The current work is a series of contemporary caste or “casta” paintings. Casta painting was popularized as a genre during the 18th century in colonial-Mexico. Originally meant to record the racial mixing taking place in the New World, these paintings came in sets that depicted different families from lightest-skinned to darkest-skinned, very much like a table of elements. The darker-skinned the parents were, however, the more socially and biologically degenerate the child was considered, making racial cross-breeding a real problem in the Euro-colonialist project of empire-building. Still, miscegenation between Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans was common in the early Americas, though not always consensual. Mestizaje, as well as the concept of “mixed races,” were born from this. In response to these developments in cross-racialization, Spaniards created taxonomic hierarchies to organize the new colonial social structure. Paintings were commissioned to illustrate and explain the new classificatory scheme. Their primary audience was European.
My research has led me to re-examine this genre in effort to see how genealogy, human interaction, and economic poverty affect our own assembling of personal identity and, perhaps most importantly, how these identities help to then reproduce the very social structures they emerge from. Each painting takes an original casta as a template to be distorted, in which original characters are replaced by archetypes from popular media, comics, and world history. Like hip-hop, border techno, and global mashups, these works lift and sample from original paintings in order to understand the processes and effects of re-appropriation. In this manner, we can better understand how such re-appropriation functions as both language and method.
The work before you also diverts from the originally prescribed social order by depicting a spectrum of possible familial unions. In lieu of representing traditional gender, race, and class hierarchies, there is a horizontal field of endless relationships between units, with the figures of mother and father masked in stereotypes. Consequently, the child becomes the product of two racial signifiers reproducing. But what happens next? What do stereotypes reproduce?
My understanding of art as an emancipatory practice leads me to believe that, by re-contextualizing archaic visual tropes through old casta paintings, their meanings can be complicated and broken loose from fixed interpretations, thus moving us towards a different awareness and, ideally, towards socio-cultural agency. In that light, remaking old casta paintings is a critique of the role visual arts have played, and continue playing, in shaping the constructs of race, gender, and class. Similarly, by rearticulating the complicit relationship between 18th century artistic production and the intellectual regime of the Enlightenment, we can begin uncovering the dominant ideological structures that guide the work we do today.
Claudio Dicochea is a painter and arts educator born in San Luis Río Colorado. Raised on the Mexican–
United States border in southern Arizona, Dicochea studied at the University of Arizona, San Francisco Art
Institute, and Arizona State University. Drawing from his own experience at the geographic intersection of
Mexican and American culture, Dicochea’s work is a contemporary re-examination of mestizaje, or mixed-race
identity. His layered and visually dense paintings host a motley cast of figures and motifs dealing with the
legacy of colonial representation, hybrid identity and contemporary media stereotypes.
Dicochea maintains a steady exhibition repertoire, with a parallel program of speaking engagements and
publications. In 2010, he exhibited his work and presented at the 17th Biennale of Sydney, Australia. He has
shown in Art Miami with Lisa Sette Gallery, Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona State University Art Museum, The Lab
in San Francisco and Museo de Arte e Historia in Juarez, Mexico. His awards include the Contemporary
Forum Artist Grant, Ford Foundation Siqueiros-Pollock Binational Painting Award, Graduate College
Completion Fellowship and Seymour Rosen Scholarship in Community Leadership. Most recently, Arizona
State University Art Museum included his artwork within their permanent collection. Dicochea is represented
by Lisa Sette Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona.