Art From The Inside
Drawings by Chicano Prisoners

Chicano prisoners in jails and penitentiaries in the American Southwest produce drawings on cotton handkerchiefs which embody a unique artistic vision. Known as panos, 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. Panos are pictorial letters which carry messages from inmates to family and loved ones on the outside and to friends and associates within the prison system. Whether love letters, prayers or personal narratives, every pano tells a story.

Pano artists draw on a rich vocabulary derived from the "high" and "low" art of Mexico and the United States. Aztec warriors, the Virgin of Guadelupe and Pancho Villa; tattooed gang members, voluptuous pin-up girls and vintage low-rider cars and trucks; and clowns, teddy bears and cartoon characters ‚ all make appearances in these remarkable prison drawings. Inmate artists cover their canvases with powerful and evocative imagery that reflects a complex world view. Pano art is border art with roots in both Mexican and American culture.

Although often classified as folk art, outsider art or prison art, ART FROM THE INSIDE will present panos as a visually compelling and expressive component of contemporary Hispanic art. With 121 carefully selected works produced in Texas prisons, this exhibition will survey the form and function of panos and focus on the style and personal vision of individual artists. The pano makers' vivid iconography will be defined and the classic themes which form the core of the tradition will be documented. Finally, the exhibition will help museum visitors discover the profound dualism that permeates the Chicano artistic consciousness and understand the cultural context which pano art illuminates.