Thursday, June 12, 2008
Nery Lemus (a very active artist who is doing his MFA in Calarts right now) invited me to participate in a show that he is curating at Avenue 50 Studio, Inc. in Highland Park. The show is trying to foster a cross cultural dialogue between Latinos and African Americans.
He wanted me to present a series of baseball caps that I started doing in the early nineties. I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to post a text I wrote about them.
"Colors": Xicano Progeny, Investigative Agents, Executive Council and Other Representatives from the Sovereign State of Aztlán, The Mexican Museum, San Francisco, 1995, p. 36
Uniforms, banners, colors, flags and logos have been used to represent in a very attractive way different sport teams. Going to a sport stadium is an intense aesthetic experience. Sport teams usually represent a place that competes within certain rules against another. It is quite common to find that certain sport teams use images and names that are associated with certain groups of people not always related directly with the teams. The Cleveland Indians do not necessarily represent the Native-Americans or the San Diego Padres a catholic community and most of the Boston Celtics are African American. Sometimes the signifiers that are used by certain teams in different contexts reflect specific historical affiliations. The Scottish soccer team from Glasgow called "The Celtics" is supported by the Republican community in Northern Ireland; while the Glasgow “Rangers" is supported by the Loyalists.
Baseball caps are widely used in the streets as a popular form of expression. In Los Angeles teams emblems have been reappropiated by different local communities and gangs, for example the Bloods wear red, like the Chicago Bulls while the Crips wear blue the colour of the Georgetown Hoyas. On the other hand, Chicanos like to sport Cleveland Browns paraphernalia giving expression to pride on brown color, while L.A. Kings caps are now associated with Rodney King and Martin Luther King.
In altering, recodifying and recontextualizing signs already given in baseball caps I want to comment on the relation between aesthetics, history, mass media, culture, fashion, politics etc. and different communities divided by arbitrary rules and signs like sport teams.
Since my youth days in little league I've been collecting baseball caps. My collection of altered caps started in 1991 at the Watts Drum Festival when my African American teacher, Joe Lewis gave me a Malcolm X cap to wear instead of what he called, "ethnic caps" (referring to the ones with Latin motifs I use to wear). I wanted to use it in a way that would relate to Latinos and created the "Malcolm Mex" cap.
Since then I've been travelling with my caps having them customized by different artisans in the Americas and Europe. Laponian designs contrast with the Minnesota Viking's logo, while Native American bead work decorates the Chicago Blackhawks cap. In Guatemala a Mayan Indian embroidered what he considered were Aztec decorations on a San Diego Aztecs cap substituting an eagle with the local quetzal. Although I played baseball in what was called the "Mayan" little league I haven't found a Mayan team lately, unless we would consider the Carolina Jaguars one). In the swapmeets of L.A. the hip hop community creates it's own designs using computer operated stitching machines that are a lot faster than the manual embroidery of the indigenous artisans who earn a lot less for their work in the third world. These caps not only reflect the complex readings of signs within our cultures but also reflect the enormous differences which exist between labour and wealth from the first to the third world.
Even though most people outside the United States might not have prior knowledge or relate to the teams; the caps on the other hand are becoming widely universal fashion. In Guatemala the most colorful caps are preferred, while in Europe the darker caps are more popular or the ones that have famous rapper connotations.
Ultimately these objects while they have been appropriated as a universal (MTV) dress code, they address issues of economical, cultural exchange and difference.