Editor’s Note: Rare Houston Contributor Danielle Husband wrote this piece from a firsthand perspective. She is a member of Houston’s artistic community, regularly creating her own work and performing in local theater.
Strolling through the Lawndale Art Center’s newest exhibit, I couldn’t help but notice the irony of the stark contrast of black ink on white paper:
The comic-like art featured throughout the exhibit presents complex themes often stemming from political threads woven through the past 50 to 60 years — issues which are, ironically, anything but black and white.
The exhibit includes two collections, one called “Between Love & Madness: Mexican Comic Art from the 1970s,” and the other titled “Augusto Moro: ¿A Dónde Nos Llevan? (Where Are They Taking Us To?).”
Attending the show on opening night earlier this month, I found myself fortunate enough to be speaking to featured Mexico City-based artist Augusto Moro, along with the Public Program Coordinator Emily Fens.
Fens said the exhibit is the brainchild of curator Chris Sperandio, professor of painting and drawing at Rice University, who reportedly worked with students from his practical curation course at the prestigious Houston university to organize the exhibit.
It’s two parts features galleries dedicated to comic art, including a collection of pieces taken from the Mexican tradition of micro-cuentos, which I learned translates roughly to “mini tales.”
After further research, I learned the 1960s-70s, micro-cuentos served as a popular media in the world and historical influence of Mexican Art, telling genre stories with a slight political critique.
Unlike modern day comics, however, the books measured just 3×4 and 1/2 inches, and size is just one of the ways the medium we know and the medium featured at the gallery differ:
“I love that it brings Mexican comic books from the 60s and 70s to the show so that you get a lot of variety,” Fens said in regard to the show. “You also get to see what the comics were like before everything was standardized to the USA format.”
Although the public enjoyed the comics, boosting the art genre to popularity across North America and beyond, some artists and writers said they viewed them as “demeaning.”
This is why many “animators” used assumed names, making it difficult for art historians to attribute the work:
“In these comics, you get a range of genres covered, rather than just comedy,” Fens said further.
Half of the exhibit features art from Mexican artist Augusto Moro’s graphic novel, titled “Where Are They Taking Us To?” or, in original Spanish, “¿A Donde Nos Llevan?”
“The show is inspired by the thought of the night of the Iguala ‘Noche de Iguala’ and the kidnapping of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa’s Teacher Training College,” Moro said when asked about its meaning and intended impacts. “It’s like a documentary in comic form.”
He said he believes the kidnapping, which occurred on September 26, 2014, inspired demonstrations across the world on behalf of the students and their families, as well as his work now on display in Houston.
The graphic novel takes readers through a timeline of the students’ disappearance, as well as an explanation of the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping, effectively transporting readers to the scene and providing a chance to understand depths of the incident.
Moro said he published the original Spanish version of the comic in Mexico, and, with the help of the Lawndale, brought it to the United States with a sponsored English translation.
“Something special is that besides the exhibition, they have the English version of this book,” Moro explained. “It was a book, but it became an exhibition.”
The exhibit features both pages taken from the book, as well as original versions of the art.
In addition to the comic book art, the exhibit features large comic-inspired murals painted on the gallery walls.
During my visit, I learned how Sperandio and his students painted the murals over the weekend before the exhibit, projecting images from the actual comic books onto the wall and then painting over the projection.
“[The murals] have a great play with scale,” Fens said. “They’re taken from small comics but blown up to command the space of a gallery of this scale.”
The exhibit remains on view at the Lawndale Art Center until March 25, 2018.