The late 1960s to the early 1990s was an era of tumultuous and inspiring political activism—bookended by the Chicano civil rights, women’s, and gay liberation movements on one end and the AIDS epidemic on the other. These struggles galvanized artists, whose work often explored sexuality, community, and social identity. Such expression and collaboration is featured in Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A. presented by ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries.
Axis Mundo takes its title in deference to artist Edmundo “Mundo” Meza, who was renowned among his peers for his creativity across multiple genres including brazen window displays, with Simon Doonan, for fashion boutique Maxfield Bleu in West Hollywood.
Meza is one of many artists in the exhibition which focuses on recovering under-recognized Chicana/o and queer histories. Another is Tosh Carrillo, known for his appearance in several Andy Warhol and other underground films from the 1960s and whose photographs are exhibited for the first time here in Axis Mundo. Lesser known works by recognized artists such as Carlos Almaraz, Judith F. Baca, and Gronk are displayed alongside recently uncovered artworks by Jef Huereque, Judy Miranda, Jack Vargas, and Gerardo Velázquez.
Collaboration was central to these artists, who came together to form collectives, establish arts venues, and experiment with new social and aesthetic possibilities. While many were close collaborators, not all of them worked together. Both direct and indirect connections led to shared content and affiliated aesthetic strategies, and many of the artists participated in artistic scenes outside of L.A., both nationally and internationally.
Artists in Axis Mundo experimented across a wide variety of media, including painting, performance, photography, fashion, music, and mail art. Underground music cultures in L.A. are an important theme charted in the show. Many artists took up the aesthetics of glitter rock in the early 1970s utilizing diverse sartorial codes to experiment with the mutability of identity and gender presentation. Simultaneously avant-garde composer Pauline Oliveros explored the potential for sound in a different context founding her experimental women’s ensemble. Later L.A.’s early punk scene provided a creative platform for queer bands such as Nervous Gender and many other artists.
Bringing together over two decades of work by over 50 artists, musicians, and artists groups, Axis Mundo marks the first historical examination of artwork by queer Chicana/o artists. The exhibition runs through December 31, 2017 and is presented simultaneously at MOCA Pacific Design Center and the ONE Gallery, West Hollywood. For more information on Axis Mundo as well as other exhibitions and events of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, visit pacificstandardtime.org.