Third Woman Press Collective (TWPC): Melanie, we know you’re really busy, and we thank you for joining us this week. Let’s start off by talking about your group, Dignidad Rebelde. Can you tell us a little more about it? Melanie Cervantes (MC): Sure! Dignidad Rebelde is a collaborative space for building community and producing art. We believe that art can be an empowering reflection of community struggles, dreams and visions. Following principles of Xicanisma and Zapatismo, we create work that translates people’s stories into art that can be put back into the hands of the communities who inspire it. We recognize that the history of the majority of people worldwide is a history of colonialism, genocide, and exploitation. Our art is grounded in Third World and indigenous movements that build people’s power to transform the conditions of fragmentation, displacement and loss of culture that result from this history. Representing these movements through visual art means connecting struggles through our work and seeking to inspire solidarity among communities of struggle worldwide.
Membres du collectif Dignidad Rebelde à Oakland (Californie), les deux graphistes, qui revendiquent leur identité chicano, sont bien contents de « partager cette image avec le monde » à travers l’initiative de l’Humanité. « Faire de l'art, ça aide à se dire qu’on n’est pas totalement impuissant, qu’on participe nous aussi à la lutte », considère Melanie. Comme quelques autres, cette affiche est librement téléchargeable sur leur site internet pour que les militants et les sympathisants puissent les mettre aux fenêtres ou les faire circuler dans la rue. Mais voici quelques autres images envoyées par Melanie Cervantes.
But the message would be a bit hollow if the production was not also looked at as potentially activist or political, right? The message of a political poster, for example Melanie Cervantes’s Brown and Proud, pictured, is political because it relates to the autonomy of a group of people. This example is out of Dignidad Rebelde, the graphic arts collaboration between Oakland-based artist-activists Jesus Barraza and Melanie Cervantes, who “believe that art can be an empowering reflection of community struggles, dreams and visions,” and who “create work that translates people’s stories into art that can be put back into the hands of the communities who inspire it.”*** The making is political because it comes from a 100-year-old printmaking tradition where individuals or groups create a work that urges liberation, made in a non-exploitative way, via collective process while poaching the tools of industrial mechanics like screenprinting, graphic design, and photocopying.
Melanie Cervantes presented to the audience her philosophy of activism through craft, centered around “stitching lessons from stories and visions of women who shaped who we are.” A member of Dignidad Rebelde (rebel dignity) she spoke of the group’s founding motivation to push back against the idea of individualism that is dominant in US society and culture. How? By reflecting solidarity with indigenous and international struggles through images that “agitate and inspire,” produced in her living room and reaching organizers and activists as far away as Bangkok. Reacting to day laborers’ inability to be the face of their own movement because of being “vilified” in the minds-eye of greater America, she makes images that re-incorporate and re-present the faces of those “on the frontline of a battle for dignity and human rights for all of us;” faces otherwise subsumed by a narrative over which they have no authorship.
If it is true that there has never been a movement for justice without the arts, and I believe it is, then the recent history of movement building in the Bay Area exists in part through the work of Melanie Cervantes and Dignidad Rebelde, the collaborative project of Cervantes and Jesus Barraza. If you have ever attended a protest in the Bay Area organized by a coalition of social justice organizations and activists or the Occupy movement, you have seen their work: bold digital and screenprints depicting community members demanding justice and accountability, and telling the story of their struggle and resistance in their own words. Since 2005 they have created a prolific amount of posters illustrating the demands, successes, struggles, and resiliency of communities of color, immigrants, poor people, and those who continue to fight for self-determination in the face of state repression. These posters bring awareness to issues of immigration, the prison system, the history of colonization, and gang injunctions, and are created with and for those most impacted by the issues they depict. Cervantes and Dignidad Rebelde are, in so many ways, the face of the recent uprisings, or as some of us often say, the revolution.
OAKLAND — It was too late for San Leandro couple Melanie Cervantes and Jesus Barraza to stop the presses by the time a federal judge on Wednesday blocked some of the key provisions of SB 1070, the Arizona law meant to crack down on illegal immigration in that state. The artists spent hours in their East Oakland studio designing bright anti-1070 posters that carried messages such as “We Will Not Comply” and “Brown and Proud.” Barraza sent 2,000 of the posters from the East Bay to Arizona on Wednesday morning so that they can be used by protesters there Thursday, when the law takes effect.
In a show of solidarity against the anti-Latino/a and immigrant sentiment in Arizona and the 30 days 30 actions campaign currently going on, artist from here in East L.A. and the Bay area organized a 12 hour print-a-thon, silk screening more than 1,000 posters, some stickers and shirts with various designs for the July 29 action taking place in AZ against SB 1070. Joel “Rage” Garcia and Melanie Cervantes first got the ball rolling for the print marathon after discussing solidarity work with the AZ coming up. Garcia along his partner/artist FelicaMontes , musician Olmeca and Vyal have been working with artist in AZ for the last few months. Doing organizing, connecting with artist there and helping them get the resources not found in AZ. Cervantes and her partner Jesus Barraza at the same time have been working on the AZ campaign as well providing artistic resources and support with groups, orgs and individuals in AZ along with frequent partner and collaborator Favianna Rodriguez. Initially the plan was for everyone to go to AZ and do the work there, but contributing artist Ernesto Yerena warned them that the weather conditions and the AZ boycott would impede their productivity. Soon enough the conversation turned to printing here in L.A. and with the help of artist Dewey Tafoya, Self Help opened their doors to use the space and the marathon was on.
But even today, screen-printed posters are still created at workshops in San Francisco, Chicago, Portland and Minneapolis. Much of the work is still collaborative and community-based, as a recent example by Oakland's Jesus Barraza and Melanie Cervantes demonstrates. Silkscreening may never die, but if history is any guide, it will probably be forgotten. Here's looking forward to the next Renaissance.
People are angry. Sometime after the midnight hour, a 22-year-old black man was murdered on New Year’s Day—another innocent victim of police brutality. His name was Oscar Grant, shot and killed in Oakland, California by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) agency policy officer. Onlookers video-phoned the horrific spectacle: Grant surrounded by officers, unarmed, bleeding to death on the station platform, his arms shackled behind his back, his face pressed against the cement.
Jesus Barraza, 27, of Oakland creates posters with bold, simple screen prints in the Chicano tradition of social activism. Although he works in a style that is more than 30 years old, his viewpoint is that of a young Chicano looking far into the future. He doesn't like what he sees. "In California in the next 20 years, Latinos are going to be a majority but Latinos are going to have very bad educational systems," he said. "A lot of kids are going to be going to schools that I went to that weren't great and now they're just worse." This summer, Barraza will have the chance to reach a wider audience with his message. He is one of five East Bay screen printers to be featured in "Pulling One Off," an exhibition at the Richmond Art Center. The show, which opens Wednesday, marks the start of the center's screen printing program.