Lucha Libre: Beyond the Arenas is a compelling mix of art and artifacts that elevate themes of identity, power, resistance, and performance.
Lucha Libre: Beyond the Arenas
October 29, 2022–May 7, 2023
ASU Art Museum, Tempe
Dozens of Lucha Libre masks, the iconic symbol of Mexican wrestling, hang together near a gallery entrance inside ASU Art Museum. Collectively, they set the stage for Lucha Libre: Beyond the Arenas, an exhibition that combines video, painting, photography, and mixed media works by contemporary Mexican and Chicanx artists with collector’s items and memorabilia related to the sport. The exhibition includes works by over thirty artists and photographers, including Karla Diaz, David Gremard Romero, Nina Hoechtl, Pedro Meyer, Cristian Pineda, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and Carlos Ramirez.
According to exhibition materials, it’s intended to “reveal the sport’s ancient roots, explore its influence on socio-political movements and link its relationships to the visual culture of Mexico and beyond” through “the lenses of popular culture, poetics, and politics.” Exhibition organizers Julio César Morales, Fernanda Ramos, and Sharon Gesund have done just that, by assembling a compelling mix of art and artifacts that elevate themes of identity, power, resistance, and performance.
The most impactful works include Shadow Wrestling (2022), a video by Javier Barrios, which “portrays the famed luchador El Hellboy imagining himself shadow wrestling.” Here, Barrios examines inner demons whose existence is often overshadowed by the sport’s roaring crowds. Elsewhere, dismembered figures among the twenty-eight plastic toys comprising Demián Flores’s Luchadores (2015) harken back to green toy soldiers popular in the U.S. in the 1950s, which blurred the lines between violence, war, and entertainment.
Using photography, Annick Donkers documents Casandra, a Texas-based luchador and exotico whose queer identity counters the machismo ideologies prevalent in wrestling culture. With his 2022 painting Under the Mask (Alter Ego), Alejandro Macias addresses immigration and assimilation by depicting himself wearing a Captain America mask that clearly doesn’t fit.
By focusing primarily on works by contemporary artists who hail from and/or live in Mexico, the exhibition opens up a conversation about decolonizing museum culture in the Southwest. By spotlighting renowned wrestlers such as El Santo, Blue Demon, and Mil Máscaras, exhibition organizers create a welcoming space for Lucha Libre fans and novices alike, where reflections and conversations about identity and power can take shape.