Tuesday 25 June 2013

Paños. Drawings from a prison in Texas at Galerie Susanne Zander, Cologne

Luis Pena, untitled (Gas Mask), 1997, ball point pen on cotton hankerchief, ca. 38 x 38 cm

 "Paños. Drawings from a prison in Texas"

28. June - 31. August 2013
Opening: Friday 28.06., 6 – 10 pm

Currently shown in a special curatorial project by the artist Cindy Sherman for the Venice Biennale within Massimiliano Gioni's "The Encyclopaedic Palace", paños are being rediscovered by a larger audience for their iconographic strength and the uniqueness of their visual style.

At times intensely spiritual or unashamedly secular, paño art draws on the deepest desires of Chicano prisoners, whose artistic expression is limited only by the materials at hand. The word paño is Spanish for cloth or handkerchief, and has become a denomination for the art form itself: a ball point pen or coloured pencil drawing on a cotton handkerchief bought from the commissary or torn from bed sheets of the institution they are doing time in. 

Either made themselves or commissioned as tokens of affection for loved mothers, girlfriends and children on the outside, paños also serve as a secret means of communication with gang members within or beyond the walls of their confinement. Inside the institution, paños often circulate within the economy of the prison as an instrument of trade for cigarettes, drugs or information.

Much of the paño imagery and inspiration is drawn from the larger visual vocabulary of Chicano art such as from murals, pornography, lowrider culture, Mexican history, Catholic iconography, graffiti, tattoo and cartoons, among others, depicting common themes that illustrate various aspects of prison life: the anguish of confinement, drug trips, violence and gang life on the street, love affairs (real or imagined), symbols of religious devotion and of ethnic pride. Like tattoos, paños ultimately allow inmates in their confinement and isolation from the words beyond the prison walls to give vent to their physical and spiritual longings, to preserve memory and to cultivate a form of personal and collective identity.

Twelve years after having first brought paños to the attention of the Cologne public in an exhibition held 2001, Galerie Susanne Zander now shows yet again a handpicked selection of these drawings from a prison in Texas by such names as Eddie Medel, Raymond Parras, Luis Pena, Raul Zapata and Victor Villareal, showing that these works have not lost any of the original fascination they exert on the viewer.

The exhibition organized by Cindy Sherman at the 55th Venice Biennale can be seen at the Arsenale until the 24th of November 2013.

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