This publication is a beautiful cataloug of Then and Now: Aliens Sans Frontières an exhibition of new work by Enrique Chagoya featuring a major new codex along with several paintings and prints responding to recent events. Building on the themes of his Illegal Alien’s Guides, Aliens Sans Frontières (Aliens without Borders) examines the process of “othering” that occurs through the propagation of stereotypes. Chagoya pulls from a range of sources in constructing his images: figures from art of all forms, cultural icons, sociological texts and recent journalism. His paintings and drawings are built up by combining multiple disparate references, often with the result of lampooning or critiquing politics or cultural norms through a method that has been termed “reverse anthropology.”
The titular codex Then and Now: Aliens Sans Frontières is a sequel to Dystopian Cannibals, which was shown in his last exhibition at the gallery in 2014. It repeats the central motif of a wall, with stereotypic figures from ethnographic texts both in front of and behind the wall. The codex format Chagoya uses derives from ancient pre-Columbian books, which were often accordion-folded, read right to left and largely pictorial. In this instance, each page of the codex includes a single ‘stereotype’ in front of the wall, garbed in traditional dress, though with the face of each a mess of paint in which he has placed two glass eyes. The effect suggests a confusion or conflation of identity, undermining the purpose of such typecasting.
This idea is further explored in the painting Aliens in which the heads of a variety of characters in ethnic dress are exploding; literally exploding stereotypes. In other paintings Chagoya more pointedly touches on current events such as the Women’s March on Washington in the painting Day After or the string of devastating hurricanes that blew through the Caribbean and Gulf last fall in After the Hurricane. A new print edition, The President’s Xenophobic Nightmare in a Foreign Language revisits earlier paintings critiquing then-California governor Pete Wilson’s policies toward immigrants. In the print, it is the current president’s nightmare, as a crowd of “natives” devours his guts. Chagoya’s portrait of the president, Bathroom Painting, proffers a package of Preparation H as a potential remedy to today’s political climate.
Enrique Chagoya was born in Mexico City in 1953. He currently lives in San Francisco and is a professor of Fine Arts at Stanford University. A retrospective of his prints, Reimagining the New World, is currently on view at the Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, NV and the State University of Fredonia recently hosted a brief survey of his work, including prints, paintings and codices. Chagoya’s work is included in the collection of the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Hammer, the LA County Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among others. This is his eighth solo exhibition with the gallery since 2000. Softcover, 128 pages.