Organic Cannibal, 1996Enrique Chagoya (American, born Mexico, 1953)
Economist turned artist, Mexican-born Enrique Chagoya married an American researcher and moved to the United States in 1979. They settled in Berkeley and shortly thereafter, Chagoya began to study art. He graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1984 and earned his M.F.A. at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1987. From the start, spurred by 1980s activism regarding Central America, his work offered an outsider’s viewpoint and abundant political commentary, social satire, and cultural critique.
In 1992, Chagoya shifted from large paintings lampooning political figures to monotypes produced on a more intimate scale. These were inspired by Pre-Columbian history and extant Aztec codices (scrolls) with recorded figurative scenes of the religious and cultural life of Mexico before Spanish conquest. Unfolding like the deeds and deals of empire, the fictional codex Organic Cannibal runs the gamut of iconography, from Aztec imagery to colonial Christianity to 20th-century American and European popular culture, all printed on handmade paper similar to what the Aztecs used.
The artist explains, “My codex books are based on the idea that history is told by those who win wars."(1) This comingling of the sacred and profane sets the stage for abrupt juxtapositions — humorous, politically provocative, and enlightening — which show the artist’s individual take on history from Cortez to the border patrol in a muddled world united more by products than beliefs.
1. Borderlandia, exhibition brochure (Berkeley: Berkeley Art Museum, February 13–May 18, 2008).