Just returned home from a beautiful day in company of some wonderful artists. Today I participated in an event at the De Young Museum honoring Elizabeth Catlett. Elizabeth Catlett Mora (born April 15, 1915) is an African American sculptress and printmaker. She is one of the most prominent artists of the twentieth century. Her expansive collection of work reflects her commitment to the preservation of African American cultural traditions and the depiction of the lives of working-class people. The celebration of strong black women and mothers is also a consistent theme throughout her art. (Pictured here with one of her prints)
The day began with a delicious lunch to welcome Elizabeth, and was attended by some of her artists friends, collaborators, collectors and representatives of the De Young Museum. We had an opportunity to visit the top level at the De Young, which I had never visited. The day was clear and gorgeous, a rare occurrence in foggy SF. It was a great way to begin the afternoon.
At lunch, I met Elizabeth's son, Juan Catlett Mora, filmmaker who created the piece about his parents,"Betty &/y Pancho." Another one of his films, "Erénrida la indomable," will be premiering on November 8th at the 11th International Latino Film Festival in San Francisco. (Check the site after 10/15 for an updated schedule) I met de Young's American Art Curator, Timothy Anglin Burgard, who got us started on a really interesting conversation around the historical relationship museum institutions have had with artists of color. The group discussed how for years museums have not invested in acquiring works by artists of color, and how the de Young was one of the institutions changing that practice. It was good to hear some critical perspectives on this, as I am wary of museums because many of the audiences I want to reach out to in my artwork don't really attend them. The collections of many museums overwhelmingly favor white European male artists, and that will take years to change.
The public event began with the screening of Juan Mora Catlett's film, "Betty &/y Pancho," which showed a lyrical, authentic look at the artistic and amorous relationship between Elizabeth Catlett and her late Mexican husband, Francisco Mora (Born May 7, 1922). Mora joined the Taller de Grafica Popular in 1941. Elizabeth was also a member of the TGP. The film was unlike any other artist film I have seen, it made the viewer feel as though one were friends of the Mora Catlett family. It showed the loving relationship that blossomed between two artists who shared political ideologies, and who used their craft to construct messages of social change. It also showed the many facets of a multiracial family. (Francisco Mora pictured here with the Taller de Grafica Popular, on right with an apron)
During the film, I fell into a deep appreciation for Elizabeth Catlett's journey as a woman and as an artist. I found it fascinating and admirable how she would leave the United States and move to Mexico, where she could do her art. It's not that she could not do it in the U.S., but rather, in Mexico, she flourished. She would be the second woman artist role model for me to have done this. The first is Rini Templeton. I am drawn to Mexico City for these same reasons. While I spent some years of my adolescence there, Mexico City draws me primarily because when I am there, I feel extremely creative and free. I am able to collaborate with many other artists, in my own language. Perhaps it has something to do with it being one of the largest, most disorganized cities in the world. Perhaps it has to do that it is NOT the U.S., where I consistently have to identify as the "other." I don't know, but I am likely to follow in the footsteps of these women... I dream about setting up a studio in Mexico City often. Another aspect of the film that really touched me was one thing Elizabeth said about her husband, and that is, that she decided early on in their relationships that she would not let the little differences about them bother her, she would let them go. (Pictured here is Juan Mora Catlett on the left with his mother Elizabeth Catlett, wearing white)
What followed after the movie was the panel discussion facilitated by art historian Lizzetta Lefalle-Collins. I was on this panel along with Elizabeth Catlett, Juan Mora Catlett, Rupert Garcia, and Dewey Crumpler. What on honor for me this was. I was the youngest on the panel, by at least 10 years I would say. It was great for me to represent my perspective on the intersections between art and politics along with my elders. It was only about 8-10 years ago that I was browsing through books admiring the prints of Rupert Garcia and Elizabeth Catlett. Their work was a tremendous inspiration for me and helped formed my consciousness as a cultural worker. (Pictured here Rupert Garcia and I) Some of the questions we were asked were around exploring the idea of personal commitment to "struggle," and providing an exchange between African American and Mexican/Chicano artists regarding a mutual sense of "commitment to struggle," past and present. It's really too bad the panel was not documented, Elizabeth Catlett shared a wonderful story about Diego Rivera.
Then followed a wonderful Meditteranean dinner, where I got to chop it up with Richard Godinez (pictured on left), a San Jose artist who creates large-scale oil paintings and pastels that protest imperialism and globalization. He is also faculty at Diablo Valley College. It was good to build with another artist my age to talk about what are the kinds of things we need to be doing, as contemporaries and peers, to grow a collaborative environment for Chicano/Latino artists. How can we dialogue and learn from each other, particularly those of us who want to tie our work to movement building in this country? (Pictured here is a painting by Richard Godinez)
Overall, a very positive night. I feel reenergized, and very inspired. Seeing the work of Elizabeth, Rupert, and Francisco Mora gave me creative overload. More importantly, today I was able to really see how the string of relationship I have had with my mentors, has formed my own practices as an artist. It was in the year 2000, when Greg Morozumi, cofounder of the EastSide Arts Alliance and my mentor, showed me the work of Elizabeth. I would have never though that I would one day meet her. (Pictured here is Greg Morozumi with Elizabeth Catlett)
Pictured here from left to right: Francisco Dominguez, Chicano photographer; Art Hazelwood, DOPE printmaker, one of my favorites; Lincoln Cushing, a fabulous art historian and author of "Revolución: Cuban Poster Art", and also a mentor for me and an overall great buddy to have
Pictured here from left to right: Elizabeth Catlett; Tere Romo, one of the fabulous women who coordinated this event along with Renee Baldocchi (Thank You Ladies!); Mary Lovelace O'Neal, Abstract Expressionist artist whose work will be on exhibit at the Togonon Gallery from 10/11–11/24/07.