For the past four decades, California State University, Northridge Chicana/o studies professor Harry Gamboa, Jr. has documented and interpreted the contemporary urban Chicano experience through his art, whether in photographs, videos or performance pieces.
The initial reception to his work as a member of the pioneering Chicano art group, Asco (Spanish for nausea), was resistant and political. Over the years, art collectors, museum curators and academics have hailed Asco and Gamboa for presenting the realities of a community that was long ignored and provocatively translating the universality of its experiences.
Gamboa’s work will be heralded again this spring with two exhibitions across the world. The Tate Liverpool in England is featuring several of his pieces as part of its exhibition, “Glam! The Performance of Style,” which runs Feb. 8 through May 12, and Museo Universitario de Arte Comtemporáneo in Mexico City is hosting “ASCO: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972-1987,” from March through September.
“Universality has been one of the things my work has always been involved with,” Gamboa said. “I guess growing up in L.A. in the early 1950s amid the efforts to dehumanize and demonize the Chicano population made me want to find effective ways to explode those stereotypes. We were creating art that explored the various elements of the human experience in such a way that helped people recognize that what was happening in the Chicano community was universal.
“I come from a family where at a very early age we were involved in what was going on in the community. I was involved in the East L.A. walk outs for example,” Gamboa said. “Many of the people I grew up with were lost to the Vietnam War. And many of the people in our community, because of the social conditions, were unaware of their options, the possibilities. Our approach to art involved a more creative, intellectually stimulated response to things”
Gamboa admitted that the past few years have been a whirlwind. Several of his pieces were displayed at venues throughout Southern California as part of the Getty’s “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980,” an unprecedented collaboration of more than 60 cultural institutions across the region coming together to celebrate the birth of the Los Angeles art scene. The show ran from October 2011 to March 2012. His work also was featured in an exhibition at the Royal College of Art in London.
Last summer, Gamboa traveled to Williams College in Massachusetts to take part in a series of lectures as part of a special exhibition of “ASCO: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972-1987,” the same show that is now going to Mexico City. The exhibition originated at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2011 and was featured on a cover of Artforum two years ago.
Gamboa was in Belgium last October to take part of in a series of workshops and the creation of conceptual work with a performance art troop there. He hopes to return for a week later this spring when he flies to England for the Tate Liverpool exhibition opening.
“There are more photos I want to take and things I would like to do,” Gamboa said.
Despite the international acclaim for his work Gamboa continues to teach four classes in CSUN’s Department of Chicana/o Studies and serves as co-director of the photography and media program for California Institute of the Arts. He said he feels compelled to share his understanding of what has happened to and in the Chicano community with young people.
“It’s exciting to share past efforts of social engagement, but currently the main thing the students face is the fact that things change the economic and political realities,” he said. “We need to make sure they know many of the skills it takes to survive and succeed.”
For more about Gamboa and his art, visit his website http://www.harrygamboajr.com/.