John Jota Leaños

John Jota Leaños

Fellow: Awarded 2012
Field of Study: Film - Video

Competition: US & Canada

University of California, Santa Cruz

John Jota Leaños is a media artist and social-art practitioner focusing on critical convergences of history, memory, social space, and decolonization. Leaños’ animation, installation, public art, and performance fuse traditional art practices and aesthetics with new technologies and contemporary interpretations. Currently an Assistant Professor of Social Documentation at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in the Department of Film and Digital Media, Leaños is a Creative Capital Foundation Grantee (2002) who has received, among other honors, the United States Artist Fellowship (2011), San Francisco Art Commission Individual Artist Grant (2011), Irvine Foundations Creative Connections Grant (2009–2010), the National Association for Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC) Artist Award (2009), The MAP Fund Award(2009), the Creative Work Fund Award (2007, 2000), Center for Arts and Society Fellowship, and an artist’s residency at the Center for Arts and Society at Carnegie Mellon (2002–2003). 

Trained as a photographer, Leaños also works in art installation. His installation Remembering Castration: Bloody Metaphors in Aztlán debuted at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2002 Biennial. Other conceptual, sculptural, and video installations have been shown at venues such as Arte Interactiva Biennial, Merdida, Mexico (2009, 2007), the Oakland Museum (2007, 2006), Art in General, NYC (2003), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2001), and Museo del Barrio in New York (1999), and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco (1998). His 1968 Chevy Impala lowrider media installation, El Muertorider, will be at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, in 2012. Leaños also produced radio-installation works at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco (2008) and the Oakland Museum (2007). He also streamed radio programming created by artists and Oakland youth for the Neighborhood Public Radio (NPR) installation at the 2008 Whitney Biennial.

In response to the climate of political and ideological censorship during the height of the “War on Terror,” Leaños began working in musical and documentary animation as a tactic to diffuse political intolerance. In his first animation, Los ABCs ¡Qué Vivan los Muertos! (2005), a Mariachi chorus documents twenty-six injustices of war in a Days of the Dead, Gorey-esque fashion. His four animations have been shown internationally at festivals and museums including the Sundance Film Festival (2010, 2006), Cannes Film Festival, France (2007), Tehran International Animation Festival, Iran (2009), Morelia International Film Festival, México (2008), WILDsound Film Festival, Toronto (2008),  BAM/PFA (2011), Artivist Film Festival (2006), Arizona International Film Festival (2011, 2007), the KOS Convention (2007), the de Young Museum, San Francisco (2010), the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (2008, 2006) and dozens of others.


Leaños is director and librettist of the mariachi performance Imperial Silence: Una Ópera Muerta / A Dead Opera in Four Acts (2009–2012) in collaboration with choreographer Joel Valentín-Martínez (Northwestern University) and the Mariachi Ensemble Los Cuatro Vientos (Tucson, Arizona). This “dead opera” fuses dark-humored animation with Mexican baile folklórico, modern dance, traditional Mariachi music, hip-hop, and borderlands blues. Imperial Silence will be staged at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, in 2012, having previously toured Hollywood Forever Cemetery (Main Stage, 2010), University Theater, Riverside (2010), El Museo del Barrio, NYC (2009), the Luckman Theater, Los Angeles (2009), and others.

From 2000 to 2004, Leaños was a third of artist collective Los Cybrids: La Raza Techno-Críitca, critically engaging high technology from Latino perspectives. Los Cybrids performed at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (2002), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2001), the Galería de la Raza (2002), and in the streets. Their performance El World Brain Disorder:surveillance.control.pendejismo toured galleries and universities, including Carnegie Mellon, Brown University, and the University of San Francisco (2003).

As a community artist, Leaños has been involved in mentorship, education and collaboration with youth, young artists, and non-art related sectors. He gives workshops and lectures at universities, schools, and community sites throughout the United States on a broad range of topics. As a curator and working artists, Leaños established in 2000 the ongoing Digital Mural Project  with Carolina Ponce de León at the Galería de la Raza. Most recently, he curated the exhibition Home After Dark: Recent Works by Emerging Latina/o Artists (2011) at the Galería de la Raza in close mentorship to a new generation of Latina/o artists.

Of Mexican-Italian-American descent, Leaños received his M.F.A. in Photography from San Francisco State University in 2000. He has taught as an artist-in-residence at Carnegie Mellon University in the Art Department (2003) and at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in the Center for Chicano Studies (2005–2006). Leaños was an Assistant Professor of Chicana/o Studies at Arizona State University from 2003 to 2007 and an Assistant Professor of Social Practices and Community Arts at the California College of the Arts from 2007 to 2009.

Follow these links to view videos:

Los ABCs ¡Qué Vivan los Muertos! (2005)

Frontera! Trailer

Making of El Muertorider


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