Diné/Chicana, b. 1980
What Dreams Are Made Of, 2018
Acrylic on canvas
Collection of the artist
Nanibah Chacon engages with and upends captured constructed meaning of Chicano lowrider culture and reductive concepts of Indigenous identity in her 2018 work What Dreams Are Made Of. The lush painting of a 1960s Chevrolet Bel Air captivates. Rendered in profile, the car is a deep black with chrome detailing and a rose motif painted on its body. What is interesting is that these roses do not merely reside on the metal exterior of the Bel Air, they begin to grow off of the car and into the nebulous space which surrounds it. Suddenly, the work is no longer static but in flux; it is growing and moving beyond a contained or captured plane and expands. Chacon refers to this work as representing “the attainable and unattainable in a proposition to create something beautiful that ultimately can never exist.” By instrumentalizing a lowrider, Chacon automatically engages with a history of resistance, subversion and rebellion against white dominant society, cultural memory and cultural celebration, which is codified within lowrider culture. “The lowrider is the most iconic car creation within Chicano culture,” stated Chacon. “For the [Chicano] people, it is a celebrated cultural relic; but for mainstream culture, it is often associated with gang culture and stigmatized.” Chacon, who also practices as a muralist in addition to her studio practice, created this work on a sheet of un-stretched canvas. By choosing not to stretch the canvas and frame it, Chacon eschews institutional conventions of art presentation and allows the work to occupy space both as a portable entity and as a mural, mounted flush against the wall, creating a liminality. This work was produced out of necessity—a necessity that the artist states comes from a need “to create something new and beautiful and original from something that was discarded by American culture.”
Nanibah “Nani” Chacon is a recognized painter and muralist. Her most notable works are in the public arts sector, in which she has a cumulative experience of more than 20 years, spanning graffiti, public murals, community-engaged art, and installation. In 2012, she transitioned from studio painting to creating murals and large-scale public works and installations. A return to working on walls and in a public setting was a natural progression—it facilitates the content of her work as well as her personal philosophy that art should be accessible and a meaningful catalyst for social change. Community-based arts and educational integration are also a key component to the work Chacon creates. Her work has been recognized for its unique style and attention paid to site specificity, as well as the integration of sociopolitical issues affecting humanity, with particular focus on women and Indigenous peoples.