If paño arte is the private-facing follow of artists serving time in penitentiaries throughout the US, then artepaño encompasses the afterlife of the artifact. Discarded by supposed recipients, paños — ink drawings executed on commissary handkerchiefs used to speak with family members — find yourself in property gross sales or second-hand outlets. By bulk donations of second-hand linens, they discover their means into thrift shops, vintage outlets, and flea markets throughout the American Southwest.
Collectors of curiosities buy them for quite a lot of causes. Maybe the intricate designs strike their fancy. Typically, proprietors of consignment boutiques or curio shops hope they’ve stumbled onto a treasure on the native Goodwill. When curiosity wanes or when the paño inevitably fails to fetch that fantasy shopper of priceless trinkets, the artworks are relegated to eBay. And eBay is the place severe artwork consumers purchase paño arte.
By severe, I’m referring to people with connections to galleries, museums, and public sale homes. As next-level collectors of rarities, their possession transforms the paño right into a precious commodity. At this degree, let’s say, a regional folk-art auctioneer in Santa Fe purchases a paño on eBay and helps a millionaire vacationer come into its possession at public sale. Most steadily, curiosity within the art work relies on a fascination with the jail context. This transaction transforms the paño right into a fetish object for the customer. He (these I’ve encountered are primarily males) then takes the item dwelling to wherever he lives.
In time, when the aura of the item or curiosity within the fetish fades, the intense collector seeks to dump his funding on a preferred public sale home or public sale service — extra so Artsy than Sotheby’s. If the 2 events can’t see eye to eye on the worth of the paño, he then cajoles the native museum to take it off his arms, probably accompanied by a tax break that far outweighs the hundred bucks or so he paid again in Santa Fe. (Though museums will not be within the enterprise of appraising donations, there is no such thing as a mechanism for refuting worth. Usually, it’s within the establishment’s greatest curiosity to passively settle for excessive estimations.) And that’s the top of his interplay with an artifact that now exists in a public establishment as an ostensibly precious art work.
What can we do with paño arte at this juncture? We have a good time it as artepaño.
Artepaño refers to an inventive custom and an artwork motion. Particularly, it denotes an inventive custom practiced by imprisoned Chicanos from roughly the primary third of the twentieth century by the current day. The canon of artwork historical past can acknowledge artepaño as a viable motion below the banner of Latinx Artwork and legitimize it as high quality artwork.
Protected below glass just like the “Mona Lisa,” the framed paño acquires a brand new and distinct worth inside the museum. The privilege of holding the art work, and the deliberately tactile expertise of its unique context, are denied within the curiosity of preservation in its new institutional context. The veteran museum-goer would by no means dream of touching the artwork; it’s far too precious.
The thought behind selling artepaño lies in elevating consciousness of its existence and its cultural worth, unsurprisingly galvanized by fiscal elements. Individuals who worth integrity and equity within the artwork world allow injustices most frequently when artworks and artists fall beneath their radar. It’s simpler to disregard or dismiss works labeled people or craft than works labeled high quality artwork. It’s simpler to disenfranchise artists labeled felons.
As convicted felons, paño artists lose their proper to possession and even autonomy within the penitentiary. Technically, their art work by no means actually belongs to them because the commissary handkerchief is jail property. Positioned within the arms of a USPS mail courier, it turns into federal property. If seized as contraband, the paño is deemed state property. Whereas inmate rights fluctuate from state to state, and laws are variably enforced by federal, state, and personal penitentiaries, the paño solely achieves unbiased possession when and if it reaches the arms of the supposed recipient.
Tellingly, as soon as possession of the paño is misplaced, property legal guidelines in the US make it almost unattainable to reclaim. The burden of proof and the price of litigation are positioned upon artists and their households. Furthermore, even when overwhelming proof exists to assist claims of authorship, claimants should show that possession was transferred below duress or occurred illegally. Not one of the typical eventualities for paños falling out of the arms of the unique proprietor warrant a authorized ruling for restitution or remuneration.
Nonetheless, because the collective appreciation of artepaño grows, the plight of the artist might but discover justice. Whereas it appears farfetched to anticipate federal and state legislators rescinding present legal guidelines relating to convicted felons — no matter how the legal guidelines violate fundamental human rights — demanding due diligence on provenance from establishments holding paños is extra possible. Attributions for artists who clearly signal their work, oftentimes with verifiable inmate numbers, is step one towards returning company to Chicano artists.
Editor’s Be aware: This text is a part of the 2023/24 Emily Corridor Tremaine Journalism Fellowship for Curators and the second of three posts by the creator, the third of which can be a web based exhibition printed on Hyperallergic and despatched to all publication subscribers.
Álvaro Ibarra will focus on her work and analysis in a web based occasion moderated by Editor-in-Chief Hrag Vartanian on Tuesday, March 5, at 6pm (EST). RSVP to attend.