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    The donkey cart caper : some thoughts on socially conscious art in anti-social public space / David Avalos
    Community Murals : An international Visual Arts Magazine (Berkeley, CA). -- Vol. 11 (Fall 1986)
    p. 14-15 : ill.
    Journal article – Essays
    Avalos, David. “The Donkey Cart Caper : Some Thoughts on Socially Conscious Art in Anti-Social Public Space.” Community Murals : An international Visual Arts Magazine (Berkeley, CA), vol. 11 (Fall 1986): 14–15.

David Avalos recounts the installation of his sculpture San Diego Donkey Cart in front of the Federal Courthouse, and its subsequent removal by Chief Judge Gordon Thompson. The artist describes the piece as a reworking of Tijuana donkey carts where tourists take photographs, a convention that upholds notions of an exotic, quaint Mexico that shields visitors from harsh realities. In Avalos’s rendering, the cart is surrounded by a chain link fence, and includes a scene of a Border Patrol agent arresting an immigrant. Avalos intended for the piece to spark a dialogue absent from the corporate media, which claims to function as a public forum, but actually serves private interests. As such, the artist intended to stand next to the piece for several hours a day, engaging passersby in discussions about public art, public space, and immigration. While he anticipated complaints and controversy and willingly participated in media coverage, he notes that the press reduced the issue to one of free speech and censorship, ultimately refusing to acknowledge the other issues at hand (e.g., immigration) or engage in self-critique. For him, San Diego Donkey Cart served as a means by which to measure the state of public discourse and the ability of art to address issues of political and social relevance.


San Diego artist and educator, David Avalos creates sculptures and installation art, along with public art and collaborative projects that question the role of art in contemporary—especially U.S. society. While at San Diego’s Centro Cultural de la Raza, he co-founded Border Art Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo (BAW/TAF), a bi-national (U.S./Mexico), interdisciplinary group devoted to socially and politically engaged art. Many of his individual and collaborative public art projects have been controversial, including the San Diego Donkey Cart (1985) cited in this essay. Avalos’s essay details the censorship of the piece, but more importantly delineates the underlying importance of the litigation that followed. He also very carefully differentiates the public media’s support of the issue of censorship from its lack of interest in the basic statement of the art piece: the need for a public dialogue on the invisible status of undocumented workers in the U.S. Though Avalos’s legal case was dismissed, he compiled the Judge’s statements and print media publicity into a booklet, which he displayed alongside the Donkey Cart in subsequent exhibitions. Avalos credits this piece as his first truly “public” artwork and most successful at melding his roles as artist and community activist.

Tere Romo
Chicano Studies Research Center, UCLA, Los Angeles, USA
Courtesy of the private archives of David Avalos, National City,CA