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José Montoya: 1932—: Artist, Educator, Writer

Founded Rcaf

In the early 1960s, Montoya began working for the movement to unionize local farm workers. He also realized that his art could be a vehicle for social change. With Esteban Villa, Malaquías Montoya, Manuel Hernandez, and others, he formed the Mexican American Liberation Art Front (MALAF). At Sacramento State University, where Montoya was teaching after having earned an M.F.A. in 1971, he helped Villa and a group of students form the Rebel Chicano Art Front (RCAF). "The idea was to use art as an organizing tool for the movement," he told Malaspina. The group's motto, La locura lo cura meaning "Craziness is its own cure", showed its emphasis on humor and activism. Soon people began to notice that the group's acronym was identical to that of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The group then renamed itself the Royal Chicano Air Force.

The RCAF, which became a well-known collective, enjoyed this military image. They dressed as World War II bomber pilots and drove around in an old army jeep that a fan had donated. Other supporters even donated flying machines to the group. Yet art remained at the center of the collective's work. The RCAF engaged in activist art, creating posters for migrant workers, the United Farmworkers Union, cannery workers, and other community groups. The RCAF also founded the "Arts in the Barrio" program, which offered art classes to Chicano students and senior citizens in Sacramento.

The program met at the Centro de Artistes Chicanos, a cultural center that Montoya and others founded in 1972.

One of the most impressive achievements of the RCAF was its involvement with the Chicano Park Murals project at Barrio Logan in San Diego. This large project, which includes about 40 major murals painted on 24 concrete pillars and two abutments of the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge in Chicano Park, features powerful images of Chicano culture. As Public Historian contributors Martin D. Rosen and James Fischer described them, the murals "depict images of Mexican pre-Columbian gods, myths and legendary icons, botanical elements, animal imagery, the Mexican colonial experience, revolutionary struggles, cultural and spiritual reaffirmation through the arts, Chicano achievements, identity and bicultural duality," as well as images of such heroic figures as Cesar Chavez, Che Guevara, Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata.

Montoya and the RCAF contributed "Leyes" and "La Familia," both dated 1975. Another RCAF mural, "I Am Somebody," includes a poem by Joann Little. "The murals," according to Rosen and Fischer, "have deep transcendent values and constitute a historic resource for which the Barrio Logan community has an unusually strong attachment. The importance of the Chicano Park murals has been underscored by local, national, and international recognition of their artistic and social value."

Among Montoya's artistic influences were Mexican engraver José Guadalupe Posado, whose work combined the political and the surreal. Muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfara Siquieiros were also major influences. In 1973 Montoya's work was included in one of the first national exhibitions of Chicano art at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Among his most notable works is his Pachuco Series of 1977, which depict the Chicano street gangs of his youth. Montoya's paintings, drawings, and prints have been exhibited across the United States and in Cuba, Mexico, and Paris. In 1977 he was named to the National Task Force on Hispanic Arts.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Barbara Barbieri McGrath (1953–) Biography - Personal to Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930) BiographyJosé Montoya: 1932—: Artist, Educator, Writer Biography - Fascinated By Art And Storytelling, Discovered A Facility With Words, Founded Rcaf, Poems Published In Anthology