Rhizomes of Mexican American Art since 1848 is a digital portal that will aggregate Mexican American art and related documentation from dozens of digital collections in libraries, archives, and museums located throughout the United States. The free portal will provide access to Mexican American art and material culture, from 1848 to the present, via any networked computer in the world, including smartphones! Once operational, Rhizomes will allow single-search access to an exponentially richer collection of Mexican American art and relevant materials than could ever be made available through a single library or museum. This means that Rhizomes will especially benefit users without in-person access to major art history libraries or museums, and expand the capacity for more researchers at all levels to do comparative research between institutions and across disciplines without the need for extensive travel for preliminary investigations.
An interdisciplinary and cross-institution tool is necessary since Mexican American art encompasses the pre-modern, modern, and post-modern, and engages in a visual and ideological play of cultures. For instance, New Mexican santeros (sculptors) employ styles and woodcarving techniques of the Spanish colonial period in their saints but also appropriate imagery relevant to the present. Meanwhile, conceptual artists forego the universal to advocate politically pointed declarations, while installation artists present and critique current issues in their altares while visually integrating 500 years of sacred representation and tradition. Although the earliest studies of Mexican American art focus on 1960s and 1970s prints and murals, recent scholarship also considers contributions of installations, new media, and what has historically been dubbed “folk art.” Rhizomes showcases the artistic innovations and traditions of art-making not considered by mainstream American art history.
On a more practical level, Rhizomes will address factors that hinder full consideration of Mexican American art within mainstream art histories and teaching. At the most basic level, access and discoverability have been and remain issues, while isolation of art collections at museums and libraries has impeded research and public access. Although state-based aggregating portals, such as Calisphere, have improved discoverability and access, they are limited by geography. Additionally, small arts collections and organizations remain obscured from the broader public. Finally, site-based and online cataloguing systems are inconsistent in how they use search terms as well as how they segregate between “folk” and “fine” art. Rhizomes employs culturally-informed descriptors that enhance discoverability across geographic regions since 1848, the moment when Mexicans living in the American Southwest were ratified as United States citizens with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
According to the US Census, the Mexican-origin community comprises 11% of the nation’s total population, making it the second largest ethnic or racial group in the country. Mexican Americans now live in all fifty states. With this demographic shift, the Humanities, at both K-12 and university levels, have witnessed significant growth in the study of Mexican American history, culture, and art. Rhizomes will thus allow that growing population, and the general public, to explore an emerging area of cultural and intellectual inquiry. Once operational, Rhizomes will facilitate this evolving field—across time and geography—and make possible new research yet unimagined.