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Enrique Chagoya: Borderlandia

Artist’s Statement

Enrique Chagoya: Poor George (After Philip Guston) #7, 2004; ink on paper; 14 x 16 in.; collection of David and Deborah Bernstein.

My artwork is a conceptual fusion of opposite cultural realities that I have experienced in my lifetime. I integrate diverse elements: from pre-Columbian mythology, Western religious iconography, and American popular culture. The art becomes a product of collisions between historical visions, ancient and modern, marginal and dominant paradigms—a thesis and an antithesis that end in a synthesis in the mind of the viewer. Often, the result is a nonlinear narrative with many possible interpretations.

Depending on the specific concept, I choose to work with different media: painting, drawing, printmaking, video animation, or installation. For example, my codex books are based on the idea that history is told by those who win wars. Previous historic accounts are erased, destroyed, or buried in oblivion. A new official story is invented in order to justify the new reality of events. Cultures are transformed and often completely destroyed by conquering ones. The world is endlessly remapped and renamed, with new rules and rulers in recurrent holocausts. New “world orders” come and go in the middle of ideological frenzy.

The twentieth century has been perhaps the most violent in the world’s history. Humankind is at constant war with itself, perfectly capable of total destruction. This is the raw material for my art. I depart from the conquest of the Americas—which started in the late fifteenth century—and the destruction of the written history of ancient cultures in meso-America.

Since from this perspective history is an ideological construction, I decided to invent my own account of many possible stories—from Cortez to the border patrol—in my own visual language. I mix pre-Columbian mythology with Catholic icons, American comics, and images of ethnic stereotypes. My codex books are made with the same bark paper (amate) used in the ancient codex books.

My large drawings are based on satirical cartoons. With several possible influences (Goya, Daumier, Posada), they are very much developed in my own style. They comment on contemporary issues with humor. My early etching series entitled Homage to Goya was made over a period of nine years. The prints are almost forgeries of Francisco Goya’s nineteenth-century etchings known as The Disasters of War. The concept of this work is based on the question: How would Goya have portrayed the twentieth century if he had witnessed it, if he had traveled in time? My etchings are my own version of the answer, without the pretension to compete with the old master (one of the etchings on this series is a self-portrait of my small foot entering a gigantic Goya’s shoe).

My most recent series is a visual play on issues of good and bad taste as an expression of social class and cultural bias beyond subjective preferences. I am painting and drawing directly on fifty original nineteenth-century European prints used for educational purposes with the biographies of the artists. I am overlaying on top of the engravings images of very diverse class and cultural origin, from pre-Columbian art to American popular cartoons, drawings for tattoos, etc. A byproduct of this experience is a sense of what I would call reverse anthropology or reverse Western art history. Instead of a European artist appropriating artistic expressions by cultures from former colonies (i.e., Picasso “appropriating” African sculptural forms to develop his cubist style like in the Demoiselles d’Avignon, or Henry Moore “borrowing” from Aztec sculpture to develop many of his pieces, or Frank Lloyd Wright “inspired” by Mayan architecture in some of his designs, to give just some few famous examples, and not to mention “high” art inspired by “popular” art), I ask the question: What kind of art would have been created if the opposite had happened? This is what I am just beginning to explore.

Enrique Chagoya