Gone are the days of wandering through art galleries and mingling with groups of people around paintings. Just as everything else has been forced to go virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so have art exhibitions.
The Museum of Latin American Art has launched one titled “Oaxacalifornia: Through the experience of the duo Tlacolulokos,” which is made up of several different murals made by Dario Canul and Cosijoesa Cernas. The art depicts the meshing of life from the Zapotec communities of Oaxaca with the city of Los Angeles, according to the main page of the exhibit’s website.
The artists wanted to not only portray the Oaxacan community in L.A. but to represent indigenous people in a different light than many people are used to.
“We are tired of those paintings that portray indigenous people as cute,” Canul said in an interview with the Los Angeles Public Library. “We are what we are. We are proud indigenous people, we are angry indigenous people. So this is a representation of who we are.”
This powerful message was not welcomed by everyone, especially in today’s political climate where immigrants are so often villainized. When the two artists tried returning to California from Mexico for the closing of their exhibit at the Los Angeles Public Library in 2018, they had their visitor visas taken, and they are not allowed back to the U.S. until 2023 according to the Los Angeles Times.
Despite this, their influential art speaks for itself. This exhibit offers a beautiful view into the life of so many people in California, while also educating visitors about the culture formed from the combination of these two places. It is a great experience, and people should be encouraged to visit the online gallery, especially when one can do it from the comfort of their own home.
With warm colors and a multitude of symbols, the murals demonstrate how the traditionalism of Oaxaca and the modernity of LA have combined to create an entirely new and unique culture. In one, titled “Wherever You May Go,” three women are depicted, with one wearing a historic dress, while another wears Adidas All-Stars. All the women have tattoos, but they range from the LA symbol to the ones that hold historical meaning.
The exhibit also confronts the past and current violence that Latino people have faced, particularly in California. The artists reference the Catholic priests who ran the missions back when the Spanish first traveled to California, as well as to police brutality, which disproportionately affects minorities. At first glance of the mural, called “The Angels Sing Their Praise to God,” it seems as though the painted priest holds a cross, but looking closer, it’s found to be a police baton.
With commentary on every page of the exhibit, visitors can find details in the murals they may not have seen before, and apply the meaning to their own lives. The smallest things, such as tattoos and graffiti, hold much significance and are vital to understanding the murals as a whole. There is a repeating symbol of ships, particularly the same ships that Columbus and others took to the Americas. The ships are seen tattooed and held in arms, and they represent the taking back of power by the Oaxacan people from those who oppressed them for so long.
The murals are so full of color and life that there are many different messages to be found. However, the duo Tlacolulokos sums it all up in an interview with the Museum of Latin American Art.
“The message of our murals is simple. Wherever you are, you must know where you come from, be aware of the identity of which we are descendants, and always dignify it.”