Acciones Plásticas プリクラ

At long last my top-secret collaboration with artist Maya Escobar can be revealed. Our artist statement follows the images. Big ups to Carianne Noga for helping Maya and I get this project going.

Acciones Plásticas プリクラ is a collaboration between St. Louis based artist Maya Escobar and San Francisco based artist Rio Yañez.

Maya Escobar is a Guatemalan-Jewish digital media and performance artist, currently living in St. Louis.  Her work addresses issues of cultural hybridity, gender, placelessness, and the construction of identity. Rio Yañez is a Chicano curator, photographer, and graphic artist based out of San Francisco. His work utilizes and challenges Chicano mythology and visual iconography.

In Acciones Plásticas Escobar created a multi-faceted “doll” by assuming the role of designer and distributor, and even posing as the actual doll itself.  Each doll was a satirical characterization of some of the many roles that have been projected upon her, and into which she has, at points, inevitably fallen. In conjunction with these images, she developed a short series of low-definition youtube video blogs through which she inhabits the lives of “real women” who have each been visibly defined by societal constructs.

Recently, Yañez has been utilizing Japanese photobooths (known as Purikura or “print-club”) as an artist’s tool for creating portraits. These booths are much more common in Japan than their United States counterparts. As a catalyst for creative expression and social interaction they are used primarily by young urban Japanese girls. A standard feature in all Purikura booths allows the user to digitally decorate their portraits after they take them. The options are vast and include wild characters, excessive starbursts of light, pre-made phrases and the option to draw your own text directly on the image. Purikura gives the subjects near-divine powers of self-expression in crafting their own portraits.

The two artists who met over the web, decided to bring together Escobar’s highly charged and evocative Acciones Plásticas characters with Yanez’s notorious Chicano graphic-art style and new found obsession with Purikura images, as a way of addressing the construction of Latina identities.

Maya posed as The Latina Hipster: a bad-ass Morrissey-lovin’, tuff-girl sexy chica; The Latina Role Model: a diploma totin’ intellectual, sexy, social media goddess; and finally, The Homegirl: a hybridized version of Escobar’s Midwestern Chach (or Chachi Mama) and Yañez’s West Coast Chola, who sticks up her middle finger in what appears to be an act of defiance, but really is her protective shield.

Maya sent digital images to Rio, who in turn drew portraits of her as each of these constructed identities, approaching each portrait with a Purikura sensibility and decorating them each as the characters represented might accessorize themselves. The final series of portraits is the result of negotiating multiple identities and influences. Guatemalan, Jewish, and Chicano sensibilities reflected back through a Japanese Purikura aesthetic. Acciones Plásticas プリクラ challenge and question the thin line between archetype and stereotype. The Purikura elements present the novel signifiers of each social construct represented in the series.

This collaboration is the first of many to come as Maya and Rio explore the commonalities and differences of their cultural identities.

A Challenge to Chicano Rappers

Something that has always vexed me is the act of laying claim to Chicano identity without bearing any political responsibilities or consciousness. To me, Chicanos don’t always have to be Mexican-Americans but the line in the sand is that calling yourself Chicano is identifying with a leftist political ideology. That’s why it burns my ass to no end that there is a genre of Hip-Hop known as Chicano Rap that is all but devoid of politics.  The only references to identity in most Chicano Rap albums has to do with identifying as a Norteño or Sureño aside from vague references to “Brown Pride.” At this point in our political culture the idea of “Brown Pride” has been exhausted of its political meaning and we’ve now progressed way beyond it.

Pop in almost any mainstream Chicano Rap album and you’re more than likely to hear stories of popping caps, being king of the block, representing a clicka, slanging ‘caine, getting respect, and other acts of depoliticized patriarchal bullshit. Despite all of these Chicano rappers trying to out-badass each other there’s one person that’s got them all beat. That person is one Ms. Lily Allen.

These Chicano Rappers aint got shit on me
"These Chicano Rappers ain't got shit on me"

This weekend I was cycling through Lily Allen songs on my ipod while riding on a train to San Jose and came across Nan, You’re a Window Shopper. The song is Lily Allen’s version of 50 Cent’s Window Shopper. It’s a cheeky diss track against Allen’s own grandmother. What’s so revolutionary about it is that the song covers territory that’s essentially forbidden to Chicano Rappers. Think about it, Chicano Rap songs are filled with predictable tropes of  violence and nostalgia but even the most baddest of cholos still hold some things sacred. Lily Allen was brave enough to break one of our most basic social conventions and for that she is more dangerous than any Chicano Rapper.

Question: Despite all the hyper-masculine posturing, can you ever picture any of these supposedly hardcore Chicano Rappers cutting a track against their own dear abuelitas?

The bar has been set by Lily Allen. I dare any of you calling themselves Chicano Rappers to reach for it. Put up or shut the fuck up.

Sincerely,

Rio

Did someone say Frida?

I just got back from seeing Slumdog Millionaire at the Kabuki with Mariela and my mom. It’s become a Thanksgiving tradition for us to go to the movies and catch a late night show. I returned home tonight with my tummy full of turkey and my mind racing in reaction to the brilliance of Danny Boyle’s latest film.

What’s most on my mind is the namesake of lead actress Freida Pinto. When Mariela and I saw her name in the closing credits sequence we looked at each other and made faces that said “Oh Snap!” Freida Pinto sounds like it could be the name of a homegirl lampin’ at the MUNI stop on 24th and Mission. I was instantly intrigued. As the credits rolled Mariela and I contemplated the possibility of a Latina being cast as an Indian in this film. It seemed nigh-impossible but a doubt lingered thanks to Bollywood/Hollywood a (pretty awful) movie that featured an Indian woman who passes herself off as Latina.

Our conversation ended with me saying “I’mma google that shizzle as soon as I get home.” I did, sure enough, and could only definitively find out that she is in fact Indian. The origin of her name still eludes me although, admitedly, I have a shameful lack of knowledge of Indian culture. I would greatly appreciate anyone willing to drop some science on my ass about the origins of her name. Freida Pinto and the entire cast of Slumdog Millionaire gave amazing performances and I look forward to seeing more films by them.

**UPDATE**: I did some further detective work and it seems Freida’s name originates from her being Mangalorean Catholic. Very interesting indeed. If anyone has any other information on this topic please hit me up.

Peace,

Rio

Ps. Mariela and I were absolutely giddy at the sprinkling of M.I.A.’s Paper Planes thoughout the film. It pops up at least twice, including a frantic montage set aboard a train. M.I.A. also has an original song named O… Saya in the film. Slumdog Millionaire‘s soundtrack is at the top of our Christmas lists. It doesn’t come out on physical CD until December 23rd although it is available for download on itunes right now.