Object of the Month

Title: Message for Lover Boys
Artist: Carlos Cortéz (1923–2005)
Nationality: American
Date: 1983
Medium: woodcut

Chicago artist, poet, and activist Carlos Cortéz adapted the style of Mexican broadsides that combine images and text to address labor relations, immigrants’ rights, and United States military engagements.

Cortez, like his father before him, was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (also referred to as the Wobblies), and he was active with the Chicago-based community arts organization Movimiento Artistico Chicano. Cortez also wrote a column and drew cartoons for the Wobblies’s paper, The Industrial Worker, from the early 1950s until shortly before his death.

Message for Lover Boys is both an homage to Cortez’s greatest influence, José Guadalupe Posada, and a satirical jab at people who pretend to be what they are not. Posada created many prints of calaveras (skeletons) performing different human activities as a means of social and political satire. The skeletal figure in Cortez’s woodcut is directly appropriated from Posada’s artworks depicting the Calavera Catrina—a pretentious maid who dressed above her status. The text on the left side of the woodcut is the first stanza from a ranchera, a genre of traditional folk music associated with the Mexican Revolution. The song, written in the late 1960s by Cuco Sánchez, mocks the deceitful lover whose heart is now broken. The stanza is printed below in Spanish and English.

Fallaste Corazón por Cuco Sánchez

Y tú que te creías
el rey de todo el mundo;
y tú que nunca fuiste
capaz de perdonar
y cruel y despiadado
de todo te reías,
hoy imploras cariño
aunque sea por piedad.

Failed Heart by Cuco Sánchez

And you thought you were
the king of the world;
and you who were never
able to forgive
and cruel and ruthless
you laughed about everything,
today you beg for love
even for mercy.

—Debora Wood, senior curator