100 Creatives

ASU Art Museum Curator Julio Cesar Morales on Fearing Phoenix's Racism

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 30. Julio Cesar Morales.

Julio Cesar Morales has a complicated relationship with Phoenix.

He moved to the Valley in 2012, when he joined ASU Art Museum in Tempe as curator, leaving behind an adjunct curatorship at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Since then, Morales has seen the city at its best — and its worst. 

The Tijuana-born artist's politically charged work, focusing on migration and labor, has been featured in publications including the New York Times and Artforum, and in exhibitions at Los Angeles County Museum of Art and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among many others. And his curating efforts have included a George Kuchar retrospective at the San Francisco Art Institute and "Politica y Poecia," which brought contemporary Mexican art to the National Watercolor Museum in Sweden.

Despite his notoriety, Morales' time in Phoenix has been marked by threats he's faced from people wielding everything from a crowbar to what he deems "pure stupidity." These instances confirmed that the Phoenix he had heard about, the city rampant with racism and ignorance, very much exists. But, there's a flip side to it that helps him take heart. "What I find inspiring," he says, "is the local activism by individuals and organizations fighting against social injustices within Arizona."

Morales takes that stimuli and channels it into his work, which he characterizes as "social-based abstracted artwork that uses whatever medium necessary." In his exploration of human trafficking and underground economies, he's employed watercolors, turntables, and neon signage, among other media. His current project, for instance, is an electronic cumbia record he's working on with his musical collaborator, DJ Lengua. 

His goal in curating at ASU Art Museum is no less impressive. "Dreaming is free," he says. "So I would like to think that I am working towards the first and largest Latin American video archive in the nation in one of the most dangerous locations to be from or descendants from the Americas."

Reflecting on how he balances personal art projects, day-to-day museum demands, and home life (Morales affectionately refers to his kids as "chupacabras"), he has a simple explanation of his greatest accomplishment. Quoting the Sid Vicious take on Frank Sinatra's classic, Morales adds his own twist: "I did it my guey." 

I came to Phoenix with a fear of racism.

I make art because it keeps me alive.

I'm most productive when it’s late at night.

My inspiration wall is full of books.

I've learned most from letting go.

Good work should always make you think.

The Phoenix creative scene could use more artist-run spaces.

The 2016 Creatives so far:

100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
92. Sarah Waite
91. Christina "Xappa" Franco
90. Christian Adame
89. Tara Sharpe
88. Patricia Sannit
87. Brian Klein
86. Dennita Sewell
85. Garth Johnson
84. Charissa Lucille
83. Ryan Downey
82. Samantha Thompson
81. Cherie Buck-Hutchison
80. Freddie Paull
79. Jennifer Campbell
78. Dwayne Hartford
77. Shaliyah Ben
76. Kym Ventola
75. Matthew Watkins
74. Tom Budzak
73. Rachel Egboro
72. Rosemary Close
71. Ally Haynes-Hamblen
70. Alex Ozers
69. Fawn DeViney
68. Laura Dragon
67. Stephanie Neiheisel
66. Michael Lanier
65. Jessica Rajko
64. Velma Kee Craig
63. Oliver Hibert
62. Joya Scott
61. Raji Ganesan
60. Ashlee Molina
59. Myrlin Hepworth
58. Amy Ettinger
57. Sheila Grinell
56. Forrest Solis
55. Mary Meyer
54. Robert Hoekman Jr.
53. Joan Waters
52. Gabriela Muñoz
51. ColorOrgy
50. Liz Magura
49. Anita and Sam Means
48. Liz Ann Hewett
47. Tiffany Fairall
46. Vanessa Davidson
45. Michelle Dock
44. Nia Witherspoon
43. Monique Sandoval
42. Nayon Iovino
41. Daniel Davisson
40. Andrew King
39. Michelle Moyer
38. Jimmy Nguyen
37. Tiffany Lopez
36. Kristin Bauer
35. Donna Isaac
34. Douglas Miles
33. Sierra Joy
32. Francisco Flores
31. Amy Robinson
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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski

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