April 12, 2018

Black Velvet: A Rasquache Aesthetic @ Hyperallergic

DETROIT — Velvet painting collector Elena Herrada began her introduction of Black Velvet: A Rasquache Aesthetic to me with a definition of the word “rasquache.”

“I had the idea that I wanted to do a velvet painting show when I was in a PhD program at Michigan State University, in Chicano Studies, about 10 years ago,” said Herrada, “along with Diana Rivera, who is now the Chicanx Latinx Subject Specialist and head of the Cesar E. Chavez Collection at the Michigan State University Library. And back then, we were discussing the term ‘rasquache,’ and all the Chicanos in the group recognized velvet paintings were it.”

“Rasquache” is a Nahuatl word (within the Uto-Aztecan language family), and Herrada characterizes it to mean: “ordinary or low. Kind of day-to-day. Some people say ‘low art,’ but I would say ‘the beauty of our everyday lives.’” In his 1989 essay, “Rasquachismo: A Chicano Sensibility,” critic Tomás Ybarra-Frausto specifies a kind of tackiness or shoddiness attendant to rasquache items, as well as repurposing of castaway items or trappings of upper-class excesses — a kind of DIY kitsch, metabolized within the framework of working-poor Chicano ethos. Besides velvet paintings, Herrada offers the example of sidewalk flower planters made of painted tires, and Ybarra-Frausto calls out Chicano appropriation of “kustom kar culture” into lowrider culture as rasquache — and its further distillation into customized Schwinn Stingray bikes made to emulate hot-rods as “muy rasquache.”

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