Today we’d like to introduce you to Gabriel Cardenas.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Gabriel. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I started as a kid. I got into drawing simple things like cartoons on TV. I took art classes in Middle school and my parents let me paint on the walls. I was surrounded my political movements for liberation. I used my art to talk about movements for social justice and was aware of freedom struggles in high school. In college I transferred to UCSB and started making art there in the art department. I was one of the only brown skinned art students in the courses. My cultural artwork filled with political activism took people by surprise and made many uncomfortable. I began painting murals and participating in live art paintings during university events revolving around student activism, Black lives matter movements, Ayotzinapa, cultural events and art and education events. I was fortunate to be involved in political student movements that connected me with many others who believed in similar struggles. Along the way, I was contracted to paint and began painting murals with local schools and programs like Casa de la Raza and the City of Santa Barbara. I taught youth how to paint murals and educated individuals on mesoamerican indigenous knowledge. This also started unraveling in 2014.
Fast forward to 2017, and I moved to Northridge where I received my Masters in Chicana/o art from CSUN. I applied my knowledge of Chicana/o art and did my own original research of visual art and farmworker struggles in our communities. At Northridge, I participated in mural paintings and painted two murals at CSUN with the Africana studies department. I also painted for events such as Dia de los Muertxs at CSUN and participated in painting murals in Lincoln Heights. I did more live painting with Collective Lifestyle out of Reseda and participated in gallery show at 11:11 Gallery. My time at Northridge has been amazing since I have been able to teach about Chicana/o art as a social movement along with the multiple local live painting events. The art I continue to create and publish is about resistance to unjust political systems. it’s to educate the masses about social struggles for liberation and equity.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Not really. I have had to struggle economically to make a name or become known so to speak. moving to new areas like the Valley are hard to make an impression or meet people. luckily, I have made good contacts and friends that have connected me with others. this type of community support and community involvement goes a long way. My time and energy have been taken advantage of from certain folks but that’s part of the game I believe. That’s also why visual art can be very expensive. I also recognize that I have had people that do not align or understand my political viewpoints spew negative words and energy my way. I have dealt with these things in my own healing nature but they are not easy to forget. As well, they are important to acknowledge as I and others attempt to pave a forward that created more unity than division.
We’d love to hear more about your work.
I create original art and paint original murals. I get hired to paint murals for people and paintings. I specialize in oil paintings and mural work. People know me for my political art work and for my organizing and social movement action. I am proud of the connections I have made and the people I am able to meet and inspire on a day to day basis. I appreciate that I can share knowledge with my artwork and relate it to past and present struggles for liberation and self-determination. What sets me apart is my work of combining education and visual art in a matter that respects and extends the Chicana/o art movements of yesteryear. I also teach and work with youth painting murals, teaching art classes and ethnic studies/Chicana/o studies classes.
What were you like growing up?
Growing up, I was angry shy upset. I didn’t know why things were the way they were for my family and myself. I was unaware why we didn’t have nice things like friends and why there were strangers in my home. I liked listening to music and drawing cartoons to get away. My parents made me do many chores indoors and outdoors and over time it taught me the meaning of labor and making money. this upbringing made me question society and motivated me to study sociology and how the world work. so that I may learn more about why I grew up the way I did and why others did the way they did.
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