A former military guard working at a secret weapons laboratory in New Mexico accidentally ate a toxic tamale for lunch. The exorbitant amount of radiation caused such mutations in his body that he unexpectedly turned into Tamale Man – archenemy of White Wash, a Klu Klux Klan hooded villain dedicated to fight for the preservation of English as the only official language of the United States of America.
Although a product of artist Eric Garcia’s imagination, Tamale Man exists. A recently crafted sculpture of the cartoon character turned action figure — dressed in a white body suit, red cape and green gloves and the head in the form of a tamale — is enclosed carefully in packaging as if manufactured by Mattel. Tamale Man is part of “Action Figures!” an exhibition at Cobalt Studio in Pilsen running through October 30.
García – a political cartoonist and printmaker with work featured in F Newsmagazine as El Machete – created Tamale Man with his own experience of being a military guard in the Air Force serving as inspiration. The history of his home state of New Mexico as the test site for the first atomic bomb complemented by weapons research and the nuclear contamination of the land and water that continues to this day informed his creation. “I use this super hero as a fun way to fight real issues in our society,” Garcia explained. “He has fought White Wash and the racist minutemen from the Revolutionary War resurrected to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.”
Artist Adriana Baltazar runs Cobalt Studio and curated “Action Figures!” along with Nicole Marroquin, also an artist. They knew García and included him in the conversation when the idea of the exhibition began to take form. “He really stands apart as an artist who’s got immense technique and skill and this activist sensibility that riles me up,” Marroquin explained. “Great combination: humor and responsibility.”
A video installation by artist Andrés Hernández will also be a part of “Action Figures!” A ten minute long piece titled “Warren Meander (POV)” explores the concept of action through a very different approach. The video is part of his ongoing “West Warren Boulevard series” for which he has documented his experiences of walking down the street. “I explore the concepts of walking, collecting, and analyzing as performance,” explains Hernández. “I position myself as the urban flâneur, walking the city to better understand it and simultaneously, my place within it.”
Although the title of the exhibition could anticipate a uniform interpretation, the approach taken by the selected artists is clearly diverse. The work shown will range from video installations to puppetry to an interactive game. For Hernández, the “action” component is key for his work to fit under the exhibition’s parameters. “Instead of presenting a figurine, through Andres’s video the audience becomes the acting figure, meandering and observing points of interest in the immediate environment,” Baltazar explained. “As contemporary artists running an alternative exhibition space, we look for a balance between highly academic work and work that is relevant and engaging. We encourage the art presented in our space to be experimental in concepts and/or presentation, free of commercial pressures.”