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Walls of Empowerment

Chicana/o Indigenist Murals of California

By Guisela Latorre

Publication Year: 2008

Exploring three major hubs of muralist activity in California, where indigenist imagery is prevalent, Walls of Empowerment celebrates an aesthetic that seeks to firmly establish Chicana/o sociopolitical identity in U.S. territory. Providing readers with a history and genealogy of key muralists’ productions, Guisela Latorre also showcases new material and original research on works and artists never before examined in print. An art form often associated with male creative endeavors, muralism in fact reflects significant contributions by Chicana artists. Encompassing these and other aspects of contemporary dialogues, including the often tense relationship between graffiti and muralism, Walls of Empowerment is a comprehensive study that, unlike many previous endeavors, does not privilege non-public Latina/o art. In addition, Latorre introduces readers to the role of new media, including performance, sculpture, and digital technology, in shaping the muralist’s “canvas.” Drawing on nearly a decade of fieldwork, this timely endeavor highlights the ways in which California’s Mexican American communities have used images of indigenous peoples to raise awareness of the region’s original citizens. Latorre also casts murals as a radical force for decolonization and liberation, and she provides a stirring description of the decades, particularly the late 1960s through 1980s, that saw California’s rise as the epicenter of mural production. Blending the perspectives of art history and sociology with firsthand accounts drawn from artists’ interviews, Walls of Empowerment represents a crucial turning point in the study of these iconographic artifacts.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Title, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xiii

Color Insert

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Introduction: Indigenism and Chicana/o Muralism: The Radicalization of an Aesthetic

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pp. 1-31

Two Aztec warriors, dressed in full regalia, clasp arms as they engage in a ritual dance with a mountainous landscape stretching behind them. Aside from inhabiting this idyllic environment, these heroes also physically reside within the barrio setting of East Los Angeles, where Ernesto de la...

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1. The Dialectics of Continuity and Disruption: Chicana/o and Mexican Indigenist Murals

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pp. 32-65

As stipulated in the introduction to this volume, Chicana/o Indigenism was deeply influenced by the Indigenist discourses that emerged in Mexico aft er the Revolution of 1910. Th e various mural cycles commissioned by the Mexican government throughout the first half of the twentieth century...

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2. The Chicano Movement and Indigenist Murals: The Formation of a Nationalist Canon and Identity

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pp. 66-99

By the early 1970s, once Chicana/o activists had established the civil rights movement and the Chicano Movement as viable platforms through which people of color could articulate their newly politicized identities, they also needed a visual repertoire to accompany or complement...

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3. Graffiti and Murals: Urban Culture and Indigenist Glyphs

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pp. 100-139

It should come as no surprise that Chicana/o muralism emerged in the same spaces where graffiti, tagging, throw-ups, and plaqueasos/placas were and continue to be prominent in the urban landscapes of California. Though community muralism, Chicana/o Indigenism, and graffiti are creative...

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4. The Chicana/o Mural Environment: Indigenist Aesthetics and Urban Spaces

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pp. 140-175

As I stipulated in the introduction to this volume, Indigenist imagery in muralism was meant to function as a metaphorical and tangible platform where Chicana/o artists could carve out spaces for the articulation of cultural citizenship and decolonizing creative expressions. The space, site...

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5. Gender, Indigenism, and Chicana Muralists

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pp. 176-210

The chosen medium for the politically engaged Chicana/o artist in the 1970s was undoubtedly the public mural.1 Indeed, the public mural was deeply saturated with a powerful history of politicization as well as a profound connection to indigenous artistic traditions. But murals also possessed...

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6. Murals and Postmodernism: Post-movimiento, Heterogeneity, and New Media in Chicana/o Indigenism

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pp. 211-240

The changes in the Chicana/o mural scene and its accompanying Indigenist vocabulary ushered in by individuals like graffiti artists, Chicana muralists, and others greatly contributed to a breaking down of some of the monolithic notions of identity that at times defined these public works of...

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pp. 241-244

One of the most motivating reasons that I took a specific interest in the Indigenist iconography found in California Chicana/o murals was that I immediately understood that the recurrence of this imagery functioned as a sort of chronic symptom of Chicana/o culture at the end of the twentieth...


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pp. 245-268


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pp. 269-282


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pp. 283-292

E-ISBN-13: 9780292793934
E-ISBN-10: 0292793936
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292718838
Print-ISBN-10: 0292718837

Page Count: 324
Illustrations: 60 b&w photos, 16-page color section
Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Street art -- California, Southern.
  • Mexican American mural painting and decoration -- Political aspects -- California, Southern -- 20th century.
  • Indians in art.
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