by Manu SharmaSep 20, 2022
An exhibition titled Look what you created references the text that appears in an image by the Los Angeles Times photographer, Kirk D McKoy. Visual artist Patrick Martinez's solo presentation at The Tucson Museum of Art showcased an array of works from his diverse practice, including neon signs and cake paintings as the medium. The key focus of Martinez’s art is to speak about the political and social injustice. Uniquely located in the borderland region, the museum itself engages in themes that explore history in the context of cultural tensions. "Martinez is an artist whose work directly speaks to and sheds light on broken power systems and societal inequities. Having had a profound impact in Southern Arizona, these are two of the most critical factors in the proliferation of oppression within communities of colour,” says Jeremy Mikolajczak, Director - The Tucson Museum of Art.
I interview the mixed-media artist Patrick Martinez and Jeremy Mikolajczak of the museum on the exhibit and long terms vision of the museum.
Rahul Kumar: Your art takes on various forms in a variety of media, including mixed-media painting, neon signs, and cake paintings. How do these genres and multiplicity of media support your expression of socially engaged and accessible forms of work?
Patrick Martinez: The work is informed by concepts or references that are accessible to everyone. So, when I want to try and speak to the community, the city, or America as a whole, I use those same familiar objects but adjust them so the materials speak to art and the history of art making. Sometimes I place these works back into the context from which they were inspired, because I want to speak to more than just the gallery or museum patron.
Rahul: Your current body of work at the Tucson Museum is in response to events in your environment over the past two years: the pandemic, presidential election, and systemic injustices faced by people of colour to unveil a deeply divided nation. Mankind has witnessed political atrocities and inequality since we have known societal living. Why the sense of urgency now?
Patrick: I think I have been connected to these issues for quite a while simply because my family, friends, and I were affected by these problems (minus the pandemic) for a long time, so it was always on my mind. I chose to tackle these tough topics in my work during my undergrad at Art Centre 2002-2005 and beyond. I would say that you can look back and find systemic issues and police brutality as a topic in my work, even in the art I was making as a teenager. So, I have been continuously making this sort of work and the timing of all of these injustices, plus the past president, came to a head and I believe people started paying attention.
Rahul: Look What You Created, both the title and work in the exhibition, is an ambiguous phrase addressing both past challenges of fixed power systems and the present examples of democracy in action. How are your works expressing ideas about equity, empathy, humanity, and connection?
Patrick: Acknowledging these injustices in visual form in a museum context helps present and expose the wounds. In turn, I hope the affected feel seen and heard in that space. Then we can start to acknowledge the deep wounds and start to try and fix things and not try and pretend that time fixes trauma and hurt. I feel many people in this country think they are post-racism; they try to erase major issues with time without doing the real work to heal this country.
Rahul: Please talk about your influence from Los Angeles Times photographer Kirk D McKoy’s photograph that features the phrase “Look what you created”? What analogies are to be drawn from this 1992 image and your idea of “past is the present”?
Patrick: I was 12-years-old and just getting into painting graffiti art. That was around the same time the ‘92 uprisings exploded onto the streets of Los Angeles. I saw Kirk McKoy’s photos on TV and in the newspaper. They resonated with me because of the drama they captured along with the spray-painted messages a few of them featured. Fast forward to 2020 and the George Floyd protests in LA felt familiar and of course connected to ‘92. So, I started thinking about Kirk’s images.
Rahul: Why is it significant to host a show like Look What You Created at the museum? How is this body of work, in your view, examining the power system and oppression of minorities in the USA?
Jeremy Mikolajczak: The Tucson Museum of Art (TMA) resides in a diverse and complex borderland region unlike any other place within the United States. The people who have inhabited these multinational lands for generations to today are an unmistakable weaving of indigenous, Latin, and POC, in addition to Anglos. Cultures and traditions have held firm throughout history, especially within communities of colour. They often influence one another to formalise a unique contemporary dialogue that is the by-product of history, time, and perseverance. Recent events such as the fight for indigenous land rights, the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and many others, and systemic injustices continue to impact artists and their communities. Locally throughout the borderlands of the United States and Mexico, new modalities in policing such as Arizona SB 1070 and changes to federal immigration policies have negatively affected the advancement of people of colour throughout the borderlands and the west, inspiring a generation of contemporary artists calling for action.
