Malaquias Montoya Wants You to Know "You Have The Right To Remain Silent"
Malaquias Montoya’s work is unabashedly direct and heavy in its subject matter, bringing to light the injustices faced by the disenfranchised black and brown working class people. To those not well-versed in the plethora of injustices faced by people of color, or just ignorant to them, it may seem that the discrimination, displacement, and killings are all new, but Montoya wants you to know that historically, it is not. He has been addressing these issues in his work since the beginning of his career; and with over 50 years of experience printmaking, he continues to highlight these injustices with the precision of skill and expertise that only time can provide.
In his newest print produced at SHG, “Miranda Rights”, Montoya brings forth the topic of police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, hot topics of discussion today. “You have the right to remain silent”, the text printed horizontally on the work, is the first clause of the Miranda Rights where Montoya wants the viewer to know that they have rights. The irony though, as Montoya makes clear, is that people of color often have their rights stripped away. The print shows a human figure blindfolded, to show that many people are unaware of their rights and when these people are killed, their vision is taken away and they are erased from the world. “When you shoot someone you’re just erasing what they are,” says Montoya, “and it adds more to shoot someone who is blindfolded”. He uses window screen wire and lacework fabric to add dimensions of texture to the piece, creating a sense of anarchy and drama along with the rest of the abstract expressionist mark-making.
He was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and raised in Central California by a single mother. His mother was a migrant farm worker and his 3 eldest siblings stopped attending school in the seventh grade to join her, something necessary for the family’s survival, as wages for the farm workers, who were primarily people of color, were unjust. His mother wanted him and the 3 younger siblings to continue on in school, which Montoya particularly enjoyed because he had free paper and pencils to grow his artistic abilities. Injustices similar to these were prominent early on in his life and he continues to witness them today, but Montoya continues using his artistic prowess to fight back.
Throughout his career he has always had the mission of shining a light on all the injustices faced by the disenfranchised working class people of color. His work satirizes the idea that people of color have rights, when in fact our rights are taken away. He hopes his work will make those unaware of these issues, aware, and push them to do something about it.“That’s what artists can do...awaken people to give them direction.”
Giani Chavez is a Self Help Graphics & Art Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Intern from Grinnell College.