Value Pomo for my research

Janette Wilson (G1824303@NMSUVM1.BITNET)
Sat, 9 Apr 1994 15:19:18 MDT

I have sent something similar to this message in a private communication months
ago, but maybe this message may be of interest to (10) people. If not, my
apologies. Postmodern writers have criticized earlier writers who contended
that narrative was inconsistent with "fine art" and who lauded that art which
was deemed "original" and "avant-garde". Postmodern writers have also
criticized the hegemony in the labeling of art as "fine" or "folk" -- (Who
decides on the criteria to be used for such labeling?, etc.) I have been
conducting research on muralism in El Seguno Barrio, a community in El Paso,
Texas. At a murals conference I attended in 1992 at UTEP, an (Anglo) artist
commented that he was tired of Virgin of Guadalupe murals. He hoped that funds
would go to original murals. Another (Chicano) muralist retorted that he "felt
called upon" to paint La Virgen de Guadalupe. Other Chicano muralists felt
that the Virgin of Guadalupe has been painted enough. Here's my input to this
situation: In the community, the Virgin of Guadalupe murals which are
devotional murals (that is, the image is not just one element among many, but
is the primary image) have not received extra-community funding. They have
been funded by the muralists, residents, and small business (generally a
neighborhood grocery store) owners. The residents in the neighborhood leave
offerings at the mural sites. They also do not leave offerings at the murals
in other neighborhoods. The muralist who made the disparaging comment at the
conference (and tourists who can go in vans from site to site) may see the
murals as mere copies, but for the people who live in the neighborhood, the
mural has localized significance. It is adherence to a view of the "original"
as better that blinds one to the value of the so-called "copy." Ironically
enough, the tourists and non-community El Pasoans, in some ways, have more
access to the murals. When I mentioned to one maker of a Virgin of Guadalupe
mural that he might enjoy seeing a mural in progress by a professional
muralist at the community library, he laughed and said, "I can't go there.
That's Thunderbird territory." He went on to say that he might get beaten up
or even killed. I discovered that he went to the main branch library rather
than the one a few blocks away.

There is another aspect to the localized nature of the devotional murals
(which applies to other murals as well). When associated with gangs (as when
a mural is dedicated to a slain gang member), the mural may get tagged by a
rival gang. Whether it gets trashed depends upon a number of factors,
including placement of mural on the building (high, low), names of deceased
written on the mural, closeness of gang hangout (to protect mural) to the
mural, etc. Dismissing the murals as "just copies" leads one to ignore the
sensibility of the Enemy Virgin.

And then there's the "fine" vs. "folk" dichotemy. In LIppard's book Mixed
Blessings there's a quote by a Chicano artists who said that a white artist is
written as creating an "installation" -- while he is written as painting
"murals". Murals in El Paso have been called "folk" murals --ain spite of
the fact that most of the muralists have art training - BAs, BFAs, MFAs.
Some without academic art training have social work college training. The
amateur muralists generally have received instruction from trained artists,
from workshops in which they looked at books, etc. -- the kinds of background
that don't jive with "folk art traditions." One of the reasons for viewing
this art as "folk" art is the inheritance of the view expoused by some late-
Modern artists that "narrative" has no place in "fine" art.

I can understand that a lot of postmodern writing is obtuse, whatever. But,
for me, some of postmodern writers who have addressed the themes of "original-
ity vs copying", "fine vs. folk" have written material which is very relevant
to my own anthropological research. (I hope this message is not a total mess-
- I'm trying to keep it short so as not to cost bucks to those uninterested in
more talk about pomo.) As VAn Gogh wrote, "with a handshake in thought," JW