Appointed As

History of Art


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


Johns Hopkins University

PhD Field of Study

PhD, History of Art, University of California, Berkeley

Dissertation Abstract

"Camp as a Weapon: Chicano Identity and Asco’s Aesthetics of Resistance"

This dissertation examines the aesthetic phenomenon of camp in the work of the East Los Angeles-based art group, Asco. Founded by Harry Gamboa, Jr., Gronk, Willie Herrón, III, and Patssi Valdez in the early 1970s, Asco produced a distinct blend of conceptual and performance-based art, which they exhibited in alternative art spaces and distributed as correspondence art. The group’s name, which means “nausea” in Spanish, speaks to the sensation their often provocative and politically motivated art ostensibly produces. The basis of this reaction lies in the stark contrast of Asco’s work to established Chicano art that emerged during the Chicano Movement.
I organize my study through a consideration of each of Asco’s camp targets, or the objects of their critiques. These include the exploitation and oppression of the Chicano community, the limitations and liberation in Chicano muralism, and the glamour and biases of Hollywood. Each of these denote cultures and movements with which the young artists were enamored as well as alienated from in a complex insider/outsider relationship that enables camp critique.
Through analysis of Gronk’s proto-Asco performance Caca-Roaches Have No Friends (1969), I establish a clear foundation for camp that corresponds to Moe Meyer’s assertion that camp is a specifically queer tactic of disidentification. I refer to the infamously provocative scene in Gronk's play starring Cyclona (Robert Legorreta) as horror drag to emphasize the intended camp target: homophobia within the Chicano community. Through a investigation of Asco’s early street performances and No Movies I further demonstrate that Asco uses Chicano rasquache and domesticana tactics, as described by Tomas Ybarra Frausto and Amalia Mesa-Bains respectively, in order to critique Chicano and Anglo-American cultures. Asco deploys these three aesthetic tactics to challenge problematizing identifiers of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class.

(Photo credit: Julie A. Wolf, UC Berkeley)