Yeah cloth art is the private practice of artists serving time in penitentiaries across the United States, so artepano covers the future life of the artifact. Discarded by intended recipients, cloths — Ink drawings executed on police station scarves used to communicate with loved ones end up in estate sales or thrift stores. Through massive donations of secondhand bedding, they reach thrift stores, antique stores, and flea markets throughout the American Southwest.
Curiosity collectors buy them for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the intricate designs will catch your eye. Sometimes consignment boutique or curio shop owners hope they’ve stumbled upon a treasure at their local Goodwill. When curiosity diminishes or when the cloth inevitably fails to attract that fantasy consumer of priceless trinkets, works of art are relegated to eBay. And eBay is where serious art buyers acquire art cloth.
By serious I mean people with connections to galleries, museums and auction houses. As next-level rarity collectors, owning it transforms the cloth. into a valuable asset. At this level, say, a regional folk art auctioneer in Santa Fe purchases a cloth on eBay and helps a millionaire tourist acquire his possession at auction. Very often, interest in the work of art is based on fascination with the prison context. This transaction transforms the cloth into a fetish object for the buyer. He (the ones I have met are mainly men) then takes the object home wherever he lives.
Over time, as the aura of the object or interest in the fetish fades, the serious collector seeks to unload his investment on a popular auction house or service, more artistic than Sotheby’s. If the two sides disagree on the value of the cloth, then he cajoles the local museum into taking it, probably accompanied by a tax reduction that far exceeds the hundred dollars he paid at Santa. Faith. (Although museums are not in the business of evaluating donations, there is no mechanism to disprove value. It is often in the institution’s best interest to passively accept high estimates.) And that is the end of your interaction with an artifact you it now exists in a public institution as an ostensibly valuable work of art.
What do we do with cloth art? at this intersection? We celebrate it as artepaño..
Artepaño It refers to an artistic tradition and an artistic movement. Specifically, it denotes an artistic tradition practiced by incarcerated Chicanos from approximately the first third of the 20th century to the present. The canon of art history can recognize artepaño as a viable movement under the banner of Latinx Art and legitimize it as fine art.
Protected under glass like the “Mona Lisa”, the framed cloth acquires a new and differentiated value within the museum. The privilege of owning the artwork and the intentionally tactile experience of its original context are denied for the sake of its preservation in its new institutional context. The veteran museum visitor would never dream of touching the art; It’s too valuable.
The idea behind promoting artepaño lies in raising awareness of its existence and its cultural value, unsurprisingly driven by fiscal factors. People who value integrity and fairness in the art world allow injustices to happen more often when artworks and artists fall off their radar. It is easier to ignore or dismiss works labeled as folk or craft than works labeled as fine art. It is easier to disenfranchise artists labeled as criminals.
Like convicted felons, cloth Artists lose their right to property and even autonomy in the penitentiary. Technically, their artwork never really belongs to them, since the police station scarf is the property of the prison. Placed in the hands of a USPS postal courier, it becomes federal property. If seized as contraband, the cloth It is considered property of the State. While inmate rights vary from state to state and standards are variably enforced in federal, state, and private penitentiaries, the cloth it only achieves independent ownership when it reaches the hands of the intended recipient.
It is telling that once possession of the cloth is lost, property laws in the United States make it almost impossible to recover. The burden of proof and the cost of litigation falls on the artists and their families. Furthermore, even if there is overwhelming evidence to support claims of authorship, claimants must prove that ownership was transferred under duress or produced illegally. None of the typical cloth scenarios. falling into the hands of the original owner justifies a judicial decision for restitution or remuneration.
However, as the collective appreciation of artepaño grows, the artist’s plight may still find justice. While it seems far-fetched to anticipate that federal and state legislators will repeal current laws regarding convicted felons (regardless of how the laws violate basic human rights) they will require due diligence on the provenance of institutions that own cloths. It is more feasible. Attribution for artists who clearly sign their work, often with verifiable inmate numbers, is the first step in returning agency to Chicano artists.
Editor’s note: This article is part of 2023/24. Emily Hall Tremaine Journalism Fellowship for Curators and the author’s second of three publications, the third of which will be an online exhibition published on Hyperallergic and sent to all newsletter subscribers.
Álvaro Ibarra will discuss his work and research in an online event moderated by editor-in-chief Hrag Vartanian on Tuesday, March 5 at 6 pm (EST). RSVP to attend.