Race and Social Justice in Art
CHAPTER 7: Arte Sin Fronteras
Arte Sin Fronteras: Prints from the Self Help Graphics Studio
October 27, 2019 – January 12, 2020
Arte Sin Fronteras presented a selection of prints produced at the studio of Self Help Graphics & Art and gifted by Dr. Gilberto Cárdenas to the Blanton Museum of Art in 2017. Since 1972, this arts center located on the east side of Los Angeles, supports the local Mexican American and Latinx communities through cultural experiences and art classes, including printmaking training for artists. Its Experimental Atelier Program, which began in 1982, invites artists to work with master printers in order to produce fine art screenprints. The Atelier promotes the professional development of the participants, encourages the formation of a market for Latinx art, and raises funds for the artists and the studio’s community-oriented programs. Self Help continues to be a mainstay in the arts of Los Angeles.
Dr. Gilberto Cárdenas, a leading collector of Latinx art, was one of the earliest supporters of Self Help Graphics. He founded Galería Sin Fronteras in Austin in 1986 to disseminate the output of the Experimental Atelier Program and assist Latinx artists. A former sociology professor at The University of Texas at Austin, he recently retired as Executive Director of the Center for Arts and Culture at the University of Notre Dame. His donation to the Blanton comprised over 350 prints that were produced at Self Help Graphics & Art between 1978 and 1997.
Arte Sin Fronteras began with a selection of works documenting the history of Self Help Graphics as a community organization. The following sections addressed themes that were central to the studio’s mission: the exploration of cultural and gender identities, the immigrant experience, and Mexican American religious traditions.
This exhibition was organized by the Blanton Museum of Art. All works included were a gift from Gilberto Cárdenas.
Immigration and border crossing are among the most complex and politically charged issues shaping the experiences of many Mexican American and Latinx communities in the United States. Recognizing the importance of this subject, Dr. Gilberto Cárdenas dedicated much of his practice as a sociologist and as an art collector to promote, in his words, “a deeper understanding and empathy for the experience of Mexican migrants.”
The Latinx communities around Self Help Graphics & Art, and in the Southwest in general, include people with diverse experiences of immigration and citizenship, ranging from individuals whose Indigenous ancestors lived in the area, to families that arrived in the region during the colonial period, to more recent generations who came seeking a peaceful life with better economic and educational opportunities. Sometimes families with Latin American roots must negotiate transnational lifestyles, traveling back and forth between countries. This is especially true for Mexican Americans living along the U.S.-Mexico border, a region where culture blends elements of both sides of the divide. In this gallery, artists explore immigrants’ dreams of a better life and the heartache of those caught in circumstances beyond their control and denied a legal path to citizenship.
The New Immigration [La nueva inmigración], 1988
In 1988, Sister Karen Boccalero and Gilberto Cárdenas worked together to organize this portfolio of ten etchings by five artists. The prints, sponsored by Self Help Graphics and co-published by Galería Sin Fronteras, were produced at Taller Romero in Mexico City by printer Renato Esquivel Romero. According to Cárdenas, this series pays “homage to the perseverance and dignity of the new Latino immigrants as they struggle with the transition into American society.” He has also said that they are a reminder of “the role that immigration plays in enriching the economic vitality of our society and the contributions that the immigrants and their children will have in making American society a better community for tomorrow—a community ‘sin fronteras.’” Each of the five selected artists presented a distinctive take on politics, immigration, and the border.
Feature Image Credit: Installation of Arte Sin Fronteras: Prints from the Self Help Graphics Studio at the Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, October 27, 2019 – January 12, 2020