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The Great Tortilla Conspiracy
Matthew Waxman, 21 Apr 08

Father and son team, Rene and Rio Yanez of San Francisco are The Great Tortilla Conspiracy, pioneering artists in the Tortilla Art movement. If you are in San Francisco between now and April 23rd, head to SomArts in the South of Market neighborhood to view their exhibition “Tortilla Art for the 21st Century,” an interactive experience about the reappropriation of pop culture, food systems and globalization.

What is Tortilla Art? Tortilla Art uses the tortilla as an experimental art medium. Rene and Rio use a variety of techniques from heat-transfer prints to collage. Their show also includes work by a number of other artists, as well as a pyramid of tortilla art created by students at Oakland’s Skyline High School. The origins of Tortilla Art date to the early 1970s when influential Chicano artist and poet Jose Montoya began experimenting by burning images into cooked tortillas.

I attended the opening reception last Friday that was centered on a panel discussion about the validity of the art form. Artists and guest speakers discussed the history of Chicano art, how Tortilla Art may be related to 20th century art movements Dada and Surrealism and the concept of the “readymade,” and they declared Tortilla Art official.

Using corn tortillas, Rene and Rio take a critical perspective on the importance of the staple grain and the tortilla in Mexican indigenous culture and history. At the reception the artists commented on the recent shortages of corn, the high price of tortillas in Mexico, free trade agreements with United States, and the largely unknown impact of genetically modified corn. The show is also timely given the global panic of grain shortages and rises in food prices that are shaking the dietary fabric of entire nations. In fact, this week the United Nations released their International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development report explaining the importance of locally-produced food, traditional agriculture techniques, the global problems connected to food subsidy programs in first world nations, and the need for more equitable trade agreements.


I’m fascinated by their Tortilla Apparitions which use the idea that a freshly made tortilla might display a religious image on its face, arising naturally and a sign of a higher power. The apparitions of Rene and Rio take the form of political and cultural icons and messages. In their “Great Moments in Tortilla History” series, a message about boycotting grapes emerges to a United Farm Workers labor activist. Rio Yanez also takes pop cultural icons from the western world, transferring Steven Colbert, Che Guevara, Hello Kitty and Paris Hilton to tortillas. According to the artists, ironically, commercially produced tortillas packed with preservatives work better for Tortilla Art because they don’t age as fast.


As part of the exhibition, Rene and Rio will be holding a Tortilla Fashion Show on the evening of April 18th and a panel discussion on globalization of tortillas and genetically modified corn on April 19th. During regular gallery hours, visitors can interact with the artists while they make Tortilla Art. Visitors are encouraged to make their own Tortilla Art with the artists and place it in the exhibition.

For more information and details on the gallery space and the special events visit A collection of digital images ofTortilla Art by The Great Tortillay Conspiracy is online at their flickr page.


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Isn't the use of food as art an oxymoron for the topic at hand. Cool stuff though!

Posted by: Tencel on 23 Apr 08



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