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  • Writer's pictureGabriel San Roman

Slingshot: Gregorio Luke Takes His Art Lectures Online!

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Gregorio Luke is no stranger to reinvention.

The former director of the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach forged a new path in life 13 years ago as an art lecturer. With great ambition, he took his talks out to the public in new, bold ways, packing the outdoor seats of Hollywood's John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in 2009 for a summer series that kicked off with a lecture on Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

The only thing wider than the giant-sized projector screen that night was the infinite expanse of Luke's imagination.

This year only continued to affirm the risks he took long ago. In February, Luke traveled to Madrid, Spain to accept the prestigious Mayte Spinola golden medal for art criticism. "It was the highlight of my life," he says. "But I told the organizers that I was too young to just get an award, I was going there to work. They scheduled a lecture for me every day."

Over the course of five days, Luke spoke before audiences in Spain about the lives of Agustin Lara, Maria Felix, Frida Kahlo and Rivera, her husband. He lectured on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz at the Universidad de Alcalá.

Then, on March 11, the passionate orator traveled to Washington D.C. Before an audience at the main hall of the Organization of American States, Kahlo served as his muse once more.

Soon after, coronavirus capsized reality.

"An hour after I finished my lecture, the mayor of Washington D.C. closed everything down," says Luke. "The day after, I was going to do a lecture at another place but it got cancelled."

Luke returned home to Long Beach. His calendar full of future lecture dates in Mexico and in Southern California seemed uncertain as coronavirus abruptly reshaped the world. And then, one-by-one, cancellations took every one of them away.

"All I do is live events," says Luke. "This was a decision I made."

Luke passed the idle time, in part, by keeping in touch with family in Mexico on Zoom, some of whom felt dispirited by being unable to attend Easter mass on account of social distancing. He took the occasion to polish off his "Jesus: His Life and Art" lecture just for them. And then, Luke followed by presenting on tango and mariachis. He continued his Spanish lectures as online audiences grew beyond family members to 500 people all over Latin America, discovering a way to continue his work and passions amid a pandemic.

Now, Luke's calendar is restocked with a virtual Saturday night "Mural Under the Stars" summer lecture series in English, starting tonight with a talk on Mexican muralist Jose Clemente Orozco.

"It's been, for me, a very surprising experience," he says of lecturing online. "I find that I'm studying a lot. Before, most of the time was spent on the logistics of the lecture. Now, I'm doing my best work!"

He sees other advantages to the new format. There's more opportunities for dialogue with the audience on the subject at hand after his presentation wraps up. And with Zoom being the venue, Luke is free to talk about whatever subject entices him.

"Since I'm no longer associated with any museum, I don't have to worry about their mission," he adds. "I can speak on Diego Rivera but I can also speak on Michelangelo."

That freedom is reflected in the summer series lineup ranging from Vincent Van Gogh to David Alfaro Siqueiros--and, of course, Frida Kahlo.

Luke knows that his online lectures come at a time of great economic hardship. He's keeping prices affordable at $7.50 a ticket with that in mind. Still, families have shown gestures of gratitude, at times purchasing more than one ticket per household, even though they don't have to.

In return, Luke offers himself as a vehicle to the greatest minds in history, as he puts it. The lecturer is aswoon with the possibilities of his latest reinvention, born of necessity.

"For me, the worst of times are becoming the best of times," says Luke. "This can be true for many people if they rediscover themselves."

- Gabriel San Román

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Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina

Mouse Muckraker


Chances are you've never been dissed with this term unless battling in a cypher with conscious Cuban rappers in Havana. It comes from Cuba's hip-hop culture and is derived from "Mickey Mouse."

For an island nation under a decades-long embargo from the United States, popular culture becomes a lyrical battleground. Anthropology professor Marc D. Perry offered insights in his book, Negro Soy Yo: Hip Hop and Raced Citizenship in Neoliberal Cuba, writing:

"Working from the figure of Mickey Mouse as a metaphor for the social vacuousness and commercialism associated with U.S. popular culture, many Cuban MCs express derision for what they see as the "Miki-Miki" tendencies in much of commercial hip-hop in the United States."

And in fellow Cuban rappers seemingly under the spell.

But now, the term transcends hip hop. Four years ago, Univision did a profile on the "Mikis," a social tribu of selfie-snapping millennials who embrace the identity with a certain sense of pride. Outside the boundaries of rap battles over authentic versus commercialized hip-hop, these Mikis are more concerned with consuming U.S. popular culture--from Game of Thrones to Beyonce--by way of a weekly thumb drive installment dubbed "el paquete."

That's just a small window into how Anaheim's Mouse mascot plays out in Cuba. But maybe Anaheim should take a cue from Cuban rappers, in turn, and diss Harry Sidhu as a "Miki-Miki Mayor!"

By the Byline

How did Anaheim Public Library get so cool? Welcoming the OC Zine Fest into its quarters is one quick answer! But library staff are far from just gracious hosts, many are also zine creators who've helped organize the past three annual events.

Only, this year posed a unique challenge with the pandemic cancelling everything fun in sight. No worries. It's nothing zinesters can't handle with a little creativity.

For my monthly "Off the Page" column with LibroMobile, I check in the the OC Zine Fest as it's going virtual this year. Instagram takeovers, skill-share sessions, and zine gallery tours are already happening on a weekly basis building up to the big event on August 22.

Thanks for keeping the zine alive!

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