Taking a closer look at anything is always worthwhile. There is always more about the world around us to be discovered; there is always a story behind even the most commonplace of items.
The problem is that most of the time we aren’t looking for a history behind the object and see only the object itself. I do this all the time, and I was never aware of just what I was missing until I experienced “Just Another Poster? Chicano Graphic Arts in California,” a new exhibit in the University Art Museum. While the brightly colored posters that adorn the walls of the museum do look deceptively like any of the other advertisements that we see everyday, a more in-depth study of them reveals the plight, as well as the hope, of a culture.
With more than 100 graphic images created by 56 Chicano artists, “Just Another Poster?” confronts issues from the United Farm Workers’ labor battle to inadequate education and abortion rights. Utilizing mainly silk-screens and digital imagery, these posters clearly and intelligently address the issues facing the Chicano community in the 1960s. Yet, beyond just addressing these issues, the posters call for social and political action to be taken by those who see them.
The various ways in which the posters get their messages across is really where the beauty of this exhibit lies. The use of bright reds, greens and yellows are particularly eye-catching, as are the inclusion of skeletons, eagles, self-portraits, bloodstains and, in one special case, Boy George in the works. Many of the posters also contain direct messages, such as “Boycott Coors,” in response to the racial hiring discrimination that the company employed in 1968.
One thing that completely took me by surprise was the abundance of English words used on the posters. At first, it didn’t even occur to me that it was an oddity that I could read the words on a poster created by a Mexican artist, but that’s egocentrism for you. A supplementary information pamphlet attributes the amount of English words used in the posters to the growing bilingual culture of the Chicano-Americans in this past century. Still, I found it a little sad that the creators of the announcements knew that if they wanted their messages to be most effective, they couldn’t print them in their native language.
I’d never seen anything like “Just Another Poster?” before, and I was very impressed by it. The beauty and originality of these posters are something remarkable on their own. What really got to me, however, was what this exhibit said about the troubles of such a large group of people and how it challenged me to look past the surface of not just the pieces in this show, but of everything I see. “Just Another Poster?” contains anything but.
“Just Another Poster?” is showing at the University Art Museum through March 4. Admission is free.