Growing up near the U.S.-Mexico border in California, Chicano artist Ernesto Yerena has always respected other artists who use their platform to deliver political messages through their work. Whether it’s visual artists like Rupert García and Ester Hernández or bands like Rage Against the Machine or Los Tigres del Norte, Yerena understood early on how much power a painting or song could have on social discourse.
“I looked up to all those artists,” Yerena told Remezcla during a recent interview. “I’ve always been pretty political myself. I remember I used to photograph a lot of marches.”
In the docuseries, The Canvas: Los Angeles, which is currently airing on Fuse TV, audiences are introduced to eight artists, including Yerena, who use their creative vision to contribute to the political dialogue flowing within their local art community and beyond.
“The overarching theme [of the docuseries] is about artists working in Los Angeles and how a city influences their creativity,” Yerena said. “It is the best place to be an artist. There’s such a different energy here than most places.”
As interested in politics as Yerena was (he started reading about the Zapatistas when he was only eight years old), he wasn’t sure he could incorporate it into his own artwork. Since he didn’t have a background as an activist, he initially felt like an “imposter” if he created something with political themes.
“At first, I was intimidated by political art,” he said. “I thought these artists were brave, but I hadn’t grown up in the movement myself. I didn’t have a hardcore political family.”
Still, when Yerena learned that Rage Against the Machine singer Zack de la Rocha wanted to fund an art project about the failure of the U.S. government to solve the broken immigration system, he jumped at the opportunity to work with the rocker and his mentor Shepard Fairey. The year prior, Fairey hit the mainstream with his creation of the famous Barack Obama “Hope” poster during Obama’s initial run for president.
The collaboration between Yerena and Fairey birthed the “We Are Human” poster series. Its most recognizable image features a young child holding a bouquet of flowers and the phrase “Immigration reform now!” printed at its base. Funds from the posters went to immigration reform organizations.
“Political art, video, poetry, theater, and music are very powerful,” he said. “As a political artist, I’ve found that I have my purpose and my place and a responsibility.”
Yerena’s The Canvas: Los Angeles episode airs October 27 at 10:30 p.m. ET on Fuse and Fuse+.