Malaquías Montoya

In terms of my artistic philosophy, it is important to note that my other “voice” is the poster/mural. I am much more articulate and able to express myself more eloquently through this medium. It is with this voice that I attempt to communicate, reach out and touch others, especially to that silent and often ignored populace of Chicano, Mexican and Central American working class (along with other disenfranchised) people of the world. This form allows me to awaken consciousness, to reveal reality, and to actively work to transform it. What better function for at this time? A voice for the voiceless.

My personal views on art and society were formed by my being born into that silent and voiceless humanity. Realizing later that it was not by choice that we remained mute but by a conscious effort on the part of those in power, I realized that my art could only be that of protest -- a protest against what I felt to be a death sentence.

As a Chicano artist I feel a responsibility that all my art should be a reflection of my political beliefs -- an art of protest. The struggle of all people cannot be merely intellectually accepted. It must become part of our very being as artists, otherwise we cannot give expression to it in our work. I am in agreement with Pedro Rodrigues when he said, “Fundamentally, artistic expression, or culture in general, reaches its highest level of creation when it reflects the most serious issues of a community, when it succeeds in expressing the deepest sentiments of a people and when it returns to the people their ideas and feelings translated in a clearer and creative way.”

Through our images we are the creators of culture and it is our responsibility that our images are of our times -- and that they be depicted honestly and promote an attitude towards existing reality; a confrontational attitude, one of change rather than adaptability -- images of our time and for our contemporaries. We must not fall into the age-old cliché that the artist is always ahead of his/her time. No, it is most urgent that we be on time.


It is these tenets that guide my work and of course my life. My inspirations come from that struggling collective. My work is a collaborative one. Although I address many issues, there are three prominent themes that run through my work. They are injustice, empowerment and international struggle. In my images of struggle for justice I try to illuminate with clarity the defects of social and political existence. The art historian, Dr. Ramon Favela has said of my work, “With strident forms of great simplicity and power the message conveyed by Montoya’s posters are exceedingly clear…his images are of a dispossessed humanity restrained and shackled by an incomprehensible and nefarious political condition.”

My images of empowerment are intended to confront the multitude of images of disempowerment given to us by our daily media. Images that disguise reality, manipulate consciousness, and lull the creative imagination to sleep. In my images I pay tribute to those who struggle on a daily basis. I pay homage to the workers and I aggrandize their efforts. I celebrate small and large victories of the human spirit. I depict people in control of their lives working together to change and transform their reality. As Bertold Brecht said, “Art should not be a mirror of reality but a hammer with which to shape a new reality.”

Images of international struggle are important to our community. They bring solidarity and, for this reason, my work is replete with international themes. My work attempts to serve as a bridge between our struggle and those of other countries. This helps to give us a better understanding of the world we live in and show us that we are not an isolated culture that failed but that we have a common antagonist that makes it necessary for us to unite. From Angola to Central America, from Palestine to the barrio, I have created images that speak to the disenfranchised. In this sense my work bears the imprint of contemporary Chicano Art which “reaches beyond the confines of the barrio.” However, it does so in a more dramatic sense, traveling through continents as well.
I must say my work is often referred to as propaganda art. I don’t mind being labeled as such since I feel all work is propagandist in nature, it just depends who you want to propagandize for. From cave painting to the present, art has always spoken on someone’s behalf.

Being a child in a farmworking family and having spent my childhood working in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley, California, I often witnessed in horror, panic-stricken men being pursued by immigration officers. They were chased through fields and alleyways of the migrant towns making a sport of this event. The image of the undocumented suspended on a barbed wire fence derives from these early experiences.







Chicano Studies
This image was done for the NACS conference in 1993, entitled “Defining Chicana and Chicano Studies.” The image questions the role of the university and its relationship to the community and examines gender roles and that relationship to Chicana/o Studies.


Trabajo y Asi, Transformo el Mundo
Coming from a farmworking background, my images of workers have always been of men and women, laboring in fields and back breaking jobs -- canneries, packinghouses, industry. In 1992, the Tomas Rivera Center in Claremont, California commissioned me, to develop a series of the role of the intellectual worker. Needless to say, I was confronted with something totally new to me. How to make an intellectual powerful, like images that I was used to producing of workers. I chose to represent positions that effect people’s lives -- the teacher, the musician, the computer technologist, and the lawyer represented here. I depicted him with banners of struggle along with law books as he defends the rights of other workers.





Un Maestro p’al Futuro
This painting was inspired by the life of Dr. Gary Keller’s father, Jack Keller, a compassionate man who never ceased learning, giving, and teaching. In this painting I depict a person standing with a book in one hand and blueprints rolled underneath an arm, surrounded by men listening to him. The book symbolizes the teacher and the blueprints represent the architect constructing a better future.



Presente! was inspired by the struggling women of the Zapatista revolt taking place in Chiapas, Mexico.