Los Angeles-based Patrick Martinez is an artist whose work directly speaks to and sheds light on broken power systems and societal inequities. Having had a profound impact in Southern Arizona, these are two of the most critical factors in the proliferation of oppression within communities of colour. As an institution committed to positioning itself as a responsive, community-centred institution that represents, activates, and advocates for its communities, it is vital that exhibitions address representation, accountability, and transparency in contemporary times.
The art exhibition Look What You Created, both the title and work by the same name, references a seemingly ambiguous phrase that addresses past challenges of fixed power systems and the present examples of democracy in action. However, this phrase—that sets the tone for the exhibition—is based on and inspired by the infamous photograph documenting the 1992 Rodney King Riots by former Los Angeles Times Senior Photography Editor Kirk D McKoy. Martinez, who utilises and combines historical and contemporary imagery within his works, such as Mayan gods to hip-hop icons, speaks to a generation that has seen progress in some areas. At the same time, many communities continue the fight against injustice, inequity, and power imbalances.
Linking Martinez’s personal experiences and methodologies within making artwork, Look What You Created provides our audiences, including BIPOC youth, the opportunity to see how one artist is using their voice to provoke conversations while reflecting on their positionalities and identities. Martinez engages in dialogue on injustice, brutality, discrimination, and displacement for brown and black people and celebrates underrepresented social heroes throughout history. The exhibition and work of Patrick Martinez are timely as we rebuild society after America grappled with a global pandemic, presidential election, and a deeply divided nation.
Rahul: Please share with us the initial impact of the exhibition that has been on view to the public. What creative formats have been used to expand audience engagement with the ideas presented at the show?
Jeremy: Public engagement was an essential factor in the formation and presentation of the exhibition. Feedback on various social media platforms has reached some of the most profound impressions for the museum, allowing interactions outside the local community.
The museum involved a diverse roster of community members, including an advisory committee of BIPOC leaders and educators. The museum used a collaborative curatorial model to engage the artist, museum curators, department of engagement and inclusion, and the community advisory committee to select included works, interpretation of the content, and educational programming. Additional engagement consists of the inclusion of community-authored labels and didactics and working with two local high schools to present an exhibition of student work inspired by, and responding to, the works of Patrick Martinez. Additionally, Martinez recently completed a weeklong residency here at TMA – where we hosted two workshops with high school youth to explore the art exhibition and dive into his artistic practice, a tour with university students, and a public lecture. This opportunity to work directly with an artist and engage in conversations was crucial to building access points and offering unique experiences to extend the exhibition's reach beyond the gallery walls.
Look What You Created includes temporary interventions curated throughout the museum's permanent collection galleries. Each placement is a specifically selected work from Martinez to provoke and inspire dialogue among the artist's work, the museums' permanent collection, and our overall understanding of visual language as a necessary form of communication. The exhibition is accompanied and supported by a catalogue that includes scholarly essays by external authors and multiple curatorial perspectives and highlights practice-based reflections featuring interactions between the institution and community. The publication provides a historical record of the project, Martinez's response to current events, and the impact on his work. It reaches beyond the museum to engage audiences at institutions throughout the United States who hold his artwork in public trust.
The exhibition has provided the museum to engage multiple groups within the museum community to encourage open-ended experiences and inquiry-based dialogue. Overall, the community reaction to the show and Patrick's work has been astounding. As an institution, we understand that not everyone thinks alike. Still, we believe that multivocality and increased interpretation and amplification of the inherent value of multiple points of view allow us to create accessible and open space to engage in sometimes challenging conversations.