Jesus Barraza Pays Tribute to “Barbz's” Legacy
By Savanna Morgan
Long before artist Jesus Barraza was printing silkscreens alongside legacies of Self Help Graphics & Art, he was being led and inspired by them as a young graphic designer out of San Francisco State University. Now a Chicano studies professor at UC Berkeley and the founder of print studio Dignidad Rebelde (formerly known as Taller Tupac Amaru), Barraza is paying homage to the artists who inspired his unique printmaking style which has been featured in numerous exhibitions nationally and internationally.
Last year, he began a small series of silkscreen portraits identifying the individuals who have most influenced his illustration style, and ultimately his artistic direction as printer and graphic designer. Among the chosen artists is the legendary Chicana activist Barbara Carrasco. While in residence at SHG, Jesus Barraza developed a 10-color portrait under the working title “Barbz”. He credits her with inspiring his transition from bolder graphics to a sharper, more illustrative style. Known for her detailed, small-scale pen and ink work, Barbara Carrasco inspired much of Jesus’ technical proclivities as well as his sensibility toward social commentary. Barbara uses her art to wage for the humanization of women. She has been publicly acknowledged for her role in making the Chicano art movement aware of sexist attitudes. Often times, because of her critical stance towards American society, Carrasco has had her work rejected or censored based on the content. Carrasco was commissioned to create a mural for the Los Angeles Bicentennial, but her History of Los Angeles: A Mexican Perspective was too edgy for the project. The History of Los Angeles (1981), a 16 by 80 foot mural sponsored by the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), became a portable mural that was only fully displayed one time because too many government officials felt it was too critical of events in American history. In addition to social commentary, she also helps celebrate influential women, like in her "iconic representation" of Dolores Huerta. Now it is her to turn to be recognized as an influential woman; a woman who has left a legacy that Jesus Barraza is dedicated to remembering.
“She was one of those strong women, whether she called herself a feminist or not, whose work was in dialogue with the way women were interacted with in the art movement. Looking at her early work, you can see how traditional roles in the Mexican/Chicano community were not conducive for [women] to be artists. For me, this piece is about paying tribute to the work she put in to assure a space was created for women.”
“Barbz” is the result of SHG’s Print Summit atelier portfolio and exhibition during Self Help Graphics & Art’s 45th Anniversary programming for 2018 and 2019. The Print Summit portfolio is being produced by an atelier of skilled master printers and represents both local and national talent that has resulted from SHG’s existence. Most of these works are centered around social justice as it applies to immigration rights, decolonization, and international solidarity.
Printmaking has allowed Barraza to produce relevant images that can be put back into the hands of his community and spread throughout the world. He is dedicated to making sure his art actually makes it to Chicano and indigenous people, instead of only being seen by art intellectuals in exhibits that may not be accessible to the people he wants to reach. He explains that he himself, amongst other indigenous groups, must go back several generations to know where they come from. In the contemporary world, natives have had their experiences and traditions stripped from them. He uses his role in academia and in the Chicano/indigenous community to teach young artists to tell their own stories through acknowledging the history and tradition of their people.
Savanna Morgan is a Communications intern from the University of Notre Dame.