Born of Mexican-American ancestry and cognizant of the Chicano art tradition, Chuck Ramirez, from the onset of his career challenged the Chicano art “party line.” While Ramirez’ work is photo-based, graphically direct and critically multilevel, it also references the mixed blessings of identity-oriented art. These “mixed blessings” manifest in his 1997 Coconut series. Ramirez transforms the slur “coconut”—brown on the outside, white on the inside—and converts degrading name-calling into the proud tag of another, more layered identity. In this sense, Ramirez’ Coconut series is analogous of the artistic strategies of other dual and multiracial U.S. identities such as African American, Korean American and Indian American. Ramirez easily moves into current art practices in line with artists such as Mo Bahc, Byron Kim, Glenn Ligon, Yong Soon Min, Lorna Simpson and Kara Walker.
Formally, Ramirez prefers to evolve his work into series. In Coconut, the serial evokes multiple nuances of meaning derived from forever-shifting sequences of images. While Coconut references Chicano cultures, history and identity, the series also points to larger social problems through evoking a personal and conceptual poetics. In this way, the series is formally both direct and static—a paradox. At the heart of this problem is Ramirez’ choice to employ photography, an art form born of the same technologies that market mass and popular culture and which thus affect cultural identities. Ramirez recognizes photography’s use in projecting mass-culture representations of identity, even as he undercuts the stereotyped slurs that abound in both identity politics and the related global multicultural marketplace. Coconut recognizes and responds to local and global art problems and practices. Ramirez provides a fertile site for the cross-pollinations of meaning behind today’s imaginable constructs of Chicano art and culture.
Stellweg, Carla and Berta Sichel et al. Aztlán Hoy, Sala de Exposiciones del Canal de Isabel II, Madrid, November, 1999.