for the ways in which art can tell a story and facilitate a deeper understanding of history, people and society.
The photographs of Axis Mundo in this blog post were taken by Josh Hawkins / UNLV Creative Services. From top to bottom: 1. Merman with Mandolin, 1984, and Self-Portrait, 1983, by Mundo Meza; 2. Les Petites Bonbons outfit, c. 1971 – 72, by Robert Lambert; and 3. the Chicano Chic area of the show, with Las Locas, 1980 by Teddy Sandoval being the large, obvious drawing with a yellow border and three heads. Organized by David Evans Frantz, Curator at ONE Archives at the USC Libraries, and C. Ondine Chavoya, Professor of Art and Latina/o studies at Williams College, Axis Mundo will be on view at the Barrick until March 16th.