By Tatiana Reinoza, co-editor of Self Help Graphics at Fifty: A Cornerstone of Latinx Art and Collaborative Artmaking
Throughout the last five decades, Self Help Graphics & Art has created an artist-centered institution with an emphasis on empowerment, reciprocity, and exchange. Whether it was bringing art to underserved children through the Barrio Mobile Art Studio, renewing the ancestral connections to Mexico with annual Día de los Muertos events, shipping exhibitions to Africa or Europe, or inviting artists for residencies in their professional printmaking program, Self Help Graphics changed the terms of engagement for the production of contemporary art in Los Angeles. No longer was the focus on the individual artist genius — instead collaboration was at the heart of all of their endeavors. Against aesthetic autonomy and the dictates of capitalist production, the artists at Self Help Graphics developed a radical ethos of collaborative artmaking. For the organization’s upcoming fiftieth anniversary, we celebrate these efforts with the publication of our new book, Self Help Graphics at Fifty: A Cornerstone of Latinx Art and Collaborative Artmaking — the definitive history of a cherished East Los Angeles institution over five decades of art making and community building.
Five years ago, we began meeting and discussing the possibility of working on an anthology that would commemorate this momentous anniversary. The task seemed enormous. How could we convey the significance of Self Help Graphics to the history of contemporary art in the global art capital of Los Angeles? How did it expand our understanding of the collaborative press movement? Of the hundreds of resident artists, how could we narrow the list and do justice to the more than 800 limited editions produced in their printmaking studio? What were the most significant themes explored in their vast archive of works on paper, exhibitions, and art education initiatives? What were the tactics the organization employed to sustain their longevity in the face of budget cuts in the grant funding landscape and rampant art world racism?
In true Self Help Graphics ethos, we decided that collaboration was key in tackling such a project and we assembled a wonderful team of scholars, through a call for papers and by invitation, which now includes our esteemed colleagues: Kency Cornejo, Arlene Dávila, JV Decemvirale, Adriana Katzew, Robb Hernández, Olga Herrera, Kendra Lyimo, Mary Thomas, and Claudia Zapata. Each one brought a different specialization and perspective which greatly enriched the project. Their nuanced and thoughtful essays far exceeded our expectations and we are delighted to present them in this book.
Over the course of the project, we convened panels, symposia, class visits, archive and museum days. We debated and argued over approaches, citations, chronologies, and methods. It is our hope that the anthology provides a testament to the innovative frameworks for art production and identity formation that Self Help Graphics has long championed, and that it fills a void in the scholarship, bearing witness to the multiple and complex art histories that exist in Los Angeles.