Julio César Morales is an artist, curator, and educator who recently left the San Francisco Bay Area to become curator at the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe. Morales was an adjunct curator at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts from 2008-12, where he created “PAUSE: Practice and Exchange,” a series of solo exhibitions by artists including Allan de Souza, Euan Macdonald, and Gina Osterloh. He is a co-founder of San Francisco’s Queen’s Nails Projects. Anuradha Vikram spoke to him about his recent transition and his commitment to community-based art and activism.
AV: Do you think that art can influence public opinion and public policy? Is this a legitimate goal for artists to have?
JM: Yes, I do! At the risk of sounding too utopian, there are and have been some amazing projects that have had an impact at various levels of civic engagement. Look at an artist such as Suzanne Lacy, who for the last 30 years has created a wide range of projects that, at their core, are about social change and changing public policy. Her 1977 project, Three Weeks In May, had a forceful political imperative—to bring hidden experiences of rape to public attention—and her 1999 Oakland-based project, Code 33, was a three year project to reduce police hostility toward youth, provide youth with a set of skills to participate in their communities, and generate a more profound understanding of youth needs. This project led to the development of youth training for the police department. Now anyone entering the police has to take the training created by Lacy and her collaborators, including myself.
Another example is the Tijuana-based Torolab, led by Raúl Cárdenas, which serves as a collective workshop and laboratory, identifying situations or phenomena of interest for research, with a focus on lifestyles and “quality of life.” One recent project, COMA, traced the physiological changes of a Mexican person in their everyday relation to food. The project culminated in creating a type of bread containing all the nutrients absent in a typical Mexican diet, according to the Mexican national health census. This new food product was launched in Puebla, with the support of the city, and is now helping to combat diabetes and malnutrition.