From the Inside Out : perspectives on Mexican and Mexican-American Folk Art. San Francisco, CA, USA : The Mexican Museum, 1989
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This essay by artist Rubén Trejo focuses on the roots of humor in Chicano art and, specifically, in his sculptures. Trejo proposes that the major sources of humor for Chicano artists include pre-Columbian art, Mexican folk art and literature, and the artistic legacy of José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913). Trejo points out his personal affinity for using sexually suggestive food-related references to inject humor into his art, citing his series of works entitled “A Jalapeño Impersonating a Sex Symbol,” in which he exploits the American proclivity toward interpreting certain similarly shaped foods as phallic. Trejo discusses other themes of this series, notably that of the role of clothing-as-mask in America. He capitalizes on the humorous aspects of this phenomenon, particularly the appeal of manipulating underwear. Trejo considers the cultural role of masks— literal and metaphoric—during such holidays as the Day of the Dead [All Souls’ Day] in Mexico and Halloween in the United States, as vehicles that aid the wearer in escaping or portraying reality. For Trejo, this dual conception of masks echoes the duality of Chicano culture in which artists are able to choose from elements of both Mexican and American societies to create humorous, dynamic, compelling art that reflects the hybrid allegiances of the creator.
Rubén Trejo is art professor emeritus at Eastern Washington University in Spokane, Washington state, and one of the few Chicano sculptors that has achieved visibility in the art milieu. This essay comes from a presentation he gave at a conference on “Perspectives on Mexican and Mexican American Folk Art” held at San Francisco’s Mexican Museum in 1987. The three-day conference, from which these proceedings were recorded and published, was one of the public programs celebrating the donation of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection of Mexican Folk Art to the Museum. Trejo discusses the folk art influences on his overall art making and his unique brand of humor used to create distinctive sculptures that incorporate Mexican and Euro-American cultural references. This is the first essay within a scholarly context by a Chicano artist that deals with humor in Chicano art and its intrinsic bicultural nature.