Zarco Guerrero

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HORIZONTE talks to multi-media artist and master mask maker, Zarco Guerrero

Jose Cardenas
>> Zarco Guerrero has long been a community arts advocate in the valley. He is known worldwide for his creativity in making masks and sculptures. In tonight's "Sounds of Cultura," samples of Zarco Guerrero's artistry.

Jose Cardenas
>> Joining me now is Zarco Guerrero. You've been around the valley for a long time, you're a native mesan.

Zarco Guerrero
>> That's right.

Jose Cardenas
>> Your art has evolved over time. You've always done masks, you're well known, PBS did a documentary on you a number of years ago, and you have many other talents, but let's talk about the evolution of your mask making.

Zarco Guerrero
>> Actually I think my artistic career began in the early '70s, during the civil rights movement, and more particularly during the Cesar Chavez farm workers movement. Which I became very active as a young man straight out of high school, and that movement inspired me to research our history, our culture, and of course the art of Mexico as well as the art of the muralists of post-revolutionary Mexico. So I began participating in that artistic movement during the farm workers' movement, and I was motivate the to go to Mexico and study the art of Mexico, particularly the art of murallism. I think that's how I began.

Jose Cardenas
>> You have a famous mural at Stanford.

Zarco Guerrero
>> Exactly. I spent a lot of time in Mexico studying muralism, I had the idea of working with an artist who died shortly after we met, and I ended up working with Francisco, the sculptor, and Mexico city, and then later on --

Jose Cardenas
>> who is also a great influence on R.C. Gorman.

Zarco Guerrero
>> On many artists, continually to this day. And very shortly after that I began an interest in masks. Not only because of the beautiful specimens of the masks in the museums in Mexico, but also the masks being used by indigenous people of Mexico, particularly the state of Morales.

Jose Cardenas
>> Your early masks seem to have a lot more of a focus on animals, the fur, the ears, and teeth. And the newer ones, some of the ones we saw on the screen are different.

Zarco Guerrero
>> When I began making masks, was in Mexico. And the essence of many of the masks of Mexico was the relationship between man and his environment. So I translated it into a wearable mask-- it was at once human and at once animal that expressed our kinship to the beast. Because we've lost that whole consciousness that we're related, and we're a part of the animal kingdom. So I wanted to make a statement with my artwork going back and resurrecting ancient philosophy and ideologies of our ancestors and putting them in the context of contemporary urban Chicano culture.

Jose Cardenas
>> You brought a few masks on the set, and what I'd like to do is discuss in ways how you think this reflects an evolution of your work.

Zarco Guerrero
>> Well, this is a mask that I do continually. And I have been doing so for many years. In Mexico that represents rebirth, regeneration. And we use this mask for our celebration. In this country we think of the skull as symbol of death, of poison, of danger. But in Mexico, it has totally different connotation.

Jose Cardenas
>> And almost a happy aspect.

Zarco Guerrero
>> Yeah. It has a happy, welcoming smile, somewhat of a sinister smile, and of course it represents our ancestors as well. And it's highly decorated, painted with bright, vibrant colors, so when we wear it, we get a chance to look death in the face, smile back at death, and accept death as an integral part of life.

Jose Cardenas
>> You've got other ones I want to take a quick look at. We also want to talk about upcoming trips you've got to Mexico -- to China, rather, and the connections between that experience and the ones you've had overseas in the past, for example, I know you studied with mask makers in Japan. Let's start there.

Zarco Guerrero
>> Well, I've learned a tremendous amount about life in general, particularly art and culture in Japan, because Japan has maintained the ancient traditions of mask making that goes back 500 years. So I wanted to go to Japan in order to investigate what mask making must have been like in ancient Mexico. And in Japan, I learned about the sanctity of the mask. And the Japanese firmly believe in the power of the mask to transform the person who wears the mask into someone or something else. And also they have the highest standards in carving the masks. And I wanted to adopt those standards and I adopted not only the standards, but that Japanese and Asian aesthetic that I saw parallels between ancient art of Japan, Indonesia, and China, I saw parallels with the ancient masks of Mexico.

Jose Cardenas
>> These are referred to as no masks. Talk to us about that.

Zarco Guerrero
>> The no mask is the ancient ceremonial art of the samurai. The no mask were derived from the ancient masks of China. Of the Buddhist imagery. From the temples of ancient China. And so the Japanese saw the power of those characters and those motifs and recreated them in their own form of ritual theater. And so this is the oldest continually living mask art form in the world. So that's why it was so important for me.

Jose Cardenas
>> in China, for a number of years the communist government was suppressing the mask makers.

Zarco Guerrero
>> Exactly. The mask in so many parts of the world is -- has been relegated to primitive, ancient, pagan societies. I prefer to call those natural societies. And so you have three dominant forms that have suppressed the mask art form. One being communism, the other being Islam, and the other being Christianity. These are three forces that have suppressed and tried to obliterate the mask art form as something of the occult, and something pagan, something negative.

Jose Cardenas
>> And you're going to China?

Zarco Guerrero
>> Yes, sir.

Jose Cardenas
>> In a way it's kind of circling back, because you encountered in Japan the Chinese mask-making tradition. What do you hope to do in China?

Zarco Guerrero
>> Well, I've always been fascinated with the first civilization of ancient Mexico. The first civilization in the Americas. Everything I do is derived from the aesthetic of the OMEC. And there's many parallels between that and Chinese imagery. There was a lot of study and booked published about this. So I've always been the kind of artist that I want to see firsthand that evidence, those examples. This would be my second trip to China. The first trip I made was 23 years ago. Before China opened up.

Jose Cardenas
>> But you're not going just as a student or a tourist, you're going to perform.

Zarco Guerrero
>> Yes. I've been invited to perform in China at a summer program, and -- to conduct workshops. So I'm very interested in -- just as I portray my own culture, my own heritage, our society in my mask performance, I have this idea to express and interpret the Chinese themselves.

Jose Cardenas
>> You need to express that in about the 30 seconds we've got left.

Zarco Guerrero
>> This is one of the type of masks I've invented. I call it the invisible mask. This is the type of masks that's unknown in China. Unlike the carved masks they're used to. So I'm going to introduce them to my Chicano tradition.

Jose Cardenas
>> We wish you well. You're leaving soon?

Zarco Guerrero
>> In July.

Jose Cardenas
>> Thank you for joining us on "Horizonte." We'll have you back to talk about how the trip went.

Zarco Guerrero
>> Great. Thank you so much.

Jose Cardenas
>> That's our show for this Thursday night. I'm Jose Cardenas. Have a good evening.

Zarco Guerrero:Artist;

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