On Monday October 11th, most of America celebrated Columbus Day but artist Borish or Ben Rojas marked the occasion as Indigenous People's Day.
In fact, through most of Borish's art, he celebrates the warrior spirit of his west coast Chicano and El Salvadorian roots. "In the Bay area, California and the south west you don't have that culture any where else," said Borish. "We make a connection to our indigenous roots."
Borish moved to New York City six years ago after attending San Francisco State University where he majored in art education and Raza studies. He has felt that being on the East coast has strengthened his Northern California sensibility.
"Since I've been away," said Borish, "I'm proud of being west coast."
In a series of paintings titled "Elegy," Borish contemplates the modern indigenous warrior spirit that translates into today's gangs. Borish, who grew up in Pittsburg, California to parents from El Salvador, mourns the arrival of Columbus and other Europeans to Latino countries.
"An elegy is a mourning poem," he said. "A clash of cultures...with complications that corrupt and kill ourselves spiritually and mentally; let's figure out what really happened? Why do we hate a large part of ourselves? And that includes the African legacy."
Viewing one of Borish's paintings one sees haunting translucent paintings of modern individuals and at the same time, his work looks back to ancient Central, South America and Mexico. Within portraits one finds writing, whether a tattoo or a scrawl with a serpent or a skull, as a sign post. Borish's art is where modernity meets the mystic, the Incas meet the ipod, and the large eyes of his subjects tell more than what the art is letting on. His images draw one in like the strange black figure found on the bridge between the United States and Mexico in William Carlos Williams's poem about Juarez.
At this year's Afro-Punk Festival in Brooklyn, Borish painted a canvas using spray and latex paints, Sumi ink with graphite pencil, representing animal revolt. Like so much of Borish's art, it is the unusual visual style of so much going on all at once and where images of life and death intertwine like a serpent. Visuals, metaphors, signifiers and allegories are every where.
Several years ago this reporter was enthralled watching the majesty of Mexico's national ballet and the repertory of mythological and allegorical dances like the dance of the deer or how the devil interferes in daily life. Drawing and evoking images and ideas, Borish imaginatively dips into the same well spring however he brings an urban rooted and tough portrayal to his work.
In Borish's art there's the atavistic reality of going back to Central America and Mexico with a modern city dweller's sense of mystery and romance mixed with raw in-your-face power that draws in viewers and positively intimidates at the same time.
Borish's art has garnered respect from artists of other disciplines like poet Bonafide Rojas who wrote via Facebook, "he is a continuation of a tradition of social art and activism --- beautiful use of color, subject matter and powerful images. One of the more dedicated artists in the community."
In his "Elegy" series, Borish said via telephone interview that he wants to reach out to young Latino men who still possess an indigenous warrior spirit that translates today into gang membership.
"There are young men who don't have fathers or don't grow up with fathers," said Borish, "There's loss of legacy and pain and from that pain you see gangs....They're warriors with power and they don't know what to do with that power."
Borish recognizes the pain, which are the unanswered questions in his art or the airy, sensitivity and elusive qualities existing in his art, which is both concrete and mystical.
Borish sees community activists today as possessing that warrior nature and using it to change their communities. He remembers a slogan in California was 'Bang for Change' or gang bang for a change."I hope my art does the same thing," said Borish. "I want to reach young people so my art can't be corny so I use gang styles with tats....aspects of gang life is warrior culture."