From the immensely popular Internet character Strong Bad to Cartoon Network's "Mucha Lucha" to the recent Jack Black comedy "Nacho Libre," the style of professional wrestling developed in Mexico known as lucha libre is piledriving into American pop culture.
But the sport is more than just pop cultural frivolity, according to Chicano political satirist and performance artist Victor Payan. Lucha libre has elements of drama, spectacle, farce and burlesque. Its masked wrestlers -- luchadores -- are flamboyant superheroes of the common people.
Lucha libre also can be used as a vehicle to address important issues, said Payan. As a clash between two opposing and often unseen forces, it provides a rich metaphor for social and political struggle.
In a performance art smackdown at the Museum of the Living Artist in Balboa Park on Aug. 16, Payan, along with creative accomplice and fellow luchador Sandra Peña Sarmiento, will use lucha libre to break down issues of immigration, recovering lost histories, gender identity, good science vs. bad science and community over corporation.
"Rudos y Técnicos: An Aztec Gold Extravaganza" will feature the spontaneous creation of paintings by luchadores; a lucha-related art exhibit; a lucha-novela, in which audience members are enlisted to don masks and enact a scene of an original luchador skit; and video clips of interviews by Payan's alter ego, Lou Chalibre, that could include such luminaries as poet/performance artist Guillermo Gómez Peña, Sergio Aragones of Mad Magazine and actor/comedian Jack Black.
The "rudos" are the bad guys -- literally "rough" or "rude" -- the underhanded wrestlers both revered and reviled for playing dirty. The "técnicos" -- literally "technician" -- are the good guys who always play by the rules, at least in theory. Payan and Peña Sarmiento will pose the fundamental question, "Are you a rudo or a técnico?" said Payan.
"We all have our luchas," or battles, said Peña Sarmiento, aka Pocha Peña. ("Pocho" was a once-disparaging term used by Mexican nationals to refer to their Mexican-American relatives to the North. It literally translates as "cut off" or "faded.") "We are constantly struggling for something. And there's always a 'versus,'" she said.
Sarmiento is a writer/producer who recently wrote about pop culture project Keep on Crossin' -- the celebrated "artivist" movement created by Perry Vasquez and Payan - for Chicano Art Magazine. She also will present with Payan at the upcoming lecture series Mental Menudo in Los Angeles.
Payan is an award-winning writer, humorist and producer who works in the San Diego-Tijuana region. He is a frequent contributor to pocho.com and his writing has been published in The Independent, The OC Weekly, San Diego CityBeat, the San Diego Union-Tribune, El Aviso and the inaugural City Works Press anthology "Sunshine/Noir." He also has written for the San Diego Latino Film Festival for the past 12 years.
Visual art will be presented by an A-list of Chicano artists, including Alma Lopez, internationally recognized for her innovative digital images that recontextualize cultural icons and examine issues of race, gender and sexuality. Jaime "Germs" Zacarias' paintings include a combination of pop culture, narrative imagery and graffiti art. His robot luchadores, scratchboard skulls and intergalactic bugs have been featured in galleries across the nation. Painter Ricardo Islas focuses on Mexican culture and the social concerns that confront Mexican people on a daily basis. His paintings attempt to capture a moment in time and reveal the struggles of the people he paints. Other works by Andi Brandenberg, Ricardo Duffy and Chickle will also be featured.
The performance is part of the museum's Poetry & Art series. The quarterly program includes live music, featured poets, an open mic segment and visual art housed within the museum. Poetry & Art features cross-genre artistry, providing an opportunity for people to express themselves in a variety of artistic forms and styles.
"Rudos y Técnicos: An Aztec Gold Extravaganza" at Poetry & Art begins at 6:30 p.m. Admission is $5 at the door and includes light refreshments and live music.
Audience participation is encouraged. Luchador masks are optional.
PROGRAM: "Rudos y Tecnicos: An Aztec Gold Extravaganza" at Poetry & Art
Organization: San Diego Art Institute's Museum of the Living Artist
Date: Aug. 16
Time: 6:30 - 9:30 p.m.
Location: San Diego Art Institute, 1439 El Prado, Balboa Park
More information: (619) 236-0011, www.sandiego-art.org