Narciso Arguelles is an Oklahoma visual artist who uses any art medium necessary to dictate the issues that are important to indigenous, Latino and Chicano people. With, Agruelles jokes, his “perfect Chicano credentials,” he seeks to educate people with his work, which he calls “border art.” Arguelles teaches at Oklahoma City Community College and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
How has your experience as a Mexican-American influenced your art?
I describe myself as a Chicano artist. A Chicano recognizes and celebrates the indigenous side of our culture with Aztec and Mayan references. Being a Chicano also celebrates the European or Latino side of who we are, so you see Spanish references in our art, too. The third aspect we celebrate is the mixture of the indigenous and the Spanish: “Mestizo.” For example, I sometimes use Day of the Dead imagery in my art, which has its origins in Aztec religion, and it was mixed with Roman Catholic traditions.
What does the term “border art” mean?
Border art describes the art movement that developed around the U.S. and Mexico border around the early ‘90s. My people were dealing with issues of immigration, poverty and racism. Border art provided an interesting metaphor about living on the edge of society and acceptance.
It seems that whenever there is a problem with the U.S. economy, undocumented workers [become the] scapegoats. Border art developed organically as a way to educate people and protest injustices with the goal to bring about economic change, cultural inclusion and understanding.
What projects are you currently working on, and what are your artistic goals for 2015?
I am working on two big projects for 2014. I co-curated an art exhibit with the world-renowned graphic designer David Carson that opened in January at Mainsite Gallery in Norman. The exhibit, Balance: Art + Design, is a group show of graphic designers in Oklahoma.
The second big exhibit (under the working title The Occupied) will be at Living Arts of Tulsa in May. The artwork, based on photography, will document Latino cultures as well as Native American peoples – historically disenfranchised groups in Oklahoma.
My artist goals are the same every year. The goal is to change the world for the better. Sounds like a lofty goal or like a dream, I know, but the little impact that I have in my little part of the world is my motivation.