“Magulandia: A human experience”
by Evan A. Senn
edited by Joanna Roche
In 1974, the art world met Gilbert “Magu” Lujan in a way that no one can forget. The LACMA exhibition of Los Four that year would not be the first time Magu had changed—and challenged—our collective understanding of art and culture in Southern California and it most certainly wouldn’t be the last. Bridging the gap between different cultures in the same community and igniting a worldwide cultural awakening, Magu’s endeavors in artistic expression and his work with Los Four helped define what Chicano art was then and is today. Throughout his long career, Magu has been committed to learning the tools and terms of the artist’s trade, which he has wielded in a range of art venues, from the streets to the Smithsonian, to demonstrate the power of Chicano art.
Magu’s lifelong pursuit of empowering Chicano art—and artists—has been fueled by his need to explore both personal and cultural roots. Beginning as a group of “outsider” artists, Los Four was the manifestation of what Magu, the group’s founder, imagined: four directions, four people, four chances. The 1974 LACMA exhibition of Chicano art of Los Four, Los Four: Almaraz, de la Rocha, Lujan, Romero brought cultural awareness, pride, education and appreciation for cultural differences and similarities in Southern California art and culture. With all the models of success in art as Caucasian males, Los Four took the reigns of power and authority in this previously-marginalized art form. They were determined to be seen.
With intensity and passion, Magu was able to engage his academic background in art and art history (which was heavily Eurocentric at the time of his undergraduate and graduate studies) in conjunction with his proud, cultural heritage. This cross-pollination of western art history with vital, indigenous influences from Chicano culture, enabled Magu to create contemporary artwork that invoked familiar, cultural roots. Throughout his career, as continued to promote visual exploration of Chicano culture as a means to gain appreciation for its aesthetic and cultural quality. Magu has incorporated Low-rider culture and Graffiti into his art. His amazing Low-riders and drawings/paintings are examples of once-marginalized art forms that Magu has helped to bring to the attention of a diverse public from a wide range of communities. The heart of his labor, however, begins and ends with community.
Magu’s efforts can also be seen outside of making art works. As a professor, a practicing artist, and a community leader, art education and engagement—especially via his “Mental Menudo” talk forums, has been a preoccupation of his for over 35 years. These forums were designed to advance, promote, network and discuss the notion of a Chicano cultural aesthetic. The topics of Magu’s Mental Menudos, where he serves as facilitator and sometimes, referee, are wide and varied. Their over-arching goal is to empower participants to think broadly and deeply about some of the many aspects of art, artists and contemporary culture. His goal in these forums is always to get people talking, thinking and collaborating.
Magu’s contribution to Southern California’s art “landscape” is so far-reaching that it is almost indistinguishable from our art scene as a whole: his stylistic choices, color palette and the exuberant, raw energy of his art ripple through much of Southern California culture today. Magu stated, “Art is not defined by some committee, it is a human experience.” It is this human experience that fuels all of our lives and our artistic expressions. This is a lesson we can learn again and again, from Magu and from ourselves.