About Enrique Chagoya's
Insulae Canibalium (Cannibal Island)
INFORMATION ABOUT THE ARTWORK
REPRODUCTION: What can I learn about how this reproduction is different
from the original artwork?
The digitized image is a detail of a much larger artwork. It is the
sixth of seven panels. The entire work is 11 3/4" high and 96"
long. The colors in this reproduction are somewhat warmer than the original
artwork. The other panels include Aztec and Mayan imagery, old European
graphic imagery, popular cartoon imagery, as well as sketches by the artist.
The original codex (accordion folded manuscript) is a monoprint on heavy
paper which is rough and does not lie perfectly flat. The top and bottom
edges of the codex are uneven.
CONDITION: What can I determine about the condition of the artwork?
The codex is in excellent condition.
SUBJECT MATTER: What can I determine about what the artwork depicts,
The sixth panel of the codex depicts three female figures. On the left
is a photographic image of an Aztec stone sculpture depicting the goddess
Cihuateto. The sculpture represents a woman with a skull head squatting
on her knees with her fisted hands raised to shoulder level. She wears
a skirt tied at the waist. A halo appears above the head of the goddess.
On the right is a traditional image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, flanked
at her feet by two nuns each holding candles. The Virgin and the nuns all
bow their heads. The Virgin stands with her hands in a position of prayer,
blocking the rays of the sun, which form an oval surrounding her. She wears
a cloak decorated with stars and stands on a crescent moon. At her feet
a small winged figure holds her cloak in one hand and the hem of her gown
in the other. Two lines of text appear behind the Virgin's head. A cartoon
speech bubble emerges from the nun on the left. She is saying "Beat
Between the Aztec sculpture and the Virgin stands Wonder Woman in her
revealing costume, with hair flying and hands on her hips in front of a
TOOLS, MATERIALS, AND PROCESSES: What can
I learn about how the artwork was made?
Enrique Chagoya has said that he "sketches" by collecting
photocopies of diverse images, which he then recombines intuitively.
The amate paper on which the images appear is made by pounding wet bark
until it stretches and flattens into a sheet the thickness of light cardboard.
Chagoya works with solvents and pressure to transfer images onto the amate
Sensory Lesson Index
What visual elements do I see?
The photocopied image of the sculpture creates an illusion of a stone
texture. The actual surface of the codex is rough and somewhat uneven.
The lines on this panel vary from very precise lines in the plane behind
Wonder Woman to the loose, thick lines of the Aztec goddess's halo.
FORMAL ORGANIZATION: How do the elements in the artwork work together?
The codex panel is symmetrically balanced with the large images of the
Virgin and Cihuateto on either side of the centrally located tiny figure
of Wonder Woman. All three female figures appear in frontal or nearly frontal
poses. The colors in this panel are warm, with the tones of the figure
of Wonder Woman repeated in the image of the Virgin.
The styles of representation of the three figures differ dramatically.
Cihuateteo's figure is curved and solid as depicted in stone. The two dimensional
quality of the Virgin's image is emphasized by the cut out quality of its
edges. Wonder Woman's image, though also a transferred copy of a two dimensional
artwork, seems more convincingly three dimensional because it lacks the
edges of a cut- out background surrounding the Virgin.
INFORMATION ABOUT THE ARTMAKER
Enrique Chagoya was born in 1953 and grew up in Mexico City. He earned
a B. A. in economics from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
in 1975. In Veracruz he did rural development work. He moved to McAllen,
Texas, where he worked with farm laborers for eight months. He writes "I
am not a Chicano artist since I grew up in Mexico City and emigrated to
this country in 1979 when I was 26 years old and I will soon start my application
for US citizenship this year. So I may fit more under the umbrella of Latino
or immigrant artist. " Note to Mary Erickson, 1997.
Chagoya now lives in Oakland, California. He currently is an assistant
professor of studio art at Stanford University. His work has been exhibited
in solo and group shows across the Southwest, in New York, and in Mexico
City. Some shows include "Borders of the Spirit," The de Young
Museum of Art, San Francisco, 1994; "Fridomania," Frida Kahlo/Diego
Rivera Museum, Mexico City, 1991; "Artist of Conscience; 16 Years
of Political and Social Commentary," The Alternative Museum, New York,
1991; and "Thesis/Antithesis," Artspace, San Francisco,
FUNCTIONAL CONTEXT: What can I learn about how the artwork was used?
