Cheech Marin loans art collection to Mulvane Art Museum

Katie Wade

A collection of Chicano artwork is currently being hosted in the Mulvane Art Museum. Chicanitas: Small Paintings from the Cheech Marin Collection will be on display March 27-May 16 in the upper level of the museum.

The artwork was collected by Cheech Marin, a comedian and actor who gained fame from his part in the comedy duo Cheech & Chong, but is well known among younger generations as the voice of Banzai, a hyena in “The Lion King.” Marin has been collecting Chicano art for over 20 years.

Chicano artwork incorporates the ideas of the post Mexican Revolution era with current Mexican-American social and political issues and depicts the life and culture of the Latino experience in America.

Connie Gibbons, director of the Mulvane Art Museum, described the interest she had in bringing the collection to campus.

“I thought it would just be a really great opportunity to see a collection of Latino [and] Latina artists by somebody who’s really thoughtful and smart about the works they collect,” Gibbons said, “Especially if we could get him here to talk about that and why he collects the things that he does, what he’s looking for.”

The dates of the works range from the early 1990s-2012. Most of the artists are from California, but Gibbons said that these works are representative of a much larger demographic.

“Chicano art has really changed a lot in that time period,” Gibbons said. “Some of the artists that he was collecting like Diane Gamboa and Frank Romero…those artists were really kind of engaged in Los Angeles and what was going on with Chicano art in the ‘90s.”

Gibbons also said that the collection reflects what she notes as a shift in the issues portrayed by Chicano artists.

“Some of the work has shifted in recent years as artists begin to deal with more personal kinds of narratives in their lives more than bigger kind of social issues although each of these issues,” she said. “They’re exploring their kind of culture and their family and their communities in some really interesting ways.”

Gibbons said that students should visit the exhibit because of the perspective into the Mexican-American experience that it can provide.

“I think what it does – and what any really good art does – is it kind of peels back the layers of an individual’s life and an individual’s perspective,” she said. “These artists are exploring things that relate directly to their culture and their communities, so it gives us a sense of what that means and how people live the day to day. So I think it brings it closer and it makes it more accessible and visceral and gives us a kind of new understanding about life and communities and people and bigger issues.”

The exhibit is sure to be a body of work that students would not see on any average day in Topeka, but the museum has brought the opportunity to experience a collection of works of this nature directly to campus. The museum is also partnering with other departments and community organizations to sponsor several events in relation to the exhibit.

On April 9, at 4p.m., Jamie Ratliff, assistant professor of art history at the University of Minnesota Duluth will discuss what Chicano art means in the 21st century as well as how it has changed over time and what artists have been doing recently to advocate for their communities.

On April 10, at 10:30a.m., a panel of discussion leaders will talk about how artists use their work to build communities, which Gibbons says is one of the most powerful abilities of art. Amado Espinoza, a musician and instrument maker, will perform at 12:15.

“He is kind of rooted in these Andean, Peruvian sounds and he makes his own musical instruments. Incredible musician. So he’s going to be doing a performance. Then, on Saturday morning, he’ll be doing a workshop on taking found objects and making instruments with them. So that’s going to be a lot of fun,” Gibbons said.

Finally, the collector, Cheech Marin, will be on campus to give a presentation on his collection of art on May 7.

“The things that kind of tie this together are…that vision of the collector and what he is collecting and why,” Gibbons said. “I think it’s important that we expose ourselves to as many ideas, concepts, cultures, people [and] expressions as we can. That’s the exciting thing about bringing him to campus is being able to take part in, or take advantage of the kinds of things that we’ve got here.”