The third edition of the MASA exhibition will leave you feeling weightless, giddy, and yes, slightly disoriented upon re-entry. MASA (the acronym, which seems to mean different things to different people, officially stands for “MeChicano Alliance of Space Artists) brings together nearly 40 artists, some of whom have taken the theme to heart and others whose orbits are tangential, but nonetheless interesting. And while Arturo Almeida and Luis Valderas, MASA III’s co-curators, have developed a fascinating rhetorical framework, there is a strange dissonance created by some of the works’ bouncy humor and its earthbound explanation. Any curators’ statement that includes references to Border Theory and “Decolonial Imagery” has escaped the layperson’s gravitational pull.
The show works best when the viewer puts aside the often contradictory curatorial “instruction manual” and allows the artists’ disparate aesthetics, which in most cases are put in the service of sharply focused political viewpoints, to take over. There are quite a few figurative and narrative works that could easily be reproduced as posters for college dorm walls or T-shirts. (Mount Rushmore reimagined as a tribute to César Chávez and Che, the Virgin of Guadalupe standing in for Lady Liberty, and a beautiful indígena astronaut wearing a UFW bandanna. One of these accessible works, based on Helguera’s famous calendario image, “La leyenda de los volcanes,” returns this year; it was included in MASA II.)
These hang alongside work that is not as beholden to a literal interpretation of the exhibition’s space theme. For example, Liliana Wilson Grez, a Chilean artist based in Austin, is represented by an elegant canvas depicting a head held captive in a wire cage. Fernando Salicrup, a driving figure in New York’s community of politicized Puerto Rican artists is also here. The inclusion of Wilson, Salicrup, and Diógenes Ballester raises an interesting philosophical question: Does the inclusion of artists who are not Chicana/o mean that we’ve left that flight path and are now headed to more diverse galaxies? Or do the curators mean to suggest that Chicana/o identity is going the way of Pluto — are we being reclassified to accommodate a less rigidly defined universe?
Almeida and Valderas have designed a MASAport just in case you’re asked to show your stinking badges during your intergalactic exploits, raza. It’s both funky memento and serious credential, since it includes a reprint of “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan,” a manifesto issued in 1969 at the Denver Youth Conference. But surely the curators know that the Plan has been criticized by Chicanas and younger generation activists who regard it as too nationalistic and exclusionary. The Plan tethers MASA’s Chicano creds to history. So where does that leave the likes of Wilson, Salicrup, and Ballester?
Ironically, Valderas says that the days of nationalism are past and today’s Chicano reality is the result of an ongoing mestizaje. Trouble is, the Plan is very clear: “Chicanos must use their nationalism as the key or common denominator for mass mobilization and organization.” Justino, we have a problem.
Valderas insists there is no contradiction. The conquerors, he says, aren’t so deft in drawing fine distinctions. You can bet on this: when Latinas and Latinos begin reclaiming space, the Venusian vigilantes will be there to greet us. The águila has landed, gente. •
Through Oct 15
Centro Cultural Aztlan