The exhibit Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A., which opened this month at the Museum of Contemporary Art at West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center, is political, vibrant and sexy. It’s quite the powerful experience to witness an exhibit of art created by queer Chicanos, particularly in Los Angeles. In fact, it’s the first historical exhibition ever mounted in L.A. based on queer Chicano/a artists.
These queer Chicanos reflect the intersecting experiences of growing civil rights movements — the birth of feminism, the post-Stonewall gay liberation movement and anti-war efforts, such as the Chicano Moratorium that positioned the Vietnam War as a civil rights issue. Casualties of that war were, after all, disproportionately Black and Latino men.
The art of Axis Mundo speaks of a community of outsiders, outlaws and deviants. In fact, the word Chicano — much like the word queer — was a negative way of describing Mexican-Americans before young activists reclaimed it. The act of self-identifying as a Chicano was and is overtly political and defiant.
Resistance is an essential theme in all of the exhibit’s art by queer Chicanos. Much of the art resists gender norms and racial stereotypes. In one piece a man boldly brandishes a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “maricón,” which is one way to say “faggot” in Spanish. The t-shirts were produced by Joey Terrill as an act of pride and reclamation.
AIDS had a profound impact on the Queer Chicano community, as evidenced by the exhibit. The AIDS crisis and the activism it inspired are on full display here. You can even watch some of Ray Navarro’s DIVA TV (Damned Interfering Video Activists), with Ray dressed up like Jesus Christ at an ACT UP protest in New York City. Many of the artists featured in the exhibit died from HIV, leaving one to wonder what impact they would have had on politics and culture had they survived.
This exhibit is not to be missed if you find yourself in the Los Angeles area. It’s our history, our present and our future. The art of queer Chicanos is critical now with the current state of our world. Our president, who began his campaign with anti-Mexican racism, pardons racists and repeals DACA. And the rate of new HIV infections continues to rise among gay Latino men.
The story of queer Chicanos is just unfolding, and Axis Mundo is a moving part of it.
Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A. is organized by ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries, curated by C. Ondine Chavoya and David Evans Frantz.
The exhibition is presented in collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and is on view through Dec. 31, 2017, as part of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.