Art from the Inside: Paño Drawings by Chicano Prisoners

June 17 - September 3, 2005

Curated by Martha V. Henry

"Virgin of Guadalupe with Moon and Stars", Artist Unknown, Black ink on white cotton handkerchief, 15 1/2" x 15", Undated

Art from the Inside featured 121 drawings on handkerchiefs. Known as paños, these pocket-sized canvases depict boldly drawn montages composed of Pre-Columbian symbols, colonial religious icons, Mexican historical figures and images from 20th century popular culture. Paños serve as pictorial letters which carry messages from inmates to family and loved ones on the outside and to friends and associates within the prison system. Paño artists draw upon a rich vocabulary derived from the “high” and “low” art forms of Mexico and the United States. Aztec warriors, the Virgin of Guadalupe and Pancho Villa, tattooed gang members, pin-up girls, vintage low-rider cars and trucks, clowns, teddy bears, and cartoon characters provide inspiration for the drawings. Although the origin of paño drawing is unknown, it is thought that the tradition emerged from the jails and prisons in Texas, New Mexico, and California during the 1940s.