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Smithsonian acquires five artworks by UTSA lecturer Juan de Dios Mora

Smithsonian acquires five artworks by UTSA lecturer Juan de Dios Mora

JANUARY 7, 2020 — The Smithsonian American Art Museum has acquired five pieces of artwork by printmaking artist and UTSA senior art lecturer Juan de Dios Mora ’09, M.F.A. ’11. The linocut prints will be added to the museum’s permanent collection in Washington, D.C.

“The inclusion and acquisition of Juan Mora’s prints in the Smithsonian American Art Museum collection is an honor and dream that every artist hopes for. It is an irrefutable acknowledgment of the quality and importance of an artist’s work,” said Gregory Elliott, chair of the art and art history department at UTSA. “This honor also has great importance for our department, college and university in that Juan holds his undergraduate B.F.A. and his graduate terminal degree from UTSA. He is 100% Roadrunner!” 

Headed to the Smithsonian

Mora is the first artist with UTSA ties to be featured in the SAAM permanent collection. His work is frequently inspired by people he’s met throughout his lifetime and the melding of cultures he experienced as an immigrant in adolescence. Mora was born in Yahualica, Jalisco, in Mexico and grew up on a nearby ranch. His family moved back and forth between rural Yahualica and urban Aguascalientes several times before immigrating to the United States and settling down in Laredo in 1998. He was 14 at the time. 

Living in Laredo gave Mora a heavy dose of culture shock. He was fascinated by American art, entertainment and folklore, but certain traditions, racism and stereotypes made life difficult for him and other immigrants in the community. Influenced by the playful and political black-and-white illustrations of Mexico’s Taller de Gráfica Popular, Mora’s phenomenally detailed prints are often surreal portrayals of the kinds of “typical” Mexican-Americans you’d find in Laredo, but he approaches them with pride, sentiment and a healthy amount of humor that wavers between satire and whimsy. 

Montando a la Escoba Voladora, for instance, depicts a vaquero flying over a barrio on a broom affixed with junky motorcycle parts, powered by a double-A battery and an aerosol can. His father was a huge inspiration for the piece. He fondly remembers when his dad would fix things up with random pieces of wood, aluminum and scrapped parts from other objects. “That’s something I wanted to put in my artwork as a way to honor my parents and to honor my community. We take pride in being resourceful and resilient,” Mora said. “Even when you don’t have the right tools or technology, you can still be clever and creative.” The same goes for the subject of El Animos es Primero, a brilliant paraplegic who finds ingenious uses for common objects. 

American and European culture also have a major influence on Mora’s artwork. He was drawn to the cool, heroic depictions of cowboys and renegades in the U.S. and the regal portraits of centuries-past French, English and Spanish kings posing with their prized possessions in their luxurious castles and palaces. Mora wanted to lend that kind of iconic honor and self-confidence to the Latino people he so deeply appreciated. That pride can be found in King de la Wirira, a print centered around a majestic yard worker figurine emblazoned with the phrase “A Lo Derecho” (“The Right Way”), as well as Bien Arreglada, whose wild and free subject Mora described as “something out of Mad Max.” 

Mora’s artwork has been displayed at several venues throughout Texas, including a solo exhibition at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio in 2017. His contributions to a 2018 young Latinx artists showcase at Mexic-Arte in Austin are what initially put him on the radar of E. Carmen Ramos, SAAM’s deputy chief director of Latinx art. The acquisition process took about a year and a half, but Mora said it was well worth the wait. “Coming from Mexico, growing up on a ranch, going the extra mile for my students—I’ve always been about hard work. Having that hard work pay off is an unbelievable feeling. I feel so fulfilled.” 

Mora has also remained incredibly humble as he continues to foster a passion for printmaking in his students and find local venues for them to showcase their artwork. He doesn’t simply want them to attend class but also engage the community and draw insight from the local culture. After all, that’s the approach that gives each one of his outstanding prints such profound meaning. 

“The style and subject matter of Juan Mora’s prints speak to a life spent straddling two worlds, an experience shared by many of UTSA’s students. That personal experience, that cultura, is part of what makes him such an exceptional artist and teacher enabling him to connect in a deep way with his audience and his students,” said Rhonda Gonzales, interim dean of UTSA’s College of Liberal and Fine Arts. “It’s a great honor for his work to be acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum Collection, an honor that elevates him as an artist, as well as elevating the College of Liberal and Fine Arts and the Department of Art and Art History as the place where he earned his B.F.A. and M.F.A. We couldn’t be more proud of him.”

Shea Conner

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