Revolutionary Artists Cut Deep in San Jose’s ‘MONARCA’ Exhibition

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M. Guzman, 'Lucha Olovera' (detail). (Courtesy of the artist)

Yescka’s call to action as an artist truly began in 2006 during the Oaxaca teachers’ strike, when a tear gas canister hit him in the chest at close range. Thinking he had been hit with a bullet, he realized the radio he was holding had shattered from the impact of the canister, probably saving his life.

It was during this now-historic period of rebellion (calling for better pay for teachers and the resignation of the state’s governor) that the Asamblea de Artistas Revolucionarios de Oaxaca (ASARO) collective was formed.

Yescka, 'La Hima Cena a la Mexicana.'
Yescka, 'La Hima Cena a la Mexicana.' (Photo by Cherri Lakey)

Made up of 35 artists -- from students to street artists to those with established careers -- the collective set out to contribute to the movement by creating social and political art that would make people more sensitive, raise consciousness and foster new spaces for artistic expression.

Ten years later, ASARO is still a working collective with a core group of 13 members. Many of the original members have gone on to live abroad, carrying with them the values of ASARO’s founding principles. For Yescka, political art remains a tool to express emotions and situations that affect the human sensitivity. “In this world," he says, "I think some expressions are forgetting the human side, they are more pretentious and empty.”

The collective's current exhibition at Curate Good in San Jose, MONARCA: La Metamorphosis is an excellent example of the power of conscientious art making. The works in the show call attention to and document pivotal moments of human suffering as well as our enduring resilience.

Zamer, 'La Ley Mata.'
Zamer, 'La Ley Mata.' (Photo by Cherri Lakey)

The exhibition came to San Jose thanks to the efforts of Sonido Clash, a San Jose music collective of DJs specializing in the “traditional and future sounds of Latino music.” Sonido Clash met many of the MONARCA artists last year at Oaxacalifornia, an art show at the Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco.


MONARCA organizer Fernando J. “Tlacoyo” Pérez of Sonido Clash says the exhibiting artists produced new works for the show, which he describes as "artwork that marries traditional art forms mixed with the modern influences and political issues our generation faces."

Mazatal, 'La Sin Lucha.'
Mazatal, 'La Sin Lucha.' (Photo by Cherri Lakey)

For ASARO, it’s very important to communicate with a wide audience of people through their art. The collective says, "The problems are not personal anymore. They are the world's problem, and art plays an important role... art breaks rules and it critiques the most devastating human acts."

Sadly, it’s a disappointing fact that no matter where you live on the planet today, there is plenty of oppression and suffering to keep political artists busy, including the 15 artists featured in MONARCA. The conscious thought they put into their art, coupled with their medium -- woodcut prints -- binds these artists together even though they are from different parts of the world, depicting topics relevant to their specific communities.

The hurried viewer may assume all the work was created by a sole artist, but if you spend some time with the show, it becomes apparent that each artist has their own visual vocabulary, an identifiable method of carving and a unique way of dealing with negative and positive space within the print.

Ivan Bautista, (L) 'Estigma,' (R) 'Estigma XXII.'
Ivan Bautista, (L) 'Estigma,' (R) 'Estigma XXII.' (Photo by Cherri Lakey)

The labor intensive process of cutting away sections of wood to create an image in relief, inking it, placing paper on top and applying pressure to transfer the ink to the paper is to me symbolic of the exertion required to create anything of significance -- whether that's an artwork or effecting change in a worker’s life.

Perhaps this is why the woodcut, with its thick bold lines, stark contrasting colors and potential for mass distribution, is still used today. The woodcut remains an effective means to grab our attention and relay a message far beyond the gallery walls; find them on community boards, at civic gatherings and wheat pasted in the streets.

MONARCA: La Metamorphosis is on view through May 5, 2016 at Curate Good in San Jose. For more information visit