The great thing about Mario Ybarra Jr.’s art is its obvious but subtle political stance — not reactionary, but pointedly aware in the way he positions objects, visuals and history together. This brings about a perspective that doesn’t confront, but forces audiences to find something new in the situations he presents. His point of view is evident in his latest work, now part of LACMALab’s “Consider This” installation. Interpreting the concept “Imagine-Nation,” he’s chosen not to predict the future, but to reflect on the past by re-creating the famed Belmont Tunnel in The Belmont Ruins. Replete with graffiti from OG writers Rick One and Prime, the piece incorporates the history of the notorious graffiti yard with images of the ancient Olmec game pelota (kind of like jai alai), a version of which is still played in the yard today.
Ybarra is a founder of the art collective “Slanguage,” based in Wilmington, California, and was recently recruited by the Anna Helwing Gallery. He’s part of this year’s Tijuana Biennial and is featured in a current show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. Perhaps he’s also psychic: A 2005 piece titled Go Tell It documents the very route recent protesters took in decrying measure HR 4437.
When pegged as a Chicano artist, Ybarra demurs. “I make contemporary art that is filtered through a Mexican-American experience in Los Angeles,” he told the L.A. Times. “It’s not my goal to learn Nahuatl but to speak Cantonese.”