José Miguel Camacho, a junior studio arts major, has combined his love for art with his passion for social justice. In collaboration with the Laband Art Gallery, Camacho helped initiate a project designed to center BIPOC student artwork. He has already interviewed and featured over a dozen BIPOC LMU artists on Laband’s Instagram, @LabandArtGallery, using the AMPLIFY project to fight against the status quo that tends to promote white artists rather than artists of color.
Camacho generously took the time to share his thoughts on AMPLIFY and what it means for the LMU community as a whole.
José Miguel Camacho (J.C.): So, the project is called AMPLIFY. It’s an interview series hosted on Instagram by me and co-produced by me and Karen Rapp, the director of the Laband Art Gallery. I’ve been working for the Laband since last January, but once Covid-19 sent everyone home I, like everyone else who worked on campus, was unable to continue working. And then sometime in June I was contacted by Karen Rapp and asked if I wanted to continue working for the Laband remotely as Communications Manager. The biggest project that we had in mind was AMPLIFY as a response to the BLM protests this last summer. Out of these protests we felt that one of the biggest call to actions was to “amplify” the voices of BIPOC people doing great work in our communities. So, the purpose for AMPLIFY is to “amplify” the voices of BIPOC students, faculty, or alumni in the LMU arts community, whether it be fine art, performance art, education, etc.
So far, it’s been incredible. Like, this is my dream to be supporting and meeting so many new people within the LMU community, and not only for me, but now the entire LMU community that follows the Laband can hear about how our guests practice art and how it intersects with their BIPOC identity. Honestly, there are no challenges, only rewards. My favorite question to ask guests is, “What advice would you give a young BIPOC person who is in the same position that you were as a student in your first year of college?” And every time the answer is just perfect. I think it’s great too because we’re getting to meet and talk to people from the LMU community that if you’re in a certain major, or a certain field of art, you would never get to hear from or meet.
Jordan Boaz (J.B.): How does your own identity influence your passion for this project?
J.C.: I think as a person of color I am just tired of hearing from white artists. I don’t doubt or denounce the importance or significance of white artists in the industry, but for far too long the art world has centered and comforted white people, specifically white men, more so than any other group of people. And you do have those artists who did defy the status quo, like Basquiat who is arguably most famous artist of color, and to me Basquiat is far more inspiring than any other white artist.
With that being said, I am passionate about supporting fellow artists of color because the status quo is not in our favor. With 85% of all art in American museums and galleries being made by white men, the art industry very much is just a “white cube,” as Betsabeé Romero would say. I strive to be even a puzzle piece and contribute what I can to this issue by working every single day to center the voices of BIPOC artists, and because I want my art to be seen as well.
J.B.: What impact do you envision this project having on the LMU community?
J.C.: I really don’t know. Sometimes I get a little annoyed because an interview only gets about 150 views on Instagram and it really hurts me for a bit. But Karen will always say to me, “That’s still 150 people who heard what that person has to say.” And that’s really all the matters. If at the end of the day the only person who watches the interviews is my Mom, I’d be happy. Because even for her, the only artists she can name are probably Picasso and Frida Kahlo, but after watching an interview she knows one more name.
So, I just hope that the LMU community is willing to learn and listen to BIPOC artists. My goal is for something like this to not have to exist. I hope that one day the entire Art, Art History, Dance, CFA curriculum is just filled with the names of BIPOC artists, so we no longer have to fight to have our voices heard. But until then, we as BIPOC artists need to support each other, and allies need to be willing to listen to us.
J.B.: What frustrates you the very most when it comes to social justice? And what excites you the very most?
J.C.: Tolerance frustrates me. I absolutely despise the whole, “well, it’s always been done this way,” narrative. I think that people, especially white people, have become way too tolerant of practices and institutions that systemically prevent BIPOC people from having a voice. The biggest example for me is curriculum. In most fields of study, work from BIPOC people is not considered scholarly because not enough “academic sources” have written about them, or they haven’t been cited as many times as a white artist. Right now, if you want to write about a BIPOC artist in your class the response normally is, “well if you can find one then sure!” and that narrative really upsets me.
I feel that rather than being okay with these implicit examples of racism and discrimination, faculty and students should be fighting year after year to change these practices rather than just accepting that “things have always been this way.”
What excites me the most about social justice is the little victories and seeing even the smallest examples of change. I tend to get way too into my head about how it feels like nothing is changing, when it is just at a slow pace. I recently went to an art museum at home in Houston that has opened with strict Covid protocols, and I couldn’t stop smiling at this entire floor in the museum dedicated to Latin American Contemporary art. I walked around this space and saw so many names that sounded like mine or had the same inflections as mine does and it just made me so happy. Like even if this was the only museum in the world that displayed Latin American art, at least we have a space that’s ours.
J.B.: Why do you find art to be an important avenue for lifting up BIPOC voices?
J.C.: I don’t fully think that art is the all-encompassing best avenue to lift up BIPOC voices, I think it is the best avenue for me personally. And really, I just think that for everyone, the best avenue for lifting up BIPOC voices is to find those voices within whatever field you’re passionate about. If you’re an English major, read work from BIPOC writers! If you’re a Philosophy major, find some BIPOC philosophers! And if you’re an Art major, study BIPOC art!
I think that it’s great that there is this wave of people and institutions dedicating themselves to be anti-racist, but a lot of that work is very general and across the board. How are you going to be anti-racist in the art field, or biology field, or mathematics field? How do we take this topic of conversation into our classrooms and in the work that we do, rather than committing to talking to your family about the news occasionally? And more about art specifically, I think that it is an insanely powerful language to communicate what matters the most to you or to someone else. And art is very incarnational, you are giving life to an idea or a thought or a feeling.
So, if everyone who is an artist committed to uplifting the art of BIPOC artists and affirming our feelings and ideas that we gave flesh and life through our art, then I think we would be taking a step in the right direction
Camacho’s interviews with LMU BIPOC artists can be found on Instagram @LabandArtGallery.
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This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Loyolan and is reprinted with permission. The original article is available here.