Long before Europeans set foot in the Americas, the jaguar occupied an exalted place in the indigenous religions of Mexico. Associated with the gateway to the underworld, the jaguar embodies, as the poet Francisco X. Alarcón wrote, the "wild untamed living spirit" of the jungle.
On the surface, Juventino Aranda's We Shall Meet in the Place Where There Is No Darkness (Jaguar) is an oversized homage to the black velveteen paintings that hang in many Chicano households. But to gaze into its yellow eyes is to encounter this untamed spirit as if in an obsidian mirror—transformed, but not defeated, by the homogenizing glaze of industrial capitalism.
When Aranda was growing up in Walla Walla, the child of Mexican immigrants, his mother collected mass-produced artworks like this one, never taking them out of their protective cardboard frames. The care with which she handled them reveals not just an aspirational aestheticism, but a sincere devotion to their well-being.
Aranda's jaguar is currently hanging at the Frye Art Museum as part of Pocket Full of Posies, the artist's first solo museum exhibition. Many of the works in the show portray consumer objects as sites of ritual and reverence, like America (El Dia Que Llego la Llorona), a giant votive candle in a man-sized glass vessel. As a child, Aranda would worry that the protection offered by his mother's prayer candles would run out as they burned down. The title refers to La Llorona (The Weeping Woman), a tormented, child-abducting ghost.
According to curator Amanda Donnan, Aranda sees a parallel between the warnings to children about La Llorona and the warnings to mothers about the police state, which instills a visceral fear that their black, brown, and immigrant children could be snatched away from them at any moment.
Many of Aranda's works use humor, and some are basically one-liners, albeit good ones. Carry Yourself with the Confidence of a Mediocre White Man (Mar-a-Lago) looks like an enormous cocaine mirror etched with a kitschy palm-tree motif, lampooning the disparity between the classiness Donald Trump tries to project and the sleaziness he can't help but ooze.
Kings Are Killed, Politics Is Power (Good Night and Good Luck) is an outsize send-up of My Little Golden Book About God, a nursery-school staple from the 1950s. Like Aranda's cast bronze MAGA hat that just says "GREAT"—exhibited last year at Greg Kucera Gallery—the only word of the title reproduced on the cover is "GOD," captioning a cherubic blond child holding a tulip. The effect is absurd, and also emblematic of how the visual culture of evangelical Christianity links innocence, purity, and piety with whiteness. Behind the mask of religiosity lies the motives of colonialism, destroying indigenous cultures and replacing them with self-serving myth.
In spite of this erasure, ancient rituals persist, often under the auspices of Catholicism. Aranda's work follows the magic all the way to its source, pointing to a reality where every manufactured object may be read as a text containing layers of history and meaning.