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Contrary to popular belief, many of the most influential artists are not loners locked in freezing garrets. Rather, they are active within social and cultural circles that are always in motion, just below the surface, in every specific time and place. For Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A. a two-part exhibition at ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives and MOCA Pacific Design Center the curators make under-recognized artist Edmundo (Mundo) Meza their focal point for a riotous exploration of the city’s queer community during the tumultuous decades of 1960-1990.
Several of Meza’s fantastically figurative canvases are included in the show, most not seen publicly since the artist’s death from AIDS in 1985. These act as tentpoles under which a wide range of works by over 40 artists are roughly grouped by subject matter. Zines and mail art are given a particular pride of place, At ONE Archives a reading nook contains browsable copies of Joey Terrill’s seminal mail-art magazine Homeboy Beautiful (1978-79). The mailed objects, especially the postcards also record their paths of circulation mapping the contours of artistic milieus. Collaboration and intermingling are everywhere. Mundo had a day job as the window dresser for boutiques and and often shared props from his displays with friend and performance artist Johanna Went, who used fantastical props and costumes in all her performances at punk clubs during the late 70s and 1980s.
The most poignant of these collaborations is Ray Navarro’s triptych Equipped (1990), photos of medical devices used by the artist in his last year of life that are juxtaposed with saucy captions such as HOT BUTT. Friend and fellow artist Zoe Leonard fabricated the work after Navarro went blind and deaf due to complications with HIV. Also compelling is the documentation of performances such as Jerri Allyn’s Laughing Souls/Espíritus Sonrientes (1979) at Los Angles Contemporary Exhibitions—an artist-founded non-profit created by this same group of artists in 1978 which continues to provide a platform for artistic experimentation to this day. For marginalized communities in great crisis, the power of collaboration and the support structure of self-selected family are paramount. Axis Mundo, provides insight into one such community, with applications across a spectrum of issues that are still incredibly relevant in the present.
Originally published in Carla issue 10