The Department of Art and Art History presents Detention at the Border of Language, a survey of paintings, drawings, prints, and multiples by Enrique Chagoya, on view Oct. 22–Dec. 6, 2019, at the Coulter Art Gallery.
I believe that everybody is an alien. I think that we all come from somewhere else. Nobody is pure ethnically. Those times are gone. Maybe there was never any purity in human history in terms of ethnicity because we are all part of the same genome. Personally, I feel that I am a citizen of a borderless country and I know people who are also from that country. These are people who generally have experience moving from one place to another. My experiences have made me realize that I am from everywhere and from nowhere.
Recently I searched for my own DNA history. I’m 51% Native American from Central Mexico, 28% Iberian or Southern European, probably from Spain, and the remaining 21% includes forbearers who were Ashkenazi Jews, Northern European, Middle Eastern Arabs, as well as others from North Africa, Southern and Eastern Asia. My ancestors were promiscuous. They traveled and cheerfully mixed with other ethnic groups.
When I made self-portraits as multiples with many ethnic stereotypical representations, I wanted to denounce the stereotypes by showing that there was a real human being behind them (who me?), they also were self-portraits of my DNA in an unexpected way. I did those drawings before I got my DNA results, and they turned out to be very much like what I portrayed (not the stereotypes of course). My first ancestors, from 250,000 years ago, were from North Central Africa. That’s where the first Chagoya was born. We are so lucky to be here alive, with all these accidental mixes. We’re all part of everything, a big social organism. But just as our DNA might be mixed we could have a civil war in our blood if our genes did not get along with each other. But they do get along, they make us. I think that our differences enrich our lives. The more genetic diversity we have, the better our chance for survival.
I also look into the connections between the economy, the enormous political powers behind it, and the contributions that all immigrants bring to the overall production of our material life and wellbeing. Seeing the way some politicians use xenophobia for personal political gain makes me wonder if the same politicians forget that they too are descendants of immigrant ancestors and in some cases are immigrants themselves. So just as our different genes originally from different parts of the world inhabit our bodies peacefully without an internal civil war, I wonder if we as humans someday can do the same–live in peace with each other, celebrating our differences rather than being afraid of each other. Needless to say this would require economic fairness, and a more sustainable relationship with our planet’s life and natural resources. This is an urgent change that may happen out of necessity not out of ideologies. The other option is self extinction.
I don’t want to be didactic with my imagery at all. My art just helps me to exorcise my anxieties in my best possible creative mood, and I feel lucky to have the context in which my freedom is expressed. We don’t change the world with art, but art may help us to think and dream a little bit about positive changes in real life. I rarely speak about my work with my students, so I appreciate this opportunity to share what I do in different media that I use in my art with them and the greater campus community. -Enrique Chagoya, Artist and Professor of Art Practice
Image: Detention at the Border of Language, 2019. Ten color hand printed lithograph, 22x30 in.
Coulter Art Gallery is located in the McMurtry Building at 355 Roth Way. Tuesday-Sunday, 12-6 pm.