Rupert García, Attica is Fascismo
The Incarcerated Body
Rupert Garcia’s Attica is Fascismo (1971) is a political statement about the treatment of the incarcerated body and specifically about the Attica prison riot. García’s body of work is aligned with the Chicano art movement, which many see as a form of protest (García 1495). García spoke about the rejection of the idea that an artist was supposed to be “against society, against people” after his experience at the San Francisco State College strike in 1968 (Goldman 52). His use of silkscreen is also a reminder of this philosophy as it was a method he did not learn through school, but rather through the art community involved in the protest, and influenced by the Cuban posters (Goldman 52). The movement’s ideals of being inclusive and serving the community are at the root of García's Attica is Fascismo.
The Attica prison riot was the accumulation of previous protests with unfulfilled promises and mistreatment from those in charge of the prisoners all over the country. At Attica, the prisoners had previously tried to get their needs met “through the system,” including enough toilet paper, more than one shower a week, and freedom of religion (Thompson). The prisoners were being treated as subhuman by the prison system and the state. After being unsuccessful through the conventional means, a union of Black panthers, Muslims and Young Lords, “a Puerto Rican militant group” led a protest that overtook part of the prison and took hostages (Weiss 3). The violence that occurred during the retaking of the prison by the State Police resulted in the deaths of 29 prisoners and 10 correctional officers (“Riot at Attica prison”).
The dark tone of the event is presented in the artwork first by the black background. Another contributing factor to this theme is the skull at the bottom, slightly off center towards the right. The skull itself is a muted white. It does not have clean-cut lines, but rather uneven and ragged. The skull appears to have its mouth agape, facing forward, but slightly upwards as if the eye sockets are reading the text. The skull connects the piece to the calavera motif (Favela 21). The skull appears in Mexican and Chicano art, and is an important symbol of life and death, specifically connected to the Day of the Dead celebration. The dark tone of Attica is Fascismo represents the mourning for the prisoners, not only those who died, but those who suffer under the state.
At the top and oriented to the left, there is text that balances the placement of the skull. The font is bold and yellow, but simple and easy to read. In all capital letters, it states, as boldly and simply as the font, “Attica is Fascismo.” Visually, it creates the sense of warning to those reading. “Attica” recalls the event of the prison riot in Attica, New York. The word “Fascismo” aligns the poster with the prisoners and against the state. The demands from the prisoners included transport to a “non-imperialist country” and abolishment of the institution they believed enslaves and exploits (Weiss 1-2). While obviously those who dealt with the Attica prison riot were not appealing to every fascist ideal, the similarities are present and García wanted his audience to see the connection to fascism (Caryl).
García’s decision to use the Spanish word for fascism is also significant. The Spanish use of the word is especially poignant in contrast of the use of “is” instead of “es,” which would have made the entire sentence Spanish. García employs code-switching to add greater meaning to elements of the piece than if purely in English or in Spanish. Code-switching allows one to use vocabulary from another language to reference a different meaning or history. For example, his use of the skull references death, but has another added meaning because of its connection to Chicano and Mexican culture. While English speakers can be brought into the conversation of the piece, those who understand Spanish and know the history of fascism and the calavera [skull] in Mexican America experience the piece differently.
The prisoners were treated as property of the state. The inmates felt they were not paid fairly for the labor they had no choice but to do, but when they asked for better living conditions they were denied. When the New York State Police retook power over the prison, the individual prisoners weren’t seen as human beings; they were seen as something to be overpowered and put in their place. Some prisoners were thought to have been killed after the riot was technically over (Thompson). The bodies of the incarcerated, even today, are not treated well and live under different laws within their prison. García represents this visually with the disembodied skull and the accusation of fascism.
- Laura Arteaga
Caryl, Christian. "Dropping the Political F-Bomb." Foreign Policy Dropping the Political FBomb Comments. N.p., 14 Mar. 2014. Web.
Favela, Ramón. The Art of Rupert Garcia: A Survey Exhibition, August 20-October 19, 1986. San Francisco: Chronicle, 1986.
Garcia, Richard A. "Review: Chicano Art as Protest Culture." Rev. of Arte Chicano como cultura de protesta, by Sylvia Gorodezky. The Journal of American History 83.4, March 1997: 1494-495. JSTOR. Web.
Goldman, Shifra M. "A Public Voice: Fifteen Years of Chicano Posters." Art Journal 44.1, The Poster. Spring 1984: 50-57. JSTOR. Web.
History.com Staff, “Riot at Attica prison,” A+E Networks, 2010. Web.
Thompson, Heather Ann. “Empire State disgrace: The dark, secret history of the Attica Prison tragedy.” Salon. May 25, 2014. Web.
Weiss, Robert P. "Introduction: Attica: The "Bitter Lessons" Forgotten?" Social Justice 18.3 (45), Attica: 1971—1991 A Commemorative Issue (1991): 1-12. JSTOR. Web.