Mestiz@ scripts, Digital Migrations, and the Territories of Writing, by Damian Baca

January 25, 2010 at 1:08 am (Multicultural Lit)

One of the most interesting things for me about Baca’s book is that it posits the visual image, and systems of visual communication as forms of rhetorical that are as vital and important as the European system of alphabet-based, linguistic oratory. As an art historian, I have always believed in the importance and primacy of the visual image, even in a strongly alphabet-biased culture, but the culture itself tends to denigrate the importance of the image. (Any art historian can tell you that this is true-because they’ve all been asked, “You’re getting your degree in what? And what are you going to do with THAT?”).

My main problem with Baca’s book is that he tries, in some ways like Cornel West and Homi Bhabha to reform the system of teaching writing and rhetoric in this country by participating in the mainstream discourse and ends up demonstrating the very biases that he is protesting against. On page 45, Baca describes four of the leaders of the Pueblo Revolt as “martyred” a word that carries the implication of thousands of years of Christianity, and particularly Catholicism and its large pantheon of saints. He also writes a whole book about the primacy of visual culture for mestiz@ people, without one single picture in the book itself.

I also wondered if I was missing part of the intentional alienation effects that Baca was trying to reproduce from Anzaldua’s text, because I am an art historian. While I certainly don’t claim to be an expert, I am familiar with the historical codices that Baca mentions because they form part of the curriculum that I teach in my world art class. I don’t know if I am already doing what Baca wants me to do, because I do try to draw my students attention to how unbalanced the course is between the history of western art and the history of the art of other cultures. I also make a point to discuss issues like repatriation of historical artifacts, the appropriation of history by western cultures (not just Greece, as Baca claims although it is by far the most prevalent), and the uses of artifacts in their culture of origin. Is there something more I can be doing? Is there a point that I am missing?

On an unrelated note, I was also curious about Baca’s claim for Diego Rivera as heir to the mestiz@ tradition (75). To me this is a parallel that doesn’t seem quite warrented.  Many of the other contemporary artists that Baca cites are conciously engaged with this tradition, but Rivera’s work, and that of his wife Frieda Kahlo (who Baca fails to mention), seem to me to be driven by an engagement with Marxism and western culture (possibly even Regionalist art), than it is with a specifically mestiz@ context.

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