Chicago Prisoners: Mi Vida Loca

MI VIDA LOCA is an exhibit of paños from the San Antonio, Texas penal institutions. These simple cotton handkerchiefs have been transformed by Chicano inmates into drawings of expressive power and emotion offering a glimpse into a little known and complex world. Most of these paños were made in the middle to late 1990's when the art form thrived in Texas prisons. They were mailed to inmates' mothers or other family members as letters from jail. Many of these artworks were not intended to be seen outside the inner circle of their creators. Yet as they have entered the international art world paños have captured the imagination of a far wider audience than their creators could have imagined... 

Rich in symbolism from their time both inside and outside prison walls, paños are built on a visual narrative that invites closer examination. These works include symbolic images drawn from Southwestern Chicano culture as well as from the artists' Mexican heritage. These simple handkerchiefs have been transformed into epic stories involving lowriders, the Virgin of Guadalupe, weeping mothers and girlfriends, drug abuse, and dual-faced masks, to name but a few of the symbolic representations that fill this medium. Thus each paño tells a story, distinct from all others but connected through a shared artistic language. 

MI VIDA LOCA is curated by Martha V. Henry, who also organized, curated and wrote the catalog for the first traveling museum exhibition of paño art, ART FROM THE INSIDE: Paño Drawings by Chicano Prisoners in 2004. 

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