This panel challenges the viewer to compare and contrast images from
very different cultures and eras. The combination of such different images
of women, together with the nun's words, "Beat you" create some
mystery and perhaps even humor for the viewer.
CULTURAL CONTEXT: What can I determine about what people thought, believed,
or did in the culture in which the artwork was made?
Chagoya lives in the overlapping and intermixing cultures of the United
States and Mexico, of old and new religions, of the mainstreet established
artworld and the world of popular culture. Before coming to the United
States he experienced the violent political and social upheavals and student
revolts of Mexico beginning in 19688 (just before the celebration of the
Olympics in Mexico City), and going into the 1970s.
In 1994 Chagoya wrote "Real immigration takes place internally.
People came here, but it may be years before they land here. It has nothing
to do with paper. Instead of change of place, it is a journey of the spirit."
ARTWORLD CONTEXT: What can I learn about the art ideas, beliefs, and
activities that were important in the culture in which the artwork was
As a child in Mexico City, Enrique Chagoya read comic books from the
United States and heard ancient stories from his Indian nurse. His father,
who supported his family by working in a bank, also painted landscapes.
"He gave me my first lessons in color theory when I was 8, and taught
me how to sketch. But I never even dreamed of becoming an artist, because
if my father could not make it, I thought I wouldn't be able to."
Quoted by Diane Manuel, "The Prince of Darkness and Light" in
Stanford Today, January/February 1997.
Enrique Chagoya worked as a free lance illustrator and graphic designer.
He earned his B. F. A. from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1984 and
his M. F. A. from the University of Berkeley in 1987. He is currently an
assistant professor in studio art at Stanford University.
VIEWPOINTS FOR INTERPRETATION
MAKER'S INTENTION: What can I learn about why the maker wanted the artwork
to look the way it does?
Chagoya has stated that "sometimes I don't even know what they
[his images] mean. My works deal with a lot of opposites, and their interaction
produces a third element, a synthesis, that occurs in the mind of the viewer.
I put images together and the interaction creates an imagery that makes
its own kind of sense, like a dream- -or perhaps a nightmare." Quoted
by Diane Manuel, "The Prince of Darkness and Light" in Stanford
Today, January/February 1997.
"Satire and humor are involved in some of my images. I use these
because I like to question the lack of humor in work that is shown at contemporary
museums. Humor can be a forbidden concept; I like to question hierarchical
structure with humor." Artist's webpage
Viewer Lesson Index
ARTWORLD VIEWER UNDERSTANDING: What can I determine
about how the viewer, patron, or user understood the artwork?
Steven A. Nash, associate director and chief curator of The de Young
Museum in San Francisco commends Chagoya's work for its "deep political
consciousness and its daring excursions across cultural, historical and
artistic boundaries." Quoted by Diane Manuel, "The Prince of
Darkness and Light" in Stanford Today, January/February 1997.
"The intersections of history, myth and personal experience underlie
the [Chagoya's] work." Max F. Schultz, exhibition curator The Mythic
Present of Enrique Chagoya, Patssi Valdez and Gronk, exhibition catalog,
Fisher Gallery, 1996.
Alice Joanou writes: "Pre-Columbian codices are quite literally
worlds inside books, and some of the most compelling of Chagoya's pieces
are his modern, folded codices. Using photo-transfers, watercolor, collage
and text, he layers images and textures to create an inbred cosmology.
. . . Chagoya's New World Dis-Order unfolds with every section of a contemporary
map of the world. . . . Chagoya is interested and impassioned by the task
of creating a new visual language vital enough to carry us over into a
borderless future." "Furious Desire," 1997, in World
Art: The Magazine of Contemporary Visual Arts, no. 13, Quarterly, p.
CULTURAL IMPACT: What can I learn about how the artwork was understood
within culture in which it was made?
"As he [Chagoya] puts it, 'In a world which has masses of people
who move, we are talking about a spiritual experience in everybody. Everybody
is an immigrant of some kind.' In the excursions on which he leads us across
historical, geographic, and cultural limits, we bring our own personal
and national histories and the sensitivities they entail. Chagoya understands
as well as anyone the power of art to combat inertia, shake off self-satisfaction,
and provoke consciousness in a way that can join disparate people with
little in common but their underlying humanity. He takes us across artificial
barriers to make us feel more acutely our place in this human continuum
and also our responsibility in the international sphere. ...
