Printmaking and the Chicano Movement
To continue our series on printmaking, we’re going to talk about the history of the Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF). No they weren’t some secret paramilitary group (though that would have been cool too). They were a group of activist artists who promoted the Chicano movement with their awesome powers of printmaking.
The Royal Chicano Air Force was created in 1969 as an art collective in Sacramento, California. It became one of the main centers of support and creative energy during the Chicano civil rights movement. The RCAF presented community events, traditional ceremonies,educational and art programs to the public. They created a bicultural arts community among the local Chicano population. Founding members included José Montoya, Esteban Villa, Juanishi V. Orosco, Ricardo Favela and Rudy Cuellar. Professors, teachers, students, artists and community members all contributed to the creation of the RCAF. This led to an exchange of creative thought between California State University, Sacramento and the surrounding barrio neighborhood. Located in the center of the agricultural community, the RCAF was a key supporter of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.
The technique of printmaking is historically known for its ability to promote a unity among a community of people. The Royal Chicano Air Force utilized printmaking to create a sense of community and rally people together for a common cause. These posters were announcements: a dance, educational program, strike, or other community event. The posters were not just created, printed, and posted by one person, they were a collection of ideals nourished by the creative collective of the RCAF.
The prints created by the RCAF are often presented in museums and art galleries, but they were not made to be hung on gallery walls. They were originally made for display in the community: on street corners, buildings, light posts, trees—anywhere visible in the urban environment. Although they are not in their original setting, they still deliver a message to the viewer. As long as an audience is seeing and talking about these artworks, they will continue to replenish the sense of community, collective memory, and ideology that they were originally intended to advertise.
Note: This post was adapted from didactics at an exhibition of RCAF prints. To see more examples of RCAF prints see the Online Archive of California. Or see Xico’s collection of RCAF prints which are exhibited periodically at Xico and other locations.