Joe Arpaio Skewered in Opening of Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center

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I've often fantasized about an anti-Joe Arpaio art show utilizing the talents of the Phoenix art community, a show that would address the ongoing repression and tyranny here in Marikafka County (as some call it) in specific, and our beloved state of Ari-bama, in general. I've even promoted the idea to local gallery owners on Roosevelt Row, with no takers. The fine art satraps told me they were afraid of being targeted by the MCSO.

There's no such skittishness at the newly-opened Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center/Galeria 147 on Adams Street, right across from the Hyatt in downtown Phoenix. Their debut show Visiones included 45 different artists, some of whom attacked our home-grown persecutor of Hispanics and his troop of MCSO Latino-hunters straight on.

Perhaps the most iconic offering was Ramon Delgadillo's painting Crucifixion, showing a sainted prisoner in stripes, arms outstretched, palms showing stigmata, as an MCSO deputy points a gun at the inmate, ready to shoot. These two figures engage on a empty field of bright orange, like actors in a modern passion play.

There was also a funny metal sculpture of Arpaio by Chino Valley artist David Romo. Joe's represented with an actual gator (or croc) head wearing a copper crown. In one skeletal hand, he holds a pair of tiny handcuffs. The other hand bears a key. Hey, Christmas is coming up, and it sure would look great on Arpaio's desk, if anyone wants to present it to him at his next public event. Heh.

A last minute entry to the show was also one of my favorites: A mini-mural by Francisco Garcia, the talented young artist I wrote about in a recent Bird column. Garcia is the painter whose work was censored by a grade school in Pine-Strawberry, when the lily-white community there objected to the image of an African-American boy as well as other elements of the mural.

Garcia's Para al Arpaio depicts an Arizona divided. In the center is a face that's one-half Cesar Chavez, one-half Sheriff Joe. To the right of the Joe half there's an image of a ski-masked deputy drawing down on the viewer, the Arizona flag in the background, and an MCSO paddy wagon behind the gendarme. Below is a quote from the Gospels, "The evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks."

To the left of the Chavez half of the face, there's a Latina mother holding her child, students demonstrating for the Dream Act, and a student in cap and gown breaking the bonds of poverty, all set before the red, white and black flag of Chavez's United Farm Workers.

Curator/painter Jose Andres Giron explained to me that even though Garcia's piece was past the deadline for entry, and though it was still unfinished and Garcia ended up finishing it on the fly on the premises, he had to have the painting in the show. So he waived the rules, and made an exception for Garcia. Interestingly, Garcia's image of the ski-masked deputy was inspired by a New Times cover, one that was in turn inspired by a photo taken by activist Dennis Gilman.

Asked if the flack he'd been getting from some media outlets about the anti-Arpaio stuff worried him, he said no.

"As artists we are free to express ourselves and our opinions," he stated. "Here, we don't put any bars on content, short of [restricting] vulgarity."

However, the anti-Arpaio artwork was just part of a wide array of subject matter, styles and messages. There were images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Emiliano Zapata, Frida Kahlo, and other Latin-American icons. One mixed media sculpture entitled De la Tierra by Alex Garza, utilized rusted tools used to harvest onions, and featured a burlap-encased mummy, representing the manner in which indigent farmworkers were sometimes laid to rest.

There was a kinetic conceptual installation with floating license plates topped with tortillas, and a painting of President Obama, Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King bumping fists. A painting by artist Claudio Dicochea called Gangbangers juxtaposed Nazi figures with the profile of what looks like an ordinary, upper middle-class white guy.

I also appreciated the inclusion of Zarco Guerrro's haunting, hand-carved masks. The masks incorporate elements of Latin American and Asian masks, like those used in dance, theater, and religious ceremonies. Though based in Mesa, Guerrero's work is world-renowned, and he has been the subject of numerous write-ups and documentaries, as well as the recipient of several prestigious national, international and state awards.

Bravo to ALAC for a courageous, inspiring display of Latino art. Those interested should check out ALAC's Web site at alacaz.org, or visit the gallery in person at 147 E. Adams Street. It's open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., First Fridays 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

PS: In response to Shadow Wolf/GENO below, I should say my description of Dicochea's piece is mine alone. Though, being a self-loathing cracker myself, I see no problem with it. After hundreds years of slavery, massacres of Native Americans, and sundry other atrocities, a little collective guilt for some of the evil our forebears wrought goes a long way.

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