"It is the intersection of this 'new world' [the world of North
American popular culture] with the 'old world' of his rich Mexican heritage,
including its diverse strains of Catholicism, ancient history and beliefs,
Spanish colonialism, and modern politics, that forms the complex fabric
of life drawn upon in his art." Steven A. Nash, 1994, Enrique Chagoya:
Borders of the Spirit, San Francisco: M.H. de Young Memorial Museum.
The sixth panel of the Insulae Canibalium presents the viewer
with an intersection of new and old, of Mexican and North American. The
Aztec goddess, Cihuateto, is squatting in the birthing position used by
women in many cultures. Traditionally the black belt of the Virgin of Guadalupe
represents a birthing belt. She can be said to be giving birth to a New
World. The viewer is challenged to reconcile these very different images
of creation, and at the same, time, contemplate the significance of the
modern superwoman, who appears between them. The dramatic juxtaposition
of subject matter is reinforced by the dramatically different styles in
which the three figures appear: photograph of stone sculpture, graphic
image of Virgin, and comic book representation of Wonder Woman. One can
imagine that Chicana/os, Catholics, and feminists might each interpret
these juxtaposed images somewhat differently.
CONNECTIONS AMONG ARTWORKS
STYLE: How does the artwork look like other artworks?
Enrique Chagoya shares characteristics with a number of other contemporary,
politically-oriented Latino artists. According to Selma Holo, director
of the Fischer Gallery, "The Mythic Present of Enrique Chagoya, Patssi
Valdez and Gronk" exhibition [in 1997] was "an exciting exhibition
of three artists whose body of work is increasingly important to all of
California--helping us to understand elements of our shared cultural heritage."
Christine E. Shade writes that "the works [of Chagoya, Valdez,
and Gronk] address social, political and personal issues, and cross-cultural
boundaries, often using both shock and humor to convey their ideas."
Pop meets pre-Columbian in Latino art exhibition, University of
Southern California Chronicle website.
INFLUENCE: What can I learn about how earlier artworks influenced this
artwork or about whether this artwork influenced later artworks?
According to Diane Manuel, Enrique Chagoya's "work has been influenced
by the painters of the French Revolution, the Russian constructivists and
other politically motivated artists. But he identifies most closely with
Francisco Goya. The Spanish painter who portrayed his homeland at the end
of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries was a 'visionary artist
reacting to his times with the passion of his art' Chagoya says. . . .Most
important, he [Chagoya] says Goya's work offers 'a profound contrast to
the nihilism of the late 20th century. To me, he represents the first modern
artists because he broke the rules of painting." "The Prince
of Darkness and Light" in Stanford Today, January/February
Steven A. Nash writes that "a definite kinship is felt with earlier
Mexican artists whose work featured strong political commentary, such as
Posada and the 20th
century muralists, as well as the anonymous ancient artists who chronicled
early Mesoamerican life in their codex drawings." Enrique Chagoya:
Borders of the Spirit, San Francisco: M.H. de Young Memorial Museum.
"Although the magnificent libraries of Neza, Aztec ruler of the
Texcoco kingdom, were incinerated by Spanish conquistadors and priests,
some 70 ancient
codices, or documentary paintings of religious and cultural life, survived
and today are a testament to that once-thriving culture. Since 1992 Chagoya
has been borrowing images from those original Aztec codices to produce
his own contemporary books." Diane Manuel, "The Prince of Darkness
and Light" in Stanford Today, January/February 1997.
THEMES: What general ideas connect this artwork to other artworks?
The intersecting of cultures is a theme that unites Enrique Chagoya's
work with other contemporary artists, such as Huang Liu (Chinese American)
and Indira Johnson (Indian American).
The theme of reinterpreted traditional images unities Chagoya's codex
with Yolanda López'
Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe, which reinterprets
the traditional image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, with Luis
Jiménez Southwestern Pieta, which reinterprets the Renaissance
image of a Christian peita, and with Frida
Kahlos' Self Portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United
States painted in the traditional Mexican retablo style.