Southwest 'casta' paintings spotlight race, popular culture

In this Feb. 16, 2018, photo border artist Claudio Dicochea explains one of the paintings in his "Acid Baroque" exhibit on display at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art in Scottsdale, Ariz., through May 20. These and other works by the 45-year-old Dicochea give a contemporary psychedelic spin to the colonial "casta" or caste paintings first created in 18th century Mexico, taking us to the crossroads of colonialism and modern day popular culture as he examines the concept of "mestizaje," or mixed identity. (AP Photo/Anita Snow)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Masked Mexican rebel leader Subcomandante Marcos, wearing a purple three-piece suit, is paired with Britney Spears in a Wonder Woman costume. Their child is a tiny albino Marcos, smoking a pipe and wearing a turban with his own little ski mask, his body the black-suited torso of James Bond.

Another work by border artist Claudio Dicochea shows Ronald Reagan standing on a Pan American jet in colorful cowboy boots. Coupled with Salma Hayek reprising her role as Frida Kahlo but wearing the uniform of a Russian czar, their son is Heath Ledger as the Joker dressed in a pirate's getup. Their daughter is the late Mexican movie star Dolores del Rio with the body of superhero Vampirella and the headdress of Aztec emperor Montezuma.

Spotlighted in the exhibit "Acid Baroque," on display at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art through May 20, these and other works by the 45-year-old Dicochea give a modern psychedelic spin to the colonial "casta" or caste paintings first created in 18th century Mexico, taking viewers to the crossroad of colonialism and contemporary popular culture as he examines the idea of "mestizaje," or mixed-race identity. The exhibit is part of a program at the museum that showcases up-and-coming artists from Mexico and the American Southwest.

The original caste paintings are still seen at some museums, including the one at Mexico City's Chapultepec Castle, and feature portraits of mixed-race families — usually the parents and one or two children. They illustrate how intermarriage among Indians, blacks, Spaniards and mixed-race people after the conquest created hierarchal classifications of every mix imaginable, with the children born from diverse couplings arranged from lightest- to darkest-skinned in a kind of table of elements.

In Dicochea's reimagining of the genre, public figures and celebrities from the 20th and 21st centuries such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Fidel Castro, as well as numerous Mexican TV soap opera stars, are the parents and children.

Race is fluid as the artist uses various materials on wood including acrylic, charcoal, graphite and transfer to tie images together into colorful collages. John Wayne the cowboy movie idol is pictured as an Indian rather than an Indian killer. Albert Einstein is shown as a black child in jeans and T-shirt on a bicycle.

"It's a really serious meditation on race by someone who grew up on the border," museum director and chief curator Sara Cochran said. "I like to call this a Trojan horse show, a beautiful show that teaches you something by the back door."

For Dicochea, creating a new riff on the old casta paintings is a critique of the role visual arts play in shaping ideas about race.

"At the core level, I'm showing that the ideas of race and ethnicity are social processes that are made up rather than natural phenomenon, that they are constructed to exert control," he said.

His work is being displayed through the museum's southwestNET program, which annually spotlights one or more mid-career artists from the region believed to be on the verge of achieving iconic status, Cochran said. The artists can come from Mexico or anywhere in the Southwest from California to Texas and up to Utah and Colorado.

Past southwestNet artists have included Postcommodity, an arts collective that brought a four-channel video with sound of the U.S.-Mexico border fence, titled "A Very Long Line," to the 2017 Whitney Biennial in New York.

Dicochea was born in San Luis Colorado, Mexico, where the northwestern corner of Sonora state meets southwestern Arizona, just south of Yuma. His family immigrated to the U.S. when he was an infant, and he grew up along the border.

As a youth, Dicochea labored briefly as a farmworker, irrigating fields in the Yuma Valley. He left at age 20 to study at the University of Arizona in Tucson, later continuing his studies at the San Francisco Art Institute and Arizona State University in Tempe, where he obtained a master's in fine arts. He and his wife, Adriana, a painter from the border city of Nogales, Mexico, now live in San Antonio, Texas.

Among Dicochea's earliest mentors was the late African-American painter Robert Colescott, known for satirical paintings such as "George Washington Carver crossing the Delaware," which replaced the revolutionary war hero with the black botanist and inventor standing in a boat filled with domestic workers and minstrels.

Dicochea included Colescott's work in an exhibit of sometimes racially charged works he recently put together with curator Julio Cesar Morales at the ASU Art Museum in an examination of the current social and cultural climate.

"Claudio addresses gender, race and class," said Morales, "offering a very smart mashup of different cultures and styles to tell the story of where we are now."

Must Read

Rio authorities step up security after bus windows shattered

Aug 10, 2016

Military police in Rio de Janeiro are stepping up security at the Olympics after a bus carrying journalists had two of its windows shattered by a projectile and a bullet flew into the stables of the equestrian venue

Beyond 'Obamacare': State initiatives refocus health debate

Aug 9, 2016

Political activists are looking to state ballot questions to move beyond "Obamacare" and refocus the nation's long-running debate over government's role in health care

Bangladesh court grants bail to ex-PM Zia in sedition case

Aug 10, 2016

Bangladesh's former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was granted bail in 10 cases involving charges of arson and sedition

People also read these

Hearing on Johnny Depp domestic violence allegations delayed

Aug 9, 2016

A judge is briefly delaying a restraining order hearing involving Johnny Depp and his estranged wife because it is expected to span several days; depositions of both actors set

TV executive predicts 500-show bubble destined to deflate

Aug 9, 2016

Television viewers know there's a mind-boggling array of shows to attempt to watch, but FX Networks chief executive John Landgraf predicts that change is coming

10 Things to Know for Thursday

Aug 11, 2016

Among 10 Things to Know: Criticism may be slowing Trump train; 'Grim Sleeper' sent to death row; versatile ESPN sportscaster dies at 61

Weather, 20 December
Houston Weather
+7

High: +11° Low: -2°

Humidity: 83%

Wind: NNE - 7 KPH

Canberra Weather
+27

High: +27° Low: +17°

Humidity: 87%

Wind: W - 20 KPH

Roissy-en-France Weather
+6

High: +6° Low: -5°

Humidity: 87%

Wind: ENE - 7 KPH

Florence Weather
+9

High: +9° Low: +6°

Humidity: 97%

Wind: ENE - 17 KPH

Parga Weather
+7

High: +16° Low: +4°

Humidity: 100%

Wind: SE - 25 KPH