Dystopian Dreams and Goofy Sci Fi Humor at San Jose's MACLA

1 min
"La Raza Cosmica" by Michael Menchaca reinterprets an essay by Mexican philosopher Jose Vasconcelo that imagines a "fifth race" in the Americas. Inspired by pre-COlumbian iconography, Menchaca deconstructs Vasconcelo's mestizo identity theory with animated animals. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Science fiction has always been a creative space for working out our deepest hopes and fears about the future, and really, the present. White males have dominated the genre for decades, but that’s not to say it’s a white, male genre. After all, it all started with Mary Shelley's seminal 1818 novel Frankenstein.

So let's start here with the idea that Latino artists and writers have a long history mining ancient and native mythologies and incorporating them into modern contexts with magical realism, as in Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.

GenXers and younger will recall Love and Rockets, a comic book series birthed in the early 1980 and recently rebooted by Fantagraphics from brothers Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario Hernandez of Oxnard.

Sci fi is not a stretch.

"El Calendario," by San Jose artist Claudia Blanco. Note that this sci fi nod to Jesus Helguera's iconic 1966 painting "La Leyenda de los Volcanes" purports to come from the East Palo Alto bakery called the Pink Elephant.
"El Calendario," by San Jose artist Claudia Blanco. Note that this sci fi nod to Jesus Helguera's iconic 1966 painting "La Leyenda de los Volcanes" purports to come from the East Palo Alto bakery called the Pink Elephant. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Unicorns, Aliens, and Futuristic Cities at Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana (MACLA) in San Jose is a pocket-sized exhibit that showcases a handful of contemporary visual artists exploring dystopian paranoia, fantasy and humor. The exhibition was co-curated by Joey Reyes and MACLA’s Visual Arts Engagement Coordinator Maryela Perez.

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El Calendario, a painting created for this exhibit by San Jose artist Claudia Blanco, functions as its visual mascot, and for good reason. "She reimagines a calendar that a lot of Latino folks that visit bakeries, like, panderias, they get at the end of the year," Perez says.

Many of these calendars feature a particular, iconic image by Mexican artist Jesus Helguera called La Leyenda de los Volcanes, or The Legend of the Volcanos. Our Aztec hero staggers forward with his dead lover, tragically limp in his arms. On Blanco’s calendar, the warrior is replaced by an alien from the 1996 movie Mars Attacks.

"Birth of the Four Directions," by Jorge Gonzales. Color pencil on paper, 2016.
"Birth of the Four Directions," by Jorge Gonzales. Color pencil on paper, 2016. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

The exhibit also explores an unexpected affinity between science fiction and spirituality. Take Birth of the Four Directions by Jorge Gonzales. The pencil drawing depicts a ball of concentrated energy in the cosmos bursting into four directions.
"We often think about the Big Bang and how it was the birth of the universe, but you can easily connect the birth of the four directions," Perez says.

There is an aspect of science fiction that echoes the imperialistic compulsions of colonialism. Think of the appeal of creating "new worlds," bumping aside "alien" species to pursue a nationalistic vision with self-righteous violence.

La Raza Cosmica (see above) by Michael Menchaca reinterprets an essay by Mexican philosopher Jose Vasconcelo that imagines a "fifth race" in the Americas. Inspired by pre-Columbian iconography, Menchaca deconstructs Vasconcelo's mestizo identity theory with animated animals.

"Double Ass Coyotl" by Javier Martinez. "No matter what way you turn, your past is going to be following you," says MACLA’s Visual Arts Engagement Coordinator Maryela Perez.
"Double Ass Coyotl" by Javier Martinez. "No matter what way you turn, your past is going to be following you," says MACLA’s Visual Arts Engagement Coordinator Maryela Perez. (Courtesy of MACLA)

Cats, clowns, bears and elephants dance about in the multi-media video installation, at once cartoonish and fantastical. With multi-layered humor, Menchaca is essentially thumbing his nose at Spanish racism as it's played out in the New World.

Even lowrider culture gets a spacey nod from Javier Martinez, who explores fantastical combinations of machine, machine and animal in three pieces on view in the gallery. Each one is funny, but also a little bit disturbing, provocative.

Have you noticed? Latinx sci fi is having a moment right now: in comic books, museums, even Black Mirror on Netflix, which just produced a series of YouTube shorts in Spanish , featuring a cast of Latinx social media stars.

Unicorns, Aliens, and Futuristic Cities runs June 5 - August 19, 2019 at Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana (MACLA) in San Jose. For more information, click here.

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