Alfred J. Quiroz


El encomendero


My extensive research for the "Happy Quincentenary" series led to my discovery of the encomienda system in colonial Mexico. The following is a reference to the repartimiento system that was founded by Columbus in 1499, ". . . the creation of a Spanish elite class, here and subsequently on the mainland (Mexico) that effectively denied land ownership to indigenous populations and produced the dangerous inequities that have stained Latin societies to this day." (Kirpatrick Sale, The Conquest of Paradise.) The land was divided up and literally given to the Spanish colonists to do as they pleased with the land, the people (the only consideration was that the indigenous people had to be converted to Catholicism), and the resources. The gentry were given first choice and then Spaniards that were deported, i.e. Jews and criminals, were given secondary choices of large parcels of Mexico. My purpose of this painting was depicting the beginning of the Mestizo culture because the encomienda system was the root of the Mestizo. Mestizos make up the population of Mexico today and that is inherent in every Chicano. This is the basis of the hidden caste system that exists in Mexico today. One is judged by the darkness of one's skin and I have experienced this personally in Mexico. The tattooed woman brings the riches of the land to the Encomendero who is literally backed by the church as he symbolically sits on the back of the slave, who is cowering in fear of losing his head for being too dark. In the background the relentless mining for gold destroys the environment. The piece is also constructed so that traditional venues of painting are altered by having images that break the rectangular format, literally spilling into the space. This format has been a common visual aesthetic for me as an artist.


¡No soy Chicano, soy Aztlano!


This self-portrait is in the traditional flat painting style. I feel it necessary as an artist to look at myself with the same satirical sense that I utilize conceptually in my other paintings, literally laughing at myself and the foibles of society that I have to endure. I depict the prejudicial slogans that are common in the American Southwest and Mexico. I once used the term "American" in a lecture at a conference (aforementioned 1989) and I was booed and hissed during my slide presentation. I was literally black-balled for a term. I was told later I had insulted the coterie because Mexico considered itself "American" also, since they reside in "Central America!" This was a totally new experience for me. I was even called a "Gringo" in Chiapas in 1996. This was a higher level of new experiences racially for me and my Mexican side of my family. I was a 17 year old busboy when I heard the word "Dirty Mexican" and I knew they really didn't mean what they said because I was not dirty; I was a Chicano, not Mexican. In the background the dotted red border denotes the region I reside in now: Arizona. The Aztecs claimed their homeland was in the North, a land they called Aztlan. They had settled in what is now Mexico City when they proclaimed this. North of Mexico is the Southwest, where the Hohokom people disappeared around 1400, near the time the Aztecs conquered Mexico City. The Hohokom resided in Arizona. I was born in the Aztlan region, Arizona. Around my waist circulates the known races of man conducting the ethnic secret hand-shake. Mexican slogans on the left are in the form of a visual icon used by the Aztecs in codices to indicate speech. All of these slogans are from real experiences of names that racially motivated individuals have used to describe me.

 

Goddess

This image shows my fascination with imagery of the Virgen de Guadalupe. It is a part of the religious iconography of a majority of Chicanos and Mexicans. But if one delves historically, without the religious meaning, one finds that this miraculous image is in the distinct painting style of European painting of that period. The outlined image and the sharp pointy rays are found in many artworks of that period. There is a stained-glass image made in the late 1400s displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with the same exact outline and rays as depicted in the Virgen. As a teenager I was perusing a sex education book and there was a full-page image of a medically anatomic vagina. The first thought that entered my mind was that it looked like the Virgen de Guadalupe. If one stares at the image of the Virgen for about a minute (similar to staring at the black, green and orange image of the American flag that is found in encyclopedias describing optical illusion and retina image retention) and looking at a white wall, one sees in opposite colors a vaginal image, which is traditionally a "goddess" icon. My composition is one of a stereo-optical illusion, the Virgen image painted in vaginal colors whilst a vagina is painted in the colors of the Virgen. They superimpose each if one stares at it stereo-optically. The background is the image of Coatlicue, the mother of the Aztec gods, a goddess on her side as a disposed icon and the new "Goddess," La Virgen. What was also an important element that was an inspiration is the site of the appearance of the Virgen de Guadalupe on a hill, "historically" the Virgen requests a shrine to be built on the crest of a hill where the buried temple of Tonantzin, an ancient "goddess" of the Aztecs, existed. Again a new goddess shrine replacing an older goddess site. To me the Virgen of Guadalupe is the supreme image of colonialism. To subjugate indigenous people, one must alter their beliefs. This painting was part of my "Happy Quincentenary" series. The series was inspired by a trip to Mexico City. I had been invited to lecture at the International Conference on the Plastic Arts in 1989. I met some indigenous artists from Mexico and asked them what plans were being made to celebrate the upcoming Quincentenary. One artist angrily replied that the Mexicans had nothing to celebrate. They lost their land, their culture and their own language. "We still speak the colonial tongue, Spanish!" I had never thought of the Spanish language as being the colonial tongue, since it is the common language of Mexico.

 


Ask Not …

President Kennedy's Inauguration speech inspired me to join the Navy upon graduating from high school in 1963. This painting depicts the image of Kennedy upon his arrival at Love Field in Dallas. I utilized a free-form format as almost a "dream balloon" used in comic books. I also wanted a somewhat "medieval" look, so I depicted individuals as cherubs that were somewhat connected to Kennedy, who had also been assassinated. The first head is Jack Ruby; there are "conspiratorial theories" that he was injected with a poison and died in prison. I have him over Jackie's bloodied dress as if it was a relic of religious devotion. Ruby commented that he killed Lee Harvey Oswald because he didn't want Jackie to suffer the turmoil of a trial. The next head is Oswald with the cartoonic blackeye he received from the police. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King follow. Then there is Sam Giancana, mafia boss, who shared the same girlfriend with JFK (she's depicted in the head of JFK as part of his hair and throat), and the final cherub is Malcolm X. The head of JFK (a separate piece that is attached to the main oak panels) rests on the outline of his suit that encompasses the image of PT-109. A Japanese destroyer bears down on the sleeping crew. (There are reports that the crew of PT-109 were asleep and were consequently rammed by the destroyer.) I depicted the torpedoes as cartoon characters who are also sleeping (i.e. impotent). A sleeping sailor on the deck has erotic dreams. JFK's head is made up of the notable women in his life; Marilyn Monroe forms his nose. I was inspired by the Victorian images of faces that were composed of erotic imagery. This type of depiction is known as "Archimboldesque portraits" named after Guiseppe Archimboldo, late 1500s painter. The Eternal Flame (also a cut-out image) dreams of the Carcano rifle (assassination weapon) returning to its "roots" sprouting to alter the memory. The "Magic Bullet" (actual depiction and also a cut-out image) dreams of its "magical path." This dark night event was symbolic of the assassination. Being blind-sided twice in a lifetime. Both times Kennedy was riding in a vehicle. I utilized traditional methods of underpainting and layers of glazing, which is similar to painting methods of the Renaissance.