Visual Art

PAMM’s Newest Show Explores What It Means to Be Chicano – Or Chicanx

Written By Douglas Markowitz
June 3, 2024 at 5:02 PM

Patssi Valdez, “Hot Pink” (still), 1980-1983, is part of the Perez Art Museum Miami’s Latest art exhibition  “Xican-a.o.x. Body.” (Photo courtesy of the artist and American Federation of Arts.)

The first thing visitors may wonder about “Xican-a.o.x. Body,” the Pérez Art Museum Miami’s latest art exhibition showcasing indigenous-descended Mexican-American art and artists, is how to say its title.

The answer, according to curator Gilbert Vicario, is however you want. The “X” at the beginning is pronounced like the English “ch” as in “cheese.” The letters at the end are gender-specific, “o” for males, “a” for females, and “x” for nonbinary people. So, depending on your preference, it can be “Chicano,” “Chicana,” or “Chican-ex Body.”

Alex Donis, “Scoob Dog and Officer Morales,” 2001. (Courtesy of the artist and American Federation of Arts)

It’s a title meant to reflect the diversity of identities in the show, in which 60 percent of the artists identify as queer or LGBTQ+. Yet the -x suffix may court controversy. Debates have raged in recent years around the similar term “Latinx,” which some consider an unwanted label used mainly by whites to describe Hispanics.

“It was something that came out of a North American academic context,” explains Vicario, “so it was always an argument about, ‘what is this addressing, what does it remedy? And how does it complicate when you bring terms like this into Latin America?’ It’s a whole complicated conversation.”

These debates had been going on during the planning of the show, which was prolonged due to the pandemic. Rather than scorn these new ideas around gender identity in Spanish, however, Vicario decided to “embrace” them. “In the Spanish language, you do have gender. You have gendered words, you have ‘Latino,’ ‘Latina.’ And my argument was that in the Latin community in the United States, half of us can’t speak Spanish, so it doesn’t matter.”

Isabel Castro, From the series “Women Under Fire,” 1980. (Photo courtesy of the artist and American Federation of Arts)

What does matter in “Xican-a.o.x. Body” is its scope. Featuring 150 works in multiple distinct mediums by 70 artists ranging from 28 to 87 years old, the show is a sweeping exploration of Chicana/o/x culture and identity, organized across eight thematic sections. Some artworks explore common Chicago cultural signifiers, such as lowrider cars and Cholo style. Others deal with historical and political themes, such as immigration, the prison system, labor struggles, and other sources of violence, repression, and resistance.

Photography features prominently, such as in James Luna’s “Half Indian/Half Mexican” series interrogating his own mixed identity, or Artemisa Clark’s series erasing Latin victims of state violence in news photographs, cutting out each silhouette and filling it with glitter. Subjects range from Chicano residents of Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles being forcibly evicted from their homes to make way for Dodger Stadium to the iconic photo of Elian Gonzalez confronted by federal agents in 2000.

James Luna, “Half Indian/Half Mexican,” 1991. (Photo courtesy of the Estate of James Luna and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York and American Federation of Arts)

Some of the most potent works meet these themes halfway. Esther Hernandez’s “Sun Mad III” features a Warhol-style screen printed image of the Sun-Maid Raisins mascot. Hernandez had witnessed the United Farm Workers strikes organized by César Chaves and Dolores Huerta in the Central Valley, where Sun-Maid grows its raisin grapes; her print transforms the young maiden into a skeleton in protest of the exploitation of Chicano/a/x laborers. It’s one of several pop art works that get their own section of the show, which Vicario calls its “culmination.”

“It really positions this earlier generation of artists who were working within the rubric of pop art that were never recognized, were never allowed to be part of the larger American narrative of pop art,” he says. “And it also connects with younger artists who are dealing with similar ideas around commercialization, popular images, and street culture.”

Ester Hernandez, “Sun Mad III,” 1981. (Courtesy of the artist and American Federation of Arts)

Originally set to debut at the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona, where Vicario was working at the time, it eventually debuted in 2023 at the recently-opened Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture in Riverside, California. Part of the Inland Empire region in Southern California, the change of venue allowed many of the artists in the show to attend the opening. When Vicario moved to Miami to work at PAMM in 2022, he lobbied to bring the show to the museum. He hopes the exhibition will expand knowledge and awareness of Chicano/a/x art and experience in the city and allow its diverse population to experience another distinct culture of Latin origin.

Fabian Guerrero, “Jose in front of Laundromat,” Lynwood, CA, 2017. From the series Brown Queer Rancheros. (Courtesy of the artist and American Federation of Arts)

“There are a lot of commonalities, a lot of things that link us. Most of the positive reactions that I’ve gotten have been from Cuban-American curators and artists,” he says. “I think it adds to the ongoing cultural conversation around Latin American culture. That was really one of the reasons why I wanted to bring the show, because I felt like PAMM is the institution to lead that effort. And this is the kind of show we should be doing, because it will demonstrate, not only to the community here, but to the rest of the U.S., why it’s important to have these conversations.”

“Xican-a.o.x. Body” opens Thursday, June 13 during PAMM’s Pride Night event, which will feature a happy hour, DJ sets, and a live drag show hosted by Tiffany Fantasia.

WHAT: “Xican-a.o.x Body”
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 .p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Monday; closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
WHERE: Pérez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
COST: $18 for adults; $14 for seniors (62 plus with ID), and students (with ID), and those 7 to 18 years old; free for children 6 and younger, museum members, active U.S. military and veterans (with ID), disabled visitors and caregivers, healthcare professionals and first responders (with ID), Florida educators (with ID).
INFORMATION: 305-375-3000 and  pamm.org

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music, and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com

latest posts

At The Frost Art Museum, Three Artists Make ‘Of W...

Written By Michelle F. Solomon,

At the Frost Art Museum, an immersive meditation on nature by three Miami artists takes on a life of its own.

Three gallery shows look toward tradition, our digital ...

Written By Karen-Janine Cohen,

Galleries and smaller venues have interesting options for the art-hungry this summer.

From London, A New Event Champions Female Artists in Mi...

Written By Douglas Markowitz,

Women Artists’ Art Week (WAAW), a London-based initiative that advocates for gender equality in the art world, is launching its inaugural U.S. edition in Miami.