Viva Califas: Arts organizations come together to highlight the work of local Latinx artists

Huitzlipotzli by Ralph James D'Oliveira, part of the on-line exhibit Califas Legacy Project, beginning today.
Huitzlipotzli by Ralph James D’Oliveira, part of the on-line exhibit Califas Legacy Project, beginning today.

The Califas Legacy Project throws a much-needed spotlight on the contributions of local visual artists Guillermo Aranda, Carmen Leon, Ralph D’Oliveira, and Amalia Mesa-Bains

As in so many other realms of American culture, Latinx visual artists have often been rendered all but invisible. Teachers, for instance, looking for representation of Latinx artists in the classroom will often turn to Frida Kahlo, largely because there are few other easily accessible examples to choose from.

So says curator Betsy Anderson of the Santa Cruz-based Museo Eduardo Carrillo, who has for years been working to remedy that imbalance. This month, Museo, under Anderson’s direction, is launching perhaps its biggest effort yet in elevating Latinx visual arts, in something called the Califas Legacy Project.

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Today the Project launches a new on-line exhibit designed to showcase the work of four artists who have worked widely throughout Santa Cruz County and the Monterey Bay region.

In a partnership with the Santa Cruz Art League, the Califas project kicks off with a Zoom reception featuring SCAL curator Valeria Miranda in conversation with the four veteran local artists: Guillermo Aranda, Carmen León, Ralph D’Oliveira, and Amalia Mesa-Bains.

“This manner of representation is incredibly important in a county like Santa Cruz,” said Miranda, “because Latinos don’t really get to see much of their art work in local museums and galleries. It’s important for them to see themselves in the mainstream.”

(Top left, clockwise) Carmen León, Ralph D’Oliveira, Amalia Mesa-Bains and Guillermo (Yermo) Aranda.
Guillermo (Yermo) Aranda, Ralph D’Oliveira, Carmen León, and Amalia Mesa-Bains
(Courtesy Califas Legacy Project)

The new exhibition will be featured on the websites of both the Museo and the Art League. It will feature roughly 20 pieces per artist and give visitors a sense of the context of their art, and the process of its creation.

Several arts institutions around the Monterey Bay have partnered with the Museo to embrace the Califas project, from the Monterey Museum of Art to the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery on the campus of UC Santa Cruz to the Santa Cruz Public Library system and the Watsonville Public Library.

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It was nearly 40 years ago when Eduardo Carrillo — an artist and art professor at UCSC who died in 1997 — first conceived of Califas with a conference on Chicano art in California. It’s been Anderson’s charge at the institution named for Carrillo to continue that work.

“These folks have been working in the Central Coast for a long, long time,” said Miranda of the four artists highlighted in new exhibition. “Usually when people think about Chicano artists, they think only of Los Angeles or San Francisco. My conversations with them are to both give people a chance to get to know them, and to remind them that we have these treasures in our community.”

Historical Mural/Chicano Park, by Guillermo Aranda.
(Courtesy Califas Legacy Project)

It’s also, said Anderson, an effort to face the Frida Kahlo problem of Latinx representation.

“How can we represent Latinx culture in our classrooms?” she said. “That’s part of the Museo is committed to do, provide educational resources for teachers to make it easy to go to a website or a gallery and see a whole array of contemporary Chicano and Latinx artists.”

The live conversation with the four artists of the Califas Legacy Project will take place today at 6:30 p.m. Go to the online exhibition to join the Zoom event.