A ferris-wheel sculpture on display on the second floor of the Cheech. Photo by Rigo Barragan
Actor, comedian, and marijuana enthusiast Cheech Marin had dreamed for years of having a place to show off his growing art collection and now that place has become a reality in the Inland Empire. Opened in mid-June of 2022 the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture or “The Cheech”, is a permanent space created by Marin and the Riverside Art Museum to be a showcase for Marin’s growing collection and to invite conversation and collaboration about what Chicano culture is and its place in American culture. Ever since he was a child Marin admired and studied art and struggled with the question of what it meant to be Chicano, and artistic expression became an important part of the conversation for him.
The Chicano movement began around the 1960s and 1970s as a political, social, and countercultural movement amongst Mexican Americans that were facing racial prejudice and systemic discrimination from Anglo-Americans for being too Mexican and alienation and derision from Mexicans for being too American and losing their cultural heritage. Chicanos rejected the idea that they had to assimilate to either group and chose to create, define, and assert a new and unique American identity that reflected their blended cultural reality that rejected the need to be validated by Anglo-Americans or Mexicans. Marginalized from popular culture and media, the Chicano Art movement aimed to bring awareness of the movement and Chicano identity to the greater public and to develop, assert, and flourish a proud, vibrant, and self-determined culture. Chicano art blends European and Mesoamerican styles: incorporating elements of modern, traditional, religious, and indigenous imagery with themes including sociopolitical action, struggle, family, culture, and everyday life. Marin explained that “Chicano art was always political art; And year by year, it evolved into what it is today. It can be political. It can be non-political. It can be highly personal. But what I’ve learned over the years is that Chicano art reveals the sabor (flavor) of the community.”
Walking through the gallery of The Cheech is unlike any experience of walking through galleries of work done by European artists. Artworks burst with vibrant colors and textures that stand out from the white walls and command attention. Portrait pieces are not of wealthy nobility but are of the everyday people: from happy young women to grandparents who wear the years of hard work and struggle on their faces; from Zoot Suiters of the 1940s to Cholos. At the entrance there is a giant glowing vertical lenticular mural designed by Einar and Jamex De la Torre that changes between a muscle car and a birdman based on what angle the work is being viewed from. The upper level of The Cheech is currently exhibiting the works of the De la Torre brothers who use lenticular art, glass blowing, and other forms of media to create wild and provocative pieces that even when viewed from many angles still might not make a lot of sense.
Artistic Director María Esther Fernández describes the opening of the center as a “massive step forward in our pursuit of shaping the art world’s perceptions and understanding of Chicanx art.” The Cheech has an overall theme it attempts to express to the visitor through the art: Chicano art is the art of humanity, lived life, and experience; the beauty of the everyday person living the everyday life trying to make things work with what one has and being proud of who they are in a world that didn’t make a place for them, so they made a place for themselves. The gallery is a window for people outside Chicano culture and an opportunity to connect to their own experiences and struggles of trying to make sense of one’s place in the world.
“Being a Chicano has always meant being in the middle—being an American but also being proud of your roots; Everybody is different, and we all have to learn to get along. Being a Chicano means forging your own path.”The Cheech is located next to the Mission Inn at 3581 Mission Inn Avenue Riverside, CA, 92501. Summer open hours are between 10:00am and 5:00pm. Tickets can be purchased online at riversideartmuseum.org/visit/ and are $15.95 for adults and $10.95 for children 13+, seniors, educators, and college students. Children 12 and under are free.
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