In his prints, drawings and other works on paper, Mexican-American artist Enrique Chagoya appropriates and reorganizes images taken from the American mass media, Mexican folk art and religious sources, using them to create biting and often very humorous political and social satire. Spark follows Chagoya as he works on a new series of satirical prints aimed at George W. Bush entitled “Saint George and the Dragon.” In the new series, Chagoya is experimenting with new printing techniques with master printmaker David Salgado from Trillium Graphics in Brisbane, California.
Born in Mexico City, Chagoya credits the nurse that helped raise him with his first exposure to the culture and history of the Mexican indigenous peoples. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political economics at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico in 1975. As a student, he worked on several rural development projects, which helped cement his interest in political and social activism. In 1977, Chagoya immigrated to the United States, where he worked as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer, sometimes in the service of farm laborers in Texas. In 1984, he graduated with a B.F.A. from the San Francisco Art Institute, then went on to earn an M.A. and an M.F.A. from the University of California at Berkeley. Chagoya worked as director of Galeria de la Raza, helping to establish the gallery as San Francisco’s premier venue for Chicano art. Since 1995, Chagoya has been teaching printmaking at Stanford University.
Chagoya uses his work to critique the manner in which history has traditionally been written by those nations that have dominated and colonized others. He calls his practice “reverse anthropology,” and he intends to overturn the direction of influence in Western art. For centuries, Western artists have mined folk and indigenous cultural production to use in their own work — Pablo Picasso incorporated African tribal masks to develop the cubist style; British sculptor Henry Moore turned to Aztec sculpture as an influence in his modernist bronzes; and American architect Frank Lloyd Wright used forms derived from Mayan structures. Each of these artists appropriated these forms but removed them from their original context, recasting them in terms of the development of Western high art. In his work, Chagoya reverses this process, taking images from the dominant American culture and placing them within the contexts of indigenous and developing-world perspectives.
Ambivalence about American culture plays into Chagoya’s work, which also seems to revel in the diversity of the United States, a world where, as Chagoya notes, “all cultures meet and mix in the richest ways, creating the most fertile ground for the arts ever imagined.” Chagoya’s complex and colorful prints often reflect this melding and mixing of cultures and influence, ripe with potential for new expressions and provocative humor.