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This is a curatorial essay by Gilberto Cárdenas and Amelia Malagamba for an exhibition catalog of works by Chicano artists from Texas. The essay looks at the development and achievements of artists with ties to Kingsville, a city the authors liken to Florence, Italy, for its cultural wealth and history of producing highly influential artists. Cárdenas and Malagamba remark on the geography and ethnic makeup of Kingsville, noting its importance as the home of Texas A&I University [now Texas A&M University-Kingsville], which was for a long time one of the only academic institutions available to the large Mexican-American population in the region. The essay details the experiences of numerous Chicano students at Texas A&I who were politically active despite receiving little support or understanding from professors. There were notable exceptions among the faculty, and the authors emphasize the critical influence of such professors as William Renfrow and others on the lives of Chicano student activists, to whom they offered guidance and organizational help. The authors acknowledge the crucial role of such professors in the development of the artists featured in the show, all of whom were associated with or enrolled at Texas A&I at one point. The authors suggest that a shared aesthetic exists among these artists that mirrors the experience of living in southern Texas and combines specific formal qualities with a unique political sensibility to create a visual language unlike any other within the Chicano artistic community. The first artist considered is Amado Peña, whom the authors identity as one of the earliest proponents of incorporating symbolism from Mexican culture into his works. Also discussed are the artists Carmen Lomas Garza, José Luis Rivera, César Martínez, Santa Barraza, and Luis Gutiérrez. Cárdenas and Malagamba remark on the collective nature of these artists, despite their individual achievements and aspirations, and consider the circumstances that could have led to such a wealth of Chicano artistic talent and production at the university.
This catalogue essay by Gilberto Cárdenas and Amelia Malagamba was written for the exhibition Los Artistas Chicanos del Valle de Tejas: Narradores de Mitos y Tradiciones [Chicano Artists from the Texas Valley: Narrators of Myths and Traditions], which Cárdenas and Malagamba curated. The exhibition was part of the VII Festival Internacional de la Raza in 1991, first shown in Tijuana, Baja California, and later in Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. The annual festival was sponsored by various Mexican federal agencies with the intention to foster U.S./Mexico bi-national exchange. The essay is valuable in its detailed recounting of the importance of South Texas, and specifically Kingsville, in the development of Chicano art in Texas and nationally. However, the authors not only emphasize the uniqueness of the community of Kingsville, but also the integral role of mythology, legend, and proverb in the cultural lives of its inhabitants and the way in which it is evidenced in the works of the city’s artists.