“Graphic in Transit” Honors Mexico’s Finest Printmaker

Sergio Sánchez Santamaría is one of the most important graphic artists in Mexico—if not the most important, says Miguel Rojas Sotelo, curator, art historian, and co-editor of the upcoming book Graphic in Transit. He is a master relief printmaker and uses this straightforward medium—carving lines from the block, printing just one layer, always in black—to tell stories linking Mexico’s past and present: An indigenous figure confronts a faceless businessman, the specter of COVID rises like a grim reaper over a village, weighty cultural symbols like corn are transformed into bold, modern graphics.

“When I got to know Sergio, I became interested in thinking about his work as a bridge between a tradition of artistic production and total mastery of technique with the contemporary art world,” Rojas Sotelo continued. “He is an intercultural producer.”

Sergio Sánchez Santamaría, “Covid-19,” 2020. 14 x 11 in.
Sergio Sánchez Santamaría, “Pachucos, Cholos y Chundos,” 2020. 11 x 14 in.

Sánchez Santamaría’s prints are political. He is indigenous (Nahua and also part Afro descendant) and his family history is tied to revolutionary movements in Mexico. He is the living legacy of the influential Mexico City artist collective Taller de Gráfica Popular, yet there is little published on him. A new book co-edited by Rojas Sotelo is about to change that. Graphic in Transit places Sánchez Santamaría in context of Mexican cultural movements, printmaking, and contemporary art. The first scholarship of its kind, and the first publication in English on the artist, this collection of 8 essays and 150 illustrations will be released March 24.

Graphic in Transit: Socially Engaged Art in The Era of Black Lives

Wed, March 24, 12pm via Zoom. Register here.
“Wednesdays at the Center” is presented by the John Hope Franklin Center and the Duke Center for International and Global Studies

Sergio Sánchez Santamaría, “De la Jojutla a Milpa Alta,” 2015. 14 x 11 in.

In the 1930s, Mexico City grew into a cultural center of the left, building upon the political and social engagement of the Mexican Muralism Movement (led, in part, by Diego Rivera). The Taller de Gráfica Popular was pioneered by Leopoldo Méndez, Pablo O’Higgins, and Luis Arenal, and its artists “became known worldwide for their commitment to justice, social equality, and human rights.” Graphic in Transit “responds to the question of how to sustain and actualize such a legacy in times in which art has moved away from the social commitment of the past.”

Four years ago, Sánchez Santamaría was in residence at Duke University. He visited classes, collaborated with faculty, exhibited his work, and painted a mural at the Arts Annex. “The academic setting and prestige of that visit helped open the door for the collaborators to work on this volume,” explained Rojas Sotelo. The book is published by Artist Studio Project Publishing, a local press specializing in works by artists of color. The first 100 people to purchase the first edition receive a signed print by Sánchez Santamaría.

Sergio Sánchez Santamaría’s 2017 mural at the Arts Annex. Photos by Robert Zimmerman.

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One of the early members of Taller de Gráfica Popular was Elizabeth Catlett, an African-American printmaker who taught at Riverside High School in Durham, NC., she moved to Mexico City in 1946 with support from the Rosenwald Fund. (Her work has just begun to receive institutional and academic attention, Duke professor and art historian Richard J. Powel recently noted Catlett is one of many Black artists whose story has yet to be told.) Sánchez Santamaría was influenced by Catlett’s work, and during his 2017 visit, he too worked with Durham high school students. His prints were part of the inaugural Dios de los Muertos festival at Durham School of the Arts.

In 2017 Sergio Sánchez Santamaría worked with Bill Fick’s SuperGraphic print studio to print these works. The poster for the DSA Dias de los Muertos festival is on the left, the skeleton on the right wears a Duke hat.
Sergio Sánchez Santamaría, “Soldado” (from the series ‘Personajes de Morelos, Mexico’), 2018.

On Wednesday, March 24, Sánchez Santamaría returns (via Zoom) to Duke for a panel conversation titled “Graphic in Transit: Socially Engaged Art in the Era of Black Lives.” He will join Raúl Ferrera Balanquet, Center for Afrofuturist Studies, Iowa City; Bill Fick, assistant director of visual and studio arts at the Rubenstein Arts Center and lecturing fellow at Duke; Rafael Osuba, artistic director of the Artist Studio Project (and co-editor of Graphic in Transit) and Miguel Rojas-Sotelo.

This conversation and book release marks the debut of Sánchez Santamaría’s work to a wide American audience. “Sánchez Santamaría is very prolific, he’s very generous with what he does, he is always sharing his work,” Rojas Sotelo reflected. “What we can do through a volume like this is put his work in context, to give attention to history, technique, artistry, and aesthetic.”

Graphic in Transit is supported by Duke University Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Duke University Center for International and Global Studies, the John Hope Franklin Center, the Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies, and Duke Arts.