Title: Santo y Blue Demon Contra Los Monstruos
Artist: Genaro Hernandez
Title: Luchando #1
Artist: Juan J. Hernandez
By: Forrest Cook
The Lucha Libre 2020 Art Exhibition at The Oak Cliff Cultural Center opened on January 11 with an artists reception and is available for public view until February 14. This is a free mixed-media exhibit dedicated to the art of lucha libre, also known as mexican wrestling.
Lucha libre is no stranger to American cultural adaptation. The sport was popularly portrayed in the comedic Jack Black film, Nacho Libre, and maneuvers as well as gimmicks are often duplicated in American-style professional wrestling. Los luchadores y luchadoras compete donning máscaras to hide their identity, which provide extra significance in that the match champion may forcibly remove the loser’s mask in a display of dominance and degradation. These máscaras offer an interesting and unique dynamic to the sport. They have become recognizable worldwide as a vibrant part of Mexican tradition, adding to the rich significance of the nation’s cultural influence. In 2018, UNESCO honored lucha libre with the distinction of being Intangible Cultural Heritage to Mexico City.
Exhibition curator Jose Vargas was moved to paint last year upon the death of Silver King, who’s real name is César Barrón, the world-renowned luchadore that portrayed el rudo, Ramses, in Nacho Libre. Barrón suffered a heart attack during a London match, and died in the ring – a long way from home as Vargas sees it. His painting is of the character Ramses, and hangs centerfold in the gallery behind an interactive display of the legendary El Santo. There, visitors are encouraged to snap a polaroid with the painting “El Santo y Yo” by L. Marciano, to be left at the altar, and in turn take an offering of Mexican candy.
Title: Ramses – Silver King
Artist: Jose Vargas
Vargas has curated Oak Cliff’s Virgen de Guadalupe exhibit for 25 years, and likewise the El Corazón exhibit at The Bath House Cultural Center on the eastern shore of White Rock Lake. He says he’s been hopeful to put together something related to lucha libre for some time, and his painting “Ramses – Silver King” now hangs in tribute to his fallen muse. Growing up Vargas’ interest in the sport was sparked by early trips with his brother to see wrestling matches, in which occasionally mexican wrestlers would be featured wearing masks. He always thought those were the most entertaining.
“I used to find pictures in the newspapers and magazines and I would hold on to them just because they were so mysterious, and they caught my attention,” he says. With nostalgia he speaks of the friendship turned rivalry between 1960s NWA Texas Heavyweights, Torbellino Blanco and El Ciclón Negro. “Ciclon Negro became a rudo, which made it more interesting.”
Among the featured artists include Rocio Ramirez, whom Vargas met recently and whose interest in the exhibit was the final spark needed to launch the exhibition. Ramirez is a costume designer who actually worked on the film Nacho Libre with Silver King as well as Jack Black, and it turns out, according to Vargas, she’d done work in the underground luchador circuit for a year prior to that. With Ramirez on board, Vargas enthusiastically put a call out to regional artists for pieces related to lucha libre, and the results of that call are what comprise the exhibition at the cultural center today, with many of the pieces available for purchase, some already sold, and still some others on private loan. Many of the artists have used this image of ritualized combat to describe their own struggles within the current economic and sociopolitical climate.
Title: ¡Viva la Mujeres que lucha!
Artist: Jessica Sanchez of Chicle Zine
“I’m just hoping that the people in the community will appreciate this exhibit so much that they invite us to do it again,” says Vargas. He relates that even amongst Chicanos, some are not very familiar with luchador culture. “I want to be able to get people to know more about it so they can understand it better. When you look at this stuff it’s sort of like a combination of a rock concert, opera, theatre, sport, you name it. It’s all in one package.”
The ever-increasing popularity and influence of lucha libre is apparent in any serious study of cultural dynamics. The mystifying masks worn by combatants have enthralled the minds of generations around the globe, both past and present, and the omnipresent theme of man-vs-man, with the compelling intricacies of unshakable brotherhood in the face of battle via parejas, or the fierce rivalry between rudos y técnicos under a strict yet cherished code of honor will surely captivate the imaginations of generations to come.
The Cultural Center is located in the historic Jefferson Blvd. Shopping District, right next to Texas Theatre, about three blocks from Bishop Arts.
Title: Dark Heart
Artist: Loretta Gonzalez
Title: Mascara contra Mascara
Artist: Art Garcia
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