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Paying homage to a pioneer of the Chicano Movement
Photo courtesy: CHAC Gallery

By Joshua Pilkington

With the aim of paying homage to a mural that defined Colorado’s Chicano Movement while also celebrating the 50th anniversary of that movement, the CHAC Gallery and Arts Center is showcasing a new exhibition.

On Friday, September 7th, CHAC will have several, prominent artists from the area showcasing

“It’s an homage to the mural that Carlotta Espinoza produced more than 50 years ago,” said one of CHAC’s founding artists Carlos Santistevan in reference to Espinoza’s 1966 mural titled “A Tribute to Three Mexican Heroes.”

The mural, which depicts Benito Juarez, Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, is one of two that Espinoza painted for the Crusade for Justice center in Denver founded by activist Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales. Though one of the murals did not survive the 1973 bombing of the center, “Heroes” did and is now being remembered by five different artists at this special showing.

“This particular mural was one of the earliest, if not the earliest murals of the Chicano Movement,” Santistevan said of the mural’s significance. “That gives you a foundation as to why we are paying homage to this mural.”

Among the invited artists are local figures such as Josiah Lopez, Alejandra Lujan, Carlos Fresquez, Frank Zamora and Megan De Anza.

“They are going to give their interpretation of the mural and the movement,” said Santistevan who is also curating the event. “As a curator I’m giving them free reign to produce what they want to do.”

For Lopez, for example, his interpretation is going to be a very true-to-form interpretation of the piece with a slightly different set of tools.

“My piece is going to be a black and white drawing and it’s going to be large scale,” Lopez said. “I’m trying to recreate Carlota’s original mural in my version. I’m going to update it while still using a lot of the same elements that her mural did with Benito Juarez and Emiliano Zapata, the mestizo heads, the soldiers and the eagle. I’ll use a lot of the same imagery that’s in the mural.”

In a collaboration with another renowned Colorado artist and muralist, Carlos Fresquez, Denver artist Frank Zamora said he was excited to work on a piece that adapts the imagery presented in Espinoza’s “Heroes” in a new light.

“[Espinoza’s] is about Mexican history whereas we’ve brought it down to six, generic figures from the pre-Colombian, the Revolutionary and the Contemporary Chicano periods,” Zamora said of the three couples depicted in the mural through the various stages of Chicano history. “We’re going to spruce it up with some words and we’re going to stress the mural out to give it the look of age.”

Though seen as a means to pay homage to Espinoza’s original piece, Zamora added that he is not entirely sure that the artist is on board with the imitations.

“What’s that saying, ‘imitation is the most sincerest form of flattery’?” He asked. “It didn’t sound like [Espinoza] was too happy with that. She comes from the old school and is self taught and if you copy, that can be considered the worst thing ever.”

Nevertheless, Zamora added that he believes the cause is a great one as it showcases how Denver was not only in the forefront of the country’s Chicano Movement, but also had a prominent female artists leading the charge.

“In Denver we kind of fall through the sieve of Chicano history, but a lot has gone on here,” he said. “If we don’t validate it ourselves, who’s going to do that for us?”

The CHAC Gallery will display the homage to Carlota Espinoza on September 7 as part of First Friday an event created for Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe’s. The First Friday Art Walks go from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.

The CHAC Gallery is now open at 222 Santa Fe Dr.





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