In its pinpoint gallery space, the oldest nonprofit artist coop in Tucson, Raices Taller, diffuses the summer heat with its art. The collective begins the monsoon season with its Chubasco show, gathering art from members of its community that flame messages of politics, folklore and the interconnection of water with the desert.
Ceci Garcia, one of the original founding members of Raices Taller 17 years ago, is an artist and teacher who welcomes a visitor to the exhibit, this year a collection of 60-plus pieces interpreting via mixed media beauty and pain in a desert summer.
“In our culture the chubasco serpent touches the earth in the form of lightning, kicking out the rain,” she explains. “Our works are shown with that same intention, to gather the spirit of the season and convey its energy and messages in our art.”
Walking through the gallery, soothing cool painted water scenes…colorful tributes to migrants… mournful political messages of death and drug lords in the desert…all form a narrative for the collective’s Chubasco homage:
- A watercolor, painted by African-American sign painter John Wilson, evokes a more traditional scene of an egret. Ceci wants the painting to remind us that the great birds still visit Fort Lowell Park, although recent wildfires have caused the big water birds much suffering.
- One younger artist, David Contreras, titles his painting, “Coyotes need love, too.” His large canvas evokes drought and desperation in a shadowy scene of a drug lord coyote and a stricken, ghostly woman. It radiates the politics and the discontent of our borders, Ceci observes.
- Storytelling jumps from colorful Tineo art, which precisely captures a glittering beauty of the Corn Maiden. Painting in characteristic thick strokes, Tineo has formed an image of the maiden cradling a migrant farm worker, with mountains in the background symbolizing journeys the worker will face in his walk through the desert.
Each painting, collage and sculpture continues to shape the story that Ceci helps reveal. One work references Sabino Canyon, reminding Ceci of family members who helped construct the dams, ponds and walkways as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Passing a fish enamel and ink gouache on wood, Ceci smiles, commenting, “that’s Big Jim’s sand shark!” Gallery walls also display Aztec symbols and photographic travelogues — cultural and current documentation of water’s influence. The mood throughout the gallery shifts from somber and provocative, to wonder, joy and laughter.
Ceci believes art always returns to a foundation that rests on our ancestors. She tells a story of her family — multi-generations of miners and ranchers from Superior, Mammoth and Oracle — always celebrating el El Dia de San Juan, “even if it was just dousing the kids with a garden hose.” She recalls other community stories, about the early days of Tucson’s arts cooperatives — busy times as the Chicano mural movement emerged in the city, with art acting as a conduit of political thought, inspiration, creativity and collective action.
Raices Taller started in resistance, as a place for Latinos to show their work. It’s now a diverse, multi-ethnic community, energized by new generations of artists who embrace tradition, yet interpret with contemporary meaning.
“We work in history but our work also looks ahead. There are fresh tales about a familiar landscape, and our art allows us to create cultural connections,” says Ceci.
- Raices Taller’s July 19 Assemblage workshop is open to all members of the community, all skill levels. Learn more about the workshops, the collective and the exhibits: https://www.facebook.com/RaicesTaller
- Chicano Murals in Tucson (many of the muralists were part of Raices Taller collective) http://parentseyes.arizona.edu/folkarts/murals.html