Panorama view of exhibition in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich.

Panorama view of exhibition in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich.

05 January 2014

Guest Artist Raoul Deal: Mexico-Milwaukee-more, a Community Arts Shark

First published April 13, 2007

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I’m Raoul Deal, a visual artist: painter and so-called community arts creator. I went to the U of I at Urbana-Champaign as an undergrad, together with Mark Staff Brandl, with whom I also worked at the Field Museum of Natural History, and who has now gotten me involved here at Sharkforum.

My art has been very influenced by my active interaction with Latin American culture. I am married to Dinorah Marquez, a classical violist and educator from Mexico whom I met at a Puerto Rican motorcycle club party for the late mayor Harold Washington. We lived in Mexico with our daughter Gabriella for many years while I studied at the National University (UNAM/ENAP) and received my Masters, and later taught on the Art Faculty of the Universidad Veracruzana. We relocated to Milwaukee, of all places, and I now teach at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. I have the distinct honor of being Artist-in-Residence for UWM’s Cultures and Communities Program. In that capacity I develop and teach courses that address race and gender bias, and foster community art projects in the area, often with the participation of my students. I teach a variety of courses, but I really enjoy the very large American Art and Culture course that focuses on the social history of art, as well as a course called Multicultural Installation Art in which students propose installation art projects that are displayed in a variety of spaces throughout the city.

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My own art unites painting, sculpture, media, installation and collaborative community interaction. I sometimes exhibit in galleries, but I also work with site-specific community art pieces. I have worked as part of an arts development project in an Indigenous community in Mexico, and brought several of these artists to work with me in Milwaukee, I have also collaborated with Milwaukee’s Latino community in Walker’s Point, and with Walnut Way- one of the city’s oldest African American neighborhoods. As a community artist, I am often concerned with collaboration- experiences that enhance the possibility of mutual understanding. Sometimes projects become a microcosm of civic engagement. I hope I can bridge cultural gaps- to make it possible for a wider range of people to participate in the production and the appreciation of art.

While I often work with “artworld” references, I also use elements drawn from popular culture. I hope to engage people on a variety of different levels. I have learned that meaningful community involvement often entails more listening than talking. I do not want my public’s appreciation of my work to depend upon their knowledge of art history and/or contemporary theoretical discourse, but it might be enhanced by it. I hope I can spur their sense of wonder- make them think about the world in new way. Equally important, I want them to do the same for me. If I am not transformed by the experience of art-making, then I don’t want to do it.

My latest exhibitions were Confluencias- a collaborative multidisciplinary installation/performance with Cuban-born artist Leandro Soto at Walker’s Point Center for the Arts in Milwaukee, and a preview of large format (3’x5’) portrait drawings of Walnut Way seniors at the Zelazo Center at UWM. The Walnut Way project involves producing a series of pieces based on interviews with elders in one of the oldest African-American communities in Milwaukee Besides the Walnut Way project due for completion this June, I am again collaborating with Leandro Soto along with Nigerian dramatist Awam Ampka (NYU) and Rene Maldonado (co-founder of the Taller de Arte Joven de Tocoal in Tabasco, Mexico) on a large performance/installation piece for the Union Art Gallery in Milwaukee early next year. Finally, Brandl and I are working on a collaborative series of exhibitions in the near future.

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I plan to contribute to Sharkforum through occasional posts concerning a variety of personal creative interests such as Latin American art, socially engaged art, and art with meaningful community involvement. Since Chicago is relatively close to Milwaukee, I’ll also post my thoughts about exhibits and other art events here for those who might like to drive up and have a look.. Last week, I moderated an arts panel at UWM’s Latino Symposium that included folk artist Jose Chavez, and Columbia College art professor Mario Castillo. California muralist Judy Baca gave the keynote address and left many of us remembering that art does indeed have the power to change the way we see the world. More on that later…

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