Collection Spotlight: Como te ven te tratan (How they see you, they treat you), Hector Duarte

Artist: Hector Duarte (Mexican and American, born 1952)
Title: Como te ven te tratan (How they see you, they treat you)
Year: 2007
Medium: Color linoleum cut on paper
Size: 15 3/8 in x 11 1/4 in
Credit: Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, gift of Molly Day and John Himmelfarb, 2007.15.3

“Over time it’s as if the barbed wire forms part of the person.”

Quoted in a 2009 Chicago Tribune article, Chicago-based artist Hector Duarte describes his mural, Gulliver in Wonderland, which stretches around the exterior of his home studio in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. The mural, as Duarte has described it, is a Latin American retelling of the European story, and represents an immigrant tied down not by tiny inhabitants of an island, but by the barbed wire that traces the border between the United States and Mexico. This barbed wire materializes the legal, economic, and social inequities and restrictions that not only hold back those who have immigrated to the US from Mexico and Central and South America, but also propagates unjust prejudices and assumptions: the barbed wire, and all that it implies, obfuscates and unduly restricts the individual and their identity.

Image of Hector Duarte mural Gulliver in Wonderland, Pilsen, Chicago. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons, Adam Jones, Ph.D.

Duarte’s statement and the issues represented in his mural also apply to his small scale, printed work, Como te ven te tratan (“How they see you, they treat you”). The title of this piece is a commonly-invoked phrase referencing the way that judgment is often unfairly based on false assumptions about one’s appearance. Using a simple, bright color scheme of reddish orange, black, and white, Como te ven te tratan shows an abstracted head represented as a fingerprint with a barcode overlaying the figure’s chest and shoulders. These two methods of identification, the fingerprint and the barcode—often used by US law enforcement to identify, surveil, and police—alludes to racial profiling and the way in which Mexican immigrants are stereotyped and exploited in the US. The print’s title, taken from a common phrase to describe this stereotyping, underscores the visual language of Duarte’s print. Duarte has explored this theme throughout his prolific career as a mural artist known for his public works in Chicago and especially in the Pilsen neighborhood.

Hector Duarte was born in Michoacan, Mexico in 1952. In 1977, he began training in the workshop of one of the country’s most significant muralists, David Alfaro Siqueiros. Duarte moved to Chicago in 1985 to work with local muralists on the project, “Our Roots, New Horizon,” at 26th Street and Kostner Avenue, and has lived in the city ever since. Duarte has created over 50 murals across the city and has exhibited paintings and prints in shows at the National Museum of Mexican Art, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Historical Society, and the Casa Estudio Museo Diego Rivera in Mexico. Duarte’s work focuses on identity, borders, migration, and freedom, and his chosen medium of the mural both connects him with a tradition of mural revivalist tradition in Mexico as well as the Barrio Mural Movement in the US, and allows him to create art that is accessible to as many audiences as possible. Como te ven te tratan, which exists also as a painting and as a motif within some of his larger work, perhaps complements the democratic and accessible nature of his murals through printmaking’s propensity for accessibility through dissemination.

– Contributed by Cait DiMartino, Block Museum of Art Curatorial Graduate Fellow 20192020

Hector Duarte. Image courtesy WTTW


Block Collection Spotlight invites a closer look at objects in the Block Museum permanent collection from students, staff, faculty, and museum audiences

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