In The labyrinth of Solitude Octavio Paz asked, "What are we, and how can we fulfill out obligations to ourselves as we are?" Christopher Martinez-Luna answers this question for the Chicano people in his exhibition titled "Products of Assimilation: El sueño nuevo de America." Throughout this show, the artist combines sketched portraits of himself and his family with by products of cheap labor to reveal different forms of prejudice which many Chicanos face in our Euro-centric culture. In several pieces, Martinez-Luna even goes against the grain of his own Mexican-American background by blasphemously transforming figurines of the Virgin Mary into gowned calaveras, which are skeletal figures used to celebrate the Day of the Dead. These unique combinations of image, word and object attempt to knock down the racism created by members of our white visual audience and seek to establish cultural price for the Chicano people.
Arriba/Andale (1997) represents a charcoal portrait of a young Latino boy upon thick, grainy paper. Only one half of the youth's face is visible since a color holograph sticker of Speedy Gonzalez covers the other half. A light dusting of a terra cotta hue in the background leaves the appearance of this work incomplete and void of the vibrant colors normally exhibited in Latino art. What first appears as a typical Mexican portrait from a distance ends up representing an ethnic judgment in which many Americans impose upon those of Hispanic descent. But attached to the bottom of this piece is a cigar box, which ironically contains a very organized, undisturbed assemblage of a desert landscape made out of clay figurines.
Another portrait titled Rosa Rita Gonzalez (1997) echoes the theme of Ester Hernandez's "Sun Mad Raisins" series and shows a woman surrounded by clouds with a white halo over her head. Within the box connected to this piece, a gowned calavera stands in front of a can label which reads, "Vegetarian re-fried beans." Whether the woman's life was spent working on a plantation or in a canning factory, this piece is chilling since it reveals our society's ignorance towards those Mexican-Americans who toil away in order to achieve a decent standard of living. Similarly, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, (1997) consists of two cigar boxes, which are mounted upon a dark red background. One contains the remnants of a dried cornhusk while the other holds the sketch of a man and woman who look like husband and wife. The works which are scrawled upon the clear plastic box-coverings read: "I was sent to these people/As a stranger, made/to think their thoughts/or subscribe their beliefs/Pray God that men reading/the story will not, for love/of glamour or strangeness,/go out to prostitute themselves/and their talent in/saving another race."
Martinez-Luna also chronicles his own life experiences in a series of four works. Each piece utilizes the image of the Virgin Mary not as a Catholic image, but only for what this icon replaced in the Aztec culture. A maroon-colored female genitalia subtly frames the black-and-white print in Our Lady of Bats (1997). Numerous cornhusks crowd together in the center while an image of the Virgin hovers in the upper corner. A color cutout of a luna moth is superimposed upon the print, symbolically affirming the artist's relationship with the moon goddess and the earth. Yet below the print is a small box, which contains the carcass of a bat. This piece obviously reflects the persona of someone who is at one with the earth while regarded superstitiously by other people. Our Lady of Aztlan (1997) celebrates the beginning of the Chicano movement in the 1960's. A black charcoal hue frames the print, but unlike the previous piece the image of the Virgin here appears muted. In the center is a print of one cornhusk which bears the colors of the Mexican flag: Green, white and red. Below are the words, "Otra Frontera." The small wooden box placed under the print contains a large, brown moth.
Martinez-Luna successfully identifies the Chicano culture as one, which exists independently from its Mexican origin and is corrupt due to the social conflicts, which it faces within our American society. By making use of found objects such as can labels and cigar boxes, the artist appeals to this country's Mexican fetish while simultaneously advertising the problems which this ethnic group experiences on a daily basis. When paired with racist clichés, each piece seeks to communicate to a large audience in an effort to promote social change.