Of Cannibals, Crowbars, and Cocktails

It's no secret that college professors these days frequently can display a really peculiar kind of stupidity. The latest example of this comes from Stanford University. It advances in the form of Enrique Chagoya, one of its art professors.

The 57-year-old Chagoya is a Mexican immigrant and American citizen. The United States has been very good to him. A native of Mexico City, Chagoya came to this country when he was 24.

His bio on the Stanford website says, with no explanation of just how or why, that Chagoya "immigrated to the United States and settled in San Juan, Texas." There he became "a union organizer for farm workers."

The Golden State's Bay Area soon beckoned, however. After eight months doing the work of the saints among the oppressed, "Chagoya moved to Berkeley, California, and began working as a free-lance illustrator and graphic designer."

In the fullness of time, Chagoya entered the embrace of the academy. In 1984 and 1987, he earned degrees from the San Francisco Art Institute and the University of California. The biography also states that he took up "residencies" in Paris in the 1990s. The bio, alas, does not make clear the auspices of these sojourns.

In similar murky fashion, we learn that "Chagoya is currently a Full Professor at Stanford University's Department of Art and Art History." There is no background for this; there is just the bald proclamation. There is no when and why of Stanford's adopting Chagoya. On this matter, the academic biography evinces an Obama-like opacity.

Despite whatever shiftiness one may detect in his life story, Chagoya's success is difficult to deny. His pieces have made it into some important collections, such as New York's Museum of Modern Art.

As to the nature of that work, it's hard to tell. The description Stanford presents sorely tries a reader's patience. It's phony, pompous, elitist art magazine gobbledygook. If this doesn't trip your bull detector, nothing likely ever will:

Enrique Chagoya juxtaposes secular, popular, and religious symbols in order to address the ongoing cultural clash between the United States, Latin America and the world as well. He uses familiar pop icons to create deceptively friendly points of entry for the discussion of complex issues. Through these seemingly harmless characters Chagoya examines the recurring subject of colonialism and oppression that continues to riddle contemporary American foreign policy.

Slogging through the rest of the material, one comes to detect a general drift, however.

Chagoya says that his art finds an impulse in "reverse anthropology or reverse art history."

An example of this was his taking a series of 19th-century European prints and overlaying "images of very diverse class and cultural origin." (There must be a way to differentiate what Chagoya did to these antique art works from mere crass vandalism, but I must confess that I am at a loss as to what that may be.)

Further, Chagoya accuses well-known Western art figures such as Pablo Picasso of "appropriating artistic expressions of cultures from their former colonies." Because of this theft, Chagoya says he likes to imagine "what art would have been created if the opposite had happened[.]"

The professor really wants his revenge, too. He'd like nothing better than to dump those larcenous palefaces right into the cook pot. "I have explored this concept with ... a set of cans depicting 'cannibal's soup' including various recipes such as 'Curator's Liver,' 'Museum Director's Tripe,' 'Artist Brains With Rice,' ‘Models [sic] Meat,' 'Anthropologist With Noodles,' etc."

All this may explain how Chagoya secured such a snuggly academic sinecure in this collegiate era of "Hate America First." He seems to be dealing us yet another hand in that beloved parlor game of U.S. faculty lounges -- "Let's Get Whitey." So perhaps on second thought, then, it is no surprise that he wound up a full professor at Stanford.

The dicey, unpleasant subject of cannibalism and its practitioners apparently has a hold on Chagoya. For example, another piece of his is entitled "The Misadventures of the Romantic Cannibals."

The Denver Post describes the work as "a 7 1/2-inch-high, 90-inch-wide color lithograph print." It unfolds in twelve panels. These sections include images of "comic book characters, Mexican pornography, Mayan symbols and ethnic stereotypes," according to a description published by the Associated Press.

Until Wednesday, a municipal art museum in Colorado displayed "Misadventures." It was part of an exhibit of 82 pieces by ten artists that the Loveland town museum installed in September.

Not that its sojourn among the Rocky Mountains has been serene. Locals have been grumbling about the Chagoya piece, focusing on one particular portion of the print. As Monte Whaley of the Post put it, "The final panel shows what some say appears to be Jesus receiving oral sex."

Citizen anger about this spilled into the Loveland city council chambers. An estimated 170 persons descended on the council. The showdown came after five days of picketing outside the museum, according to the Loveland Reporter-Herald newspaper.

As is the done thing in these matters, the local magistrates listened with bright eyes and furrowed brows to their constituents and then ignored them utterly. The council did nothing despite citizen pleas, and the print remained on display.

But as it turned out, not everyone was as progressively passive as the city fathers. On Wednesday, 56-year-old Kathleen Folden of Kalispell, Montana reportedly entered the Loveland Museum Gallery with a crowbar under her coat and her own personal taste for vengeance whetted.

The truck driver reportedly walked to the Plexiglas case displaying the print. She broke the case with the crowbar while crying, "How can you desecrate my Lord?"

Once Folden smashed the shell around it, she then when after the print, "ripping it up," Mark Michaels, a witness, told KUSA-TV in Denver. The Reporter-Herald said that the print was "destroyed" in the attack.

In due course, the police arrived and took Folden in hand. "She is in custody on a charge of criminal mischief, a Class 4 felony with a fine of up to $2,000," the Post reported.

When contacted by the AP, Chagoya was flabbergasted. He couldn't understand what had happened. "My intention has never been to offend anybody," he said.


Come on, Professor. Are you truly that dim? You put together a work showing Jesus Christ in an explicit sexual position amid other images drawn from "Mexican pornography" and your intention was not to offend -- really?

But maybe Chagoya isn't as stupid as he seems. Maybe he's just out of touch. Those ivory towers have very thick walls. Maybe he's like the famous movie critic in a now-legendary, if apocryphal, anecdote. She was astonished when a certain presidential candidate won because nobody that she knew voted for him.

Perhaps, likewise, Chagoya thinks Christian desecration will never offend anyone. Maybe that's because it's something that would never bother anyone that he knows in his new Bay Area hometown.

Not to worry, though. Not even someone apparently as terminally dense as Chagoya can mess this up. For this incident almost certainly will turn out to be a gold mine for him.

For you see, he faces no loss here. The piece Folden took down in Loveland is not a one-off. It's a lithograph, and one of a run of thirty. The price tag on each survivor just went up. When they're gone, I'm sure Chagoya can come up with more copies. Before it's all over, Kmart may be offering it on a printed T-shirt.
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