Enrique Chagoya (American, born 1953), The Ghosts of Borderlandia, 2017, color lithograph with chine collé on Papel del Amate, ed. 30. Printer: Bud Shark with Evan Colbert, Lyons, Colorado. Publisher: Shark’s Ink, Lyons, Colorado. 15 x 80 inches. Museum Purchase, 2017. (2017.17)

“The imagery in this codex refers to the borders that people build between themselves. There are physical and invisible borders. They may be between social classes, genders, religions, ethnicities, and cultures. In this codex, people’s eyes are hidden behind a wall or underground to symbolize the lack of sight that those borders create. The invisible borders create stereotypes that dehumanize the ‘other’ and create an ‘us vs. them’ context.” — Enrique Chagoya

Born and raised in Mexico, Enrique Chagoya became an American citizen in 2000. His art explores the confluences and clashes of American and Latin-American culture, as well as cultures worldwide.

The Ghosts of Borderlandia is part of a group of works based on pre-Columbian Mesoamerican codices that Chagoya began in 1992 in response to the five-hundredth anniversary of Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas. He has made over forty codices in this format, which has become one of his signature and most fruitful artistic forms.

Detail: The Ghosts of Borderlandia, 2017

Like the historical codices, Chagoya’s are made from accordion-folded amate (fig-bark) paper and are read from right to left. He uses a unique visual language in his work that mixes words and images to evoke the hieroglyphic-like text of Mesoamerican codices. He envisions this language communicating across cultures, mirroring the ideal, borderless world he calls for in The Ghosts of Borderlandia.

Detail: The Ghosts of Borderlandia, 2017

A key tactic Chagoya uses in his art is reverse appropriation—where an artist from a so-called primitive culture reinterprets the work of Western artists. In this codex, he includes portraits of Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso (who admired and appropriated African art), and Philip Guston (an artist whose work Chagoya has appropriated in other works)—as well as the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Other recognizable figures in the work include Elizabeth Taylor, Wonder Woman, and Venus from Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. These varied cultural references join jaguars (an important animal in Mesoamerican spirituality), imagery drawn from Mesoamerican codices, a skeleton, graffiti, and stereotypical figures in ethnic costume. Without a clear narrative or resolution, Chagoya’s work is open-ended. The Ghosts of Borderlandia’s potential for multiple interpretations affirms the complex intersections between individual, cultural, and national identities.

—Claire McRee, Assistant Curator