"My personal views on art and society were formed by my being born into that silent and voiceless humanity. Realizing later that it was not by choice that we remained mute but by a conscious effort on the part of those in power, I realized that my art could only be that of protest - a protest against what I felt to be a death sentence."
﷯Malaquias Montoya was born in 1938 in Albuquerque, New Mexico and raised in California's San Joaquin Valley. He was brought up in a family of seven children by parents who could neither read nor write in Spanish or English. The three oldest children never went beyond a seventh grade education as the entire family had to work as farm laborers for their survival. His father and mother were divorced when he was ten, and his mother continued to work in the fields to support the four children still remaining at home so they could pursue their education. Montoya graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1969. Since then, he has lectured and taught at numerous colleges and universities in the San Francisco Bay Area including Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley. He was a Professor at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, CA for twelve years, serving for five years as Chair of the Ethnic Studies Department. During this period, he also served as Director of the Taller de Artes Graficas, in East Oakland, where he produced prints and conducted community art workshops. Since 1989, Montoya has held a professorship at the University of California, Davis, teaching both in the Department of Art and the Department of Chicana/o Studies. In 2000, he spent a semester as Visiting Professor in the Art Department at the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana, and he currently holds the title of Visiting Fellow in the Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame. Along with Carlos Jackson, Montoya co-founded Taller Arte del Nuevo Amanecer in 2009, where he continues to teach community art classes. A professor emeritus since 2008, Montoya's classes at Davis included the silkscreen workshop, community muralism, and survey courses focusing on Chicano culture and history. His own works include acrylic paintings, murals, washes, and drawings, but he is primarily known for his silkscreen prints, which have been exhibited around the world. He is credited by historians as one of the founders of the social serigraphy movement in the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-1960's. Montoya's unique visual expression is an art of protest, depicting the resistance and strength of humanity in the face of injustice and the necessity to unite behind that struggle.
It is important to note that my other "voice" is the poster/mural. I am much more articulate and able to express myself more eloquently through this medium. It is with this voice that I attempt to communicate, reach out and touch others, especially to that silent and often ignored populace of Chicano, Mexican and Central American working class, along with other disenfranchised people of the world. This form allows me to awaken consciousness, to reveal reality and to actively work to transform it. What better function for art at this time? A voice for the voiceless.﷯ My personal views on art and society were formed by my being born into that silent and voiceless humanity. Realizing later that it was not by choice that we remained mute but by a conscious effort on the part of those in power, I realized that my art could only be that of protest - a protest against what I felt to be a death sentence. As a Chicano artist I feel a responsibility that all my art should be a reflection of my political beliefs - an art of protest. The struggle of all people cannot be merely intellectually accepted. It must become part of our very being as artists otherwise we cannot give expression to it in our work. I am in agreement with Pedro Rodrigues, former Director of the Guadalupe Cultural Art Center, San Antonio, Texas, when he said, "Fundamentally, artistic expression, or culture in general, reaches its highest level of creation when it reflects the most serious issues of a community, when it succeeds in expressing the deepest sentiments of a people and when it returns to the people their ideas and feelings translated in a clearer and creative way." Through our images we are the creators of culture and it is our responsibility that our images are of our times - and that they be depicted honestly and promote an attitude towards existing reality; a confrontational attitude, one of change rather than adaptability - images of our time and for our contemporaries. We must not fall into the age-old cliché that the artist is always ahead of his or her time. No, it is most urgent that we be on time.
My artistic philosophy guides my work and of course my life. Although I address many issues, there are three prominent themes that run through my work. They are injustice, empowerment and international struggle. In my images of struggle for justice I try to illuminate with clarity the defects of social and political existence. The art historian, Dr. Ramon Favela has said of my work, "With strident forms of great simplicity and power the message conveyed by Montoya's posters are exceedingly clear...his images are of a dispossessed humanity restrained and shackled by an incomprehensible and nefarious political condition."﷯ My images of empowerment are intended to confront the multitude of images of disempowerment given to us by our daily media. Images that disguise reality, manipulate consciousness, and lull the creative imagination to sleep. In my images I pay tribute to those who struggle on a daily basis. I pay homage to the workers and I aggrandize their efforts. I celebrate small and large victories of the human spirit. I depict people in control of their lives working together to change and transform their reality. As Bertol Brecht said, "Art should not be a mirror of reality but a hammer with which to shape a new reality." Images of international struggle are important to our community. They bring solidarity, and for this reason, my work is replete with international themes. My work attempts to serve as a bridge between our struggle and those of other countries. This helps to give us a better understanding of the world we live in and show us that we are not an isolated culture that failed but that we have a common antagonist that makes it necessary for us to unite. From Angola to Central America, from Palestine to the barrio, I have created images that speak to the disenfranchised. In this sense my work bears the imprint of contemporary Chicano Art which "reaches beyond the confines of the barrio." However, it does so in a more dramatic sense, traveling through continents as well. I must say my work is often referred to as propaganda art. I don't mind being labeled as such since I feel all work is propagandist in nature; it just depends who you want to propagandize for. From cave painting to the present, art has always spoken on someone's behalf.
Malaquias Montoya (2011) by Terezita Romo Premeditated: Meditations on Capital Punishment (2004) Globalization and War - The Aftermath (2008)
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