When Oakland resident Chucha Marquez, born Jose Marquez but better known as La Chucha, was a child in Milpitas, his favorite thing to do was go to arts-and-crafts stores to scout out his next project. He’d scan the selection of water colors and sift through the bounty of pony beads until he figured out what animal keychain he was going to weave next. These trips to the hobby store were just that — a hobby.
“A lot of the art education I was receiving was very much based around the classic artists you hear all the time,” Marquez says. “You definitely get Picasso, Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci, Andy Warhol maybe. It’s like old, rich, white, straight cis men typically, and thats why I think it never really clicked with me that it was something that I could pursue.”
Of course, Andy Warhol was gay, but even still, white men like Warhol have always had far more exposure in the art world than people like Marquez, a queer, non-binary child of two undocumented parents growing up in the South Bay. He also recalls being exposed to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera early on, but says everyone learns about them as their “diversity and ethnic examples.”
“The way that we practice our artwork is very much tied to our identities and the way that we navigate the world,” Marquez says.
At UC Davis, Marquez took both a Chicano Studies class and a screen printing class, and it finally clicked that he could pursue art as something more than a hobby. The idea of bouncing ideas off of a class of people with all different political beliefs and upbringings made the possibility of creating art a reality. As soon as he learned to make screen prints, Marquez started volunteering to show others how to use their voices to politicize their work through screen prints.
In addition to his current job at CultureStrike, a magazine in Oakland at the forefront of the national arts movement around immigration, Marquez also freelances prints for non-profits around the Bay Area who work to further various social causes. Marquez compared the flow of getting commissioned for pieces to riding a rollercoaster, with the highs of a frequent workload and the lows of dry spells of not getting work. Last year, he was in a particular dry spell when he came across the One Design condom wrapper art contest.
“ONE condom wrappers are as unique as the members of our community,” the site reads. It began its annual contest in 2004.
“Colorful artwork on condom wrappers serves as a conversation starter, makes condoms more accessible, and helps break down stigma around sexual health education and outreach,” said Milla Impola, the marketing communications manager for Global Protection Corp., the company that owns OneCondoms.com.
Winners receive a cash prize and a year’s supply of ONE Condoms featuring their own design, as well as the opportunity to donate up to 5,000 condoms to a charity or health organization of their choice.
Impola says they encourage artists and advocates, professionals and amateurs alike to enter their designs, and have received entries from all over the world, including submissions from Malaysia, Slovenia, Greece, and South Africa.
Many of the designs make use of the company’s “ONE” logo, such as “Shuck ONE” on a design of an ear of corn, “ONE eyed monster,” “play with ONE,” and “ONE time at band camp.”
Marquez entered a design of four hands positioned around in a circle, a repurposed image he had previously used for a project that didn’t work out at the time. The middle of the condom says “Grab ONE.” Of the hundreds of submissions, Marquez’s design is now one of 50 final designs that was selected by a panel of judges that the public can now vote on until the contest ends on Feb. 15.
“The design might not be explicitly political, but there’s definitely symbolism and a pattern there, with community or a bunch of people coming together, and hands are a really important symbol,” Marquez says.
“I think of the AIDS epidemic, right? It hit really hard in the Bay Area, especially San Francisco. I also had family members who passed away from AIDS back in the day. That’s something that’s part of your experience and something that’s part of how you grow up, and being able to do this condom wrapper kind of intersects with my experience as a queer, Bay Area-n,” Marquez says.
Themes of sexuality, gender, and immigration are very much a part of his identity. Not only does he feel the need to include them in his artwork, but because he’s an expert in these areas, he’s the one that needs to be telling these stories.
“Get Out was a huge hit, Coco right now is a huge hit,” Marquez says, offering examples of self-told stories on a larger scale. “Girls Trip, this cultural production that is centered around people of color, is relevant. And its something that Hollywood wasn’t really understanding of until we figured out ways to put ourselves into those spaces.”
As long as social struggles have existed, artwork has been a staple in each movement. With a lack of funding and a lack of diversity on art gallery walls, artists of marginalized communities are forced to seek exposure in less traditional gallery spaces — like Twitter and Instagram.
Of course, displaying your work for an unfiltered audience inevitably comes with a price, in the currency of trolling and rejection. But La Chucha is something of a fixture in the Bay Area art scene, perhaps even more-so since his simple F*** Donald Trump rapid-response print showed up all around San Francisco and Oakland in the days and weeks following the election.
“When you’re an artist and you’re opening yourself up for critique, or people may not get your message, is really scary. You build thick skin along the process,” says Marquez, who says you never know where your artwork is going to end up.
Vote on your favorite condom wrapper design by Feb. 15, and see more of La Chucha’s work on Instagram at @la_chucha