About Enrique Chagoya's

Insulae Canibalium (Cannibal Island)


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, if anything?

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 you."

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 jet plane.

Printmaking Lesson Index
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 paper.

Sensory Lesson Index

SENSORY ELEMENTS: 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.


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, 1989.


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 made?

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.


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. 52.

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.


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 1997.

Steven A. Nash writes that "a definite kinship is felt with earlier Mexican artists whose work featured strong political commentary, such as José Guadalupe 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.