Week 5:
Mexican Museum

Black Fellow in Chicano Art

Mexican Museum | San Francisco, California

August 15, 2013

As I continued to work on the exhibition this week, I focused on doing biographies of the artists in the upcoming exhibition. These artists were more directly related to my Chicano art research. But the museum is not the only place or venue for art.  Brenda Mejia ’15 and I took a mural tour in Mission District hosted by a member of the community-based mural arts organization called Precita Eyes. The organization provides different tours from the history of past murals to contemporary works in the area. Our tour guide and muralist, Susan Cervantes, works to bring awareness of important issues through education and collaboration with the community in creating murals. Cervantes was one of the founding members of the Precita Eyes Muralists Association and Center in 1977 and clearly was able to tell us about the murals in the Mission District. Many of them dealt with struggles for civil rights with more traditional mediums. Now, new mediums such as spray painting and digitalized images are more common. Overall, the tour experience was informative because the presentation specifically addressed Chicano history.

500 Years of Resistance by Isaias Mata
500 Years of Resistance by Isaias Mata


Yesterday I went to do another artist’s interview with Viviana Paredes. She is the most distinctive art that I have come across while here in California. Paredes was directly involved with the Chicano movement, but she did not start making art until she completed her MFA later in life. One of her works, called Pocha Tongues, is part of a collection sponsored by the  Don Julio Tequila Company  and exhibited at the Mexican Museum right now. At first glance, I thought the work illustrated cow tongues because they looked like those I saw back home in the market! As I looked closer, I noticed that the transparent tongues had different herbs on each one. Suddenly I thought about the curanderismo, the physical and spiritual healing, that comes from medicinal plants and can be traced back to pre-Columbian times.

Pocha Tongues by Viviana Paredes. Courtesy of the Mexican Museum.
Pocha Tongues by Viviana Paredes. Courtesy of the Mexican Museum.

Herbs on the tongue not only bring healing, but they assist the very organ that we use to speak and taste or experience the world! As I interviewed Paredes, I discovered that her work is influenced by her grandmother, who was a healer and a very much spiritual person. In context, I came to understand that the tongue also symbolizes the artist’s loss of her native tongue and all that this symbolizes for her.

During the 1950’s, there was no bilingual education and her parents insisted on speaking only English at home because this was what it meant to live the American Dream. Even at home, Paredes was told to speak English with no accent. Her migrant parents, knowing how hard work could be in the United States, wanted their children to have a successful “American” life. Growing up with her parents, she developed an understanding that their heritage was “bad or not good enough,” yet being with her grandmother encouraged her to love who she was. Her feelings were conflicted. At a very young age, Paredes stopped speaking Spanish and tried to be “better.” Yet as much as she tried, she was not going to look like the people on the television. This was a critical time for Paredes and for many Mexican-Americans before the late 1960’s, who were taught that they were unacceptable and had to leave their cultural background behind.

Artist Viviana Paredes
Artist Viviana Paredes

Paredes later embraced her identity as part of the Chicano movement and the silence was broken. Art became a way of speaking for Paredes, another language. It is a visual language that allows her to share her experiences, what she sees, and how she sees it. She is now reading books about herbs and trying to learn more about their medicinal and spiritual roles. Her particular interest is in maguey that has served as an iconic symbol throughout Mexican history. It not only assists in the production of tequila, but it also plays a medicinal role. For more information about her art: www.paredesarte.com

Gutierrez Professional Headshot

Maricruz Gutierrez '14

Major: Archaeology and Art History.Minor:Spanish. Hometown:Rio Grande City, Texas.