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John Jota Leaños
Imperial Silence: Una Ópera Muerta

Sep 14–16, 2012

“One of the most beautiful and seamless pieces of performance art, culture and commentary I have ever seen.”
— Presa POBRE / POOR Magazine

Cultural taboos around silence, death, and dissent are presented through a multimedia performance that fuses dark, humored animation with Mexican folklore dance, Mariachi music, hip-hop, bossa nova, and blues. The work is created by San Francisco-based director, John Jota Leaños; Chicago-based choreographer Joel Valentin-Martinez; DJ/composer Cristóbal Martinez; and the Tucson Mariachi ensemble, Los Cuatro Vientos.

The opera’s four acts are Act I: Los ABCs ¡Qué Vivan los Muertos! an animated primer on war and empire; Act II: Deadtime Stories with Mariachi Goose and Friends an animation that re-examines Mother Goose children’s rhymes and culminates with the great fall of Humpty Mariachi Dumpty; Act III: ¡Radio Muerto! a live performance and animation of a skeleton traveling the road to Mictlan (the Aztec underworld); and Act IV: DNN: Dead News Network, a dead animated newscast exploring the silencing of dissent and “spin” in the corporate news media.

Leaños is known for new media, public art, installation and performance that excavate hidden histories and misplaced memories with a baroque aesthetics, a practice that brings to the fore older traditions and approaches—such as Mexican muralism and nursery rhyme storytelling—and merges them with new technologies and contemporary interpretations. Imperial Silence: Una Ópera Muerta is his largest collaborative and tactical media work, and involved dozens of artists, writers and community members for this reimagining of historical and “true” events.

Leaños has received the 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship in Creative Arts, the United States Artist Fellowship (2011), which annually recognizes 50 of the country’s greatest living artists, and the National Association for Latino Arts and Culture Artist Award (2012). His social art practice is closely identified with Xicanismo, the updated voice for Chicano/a culture, and has been shown at the 2002 Whitney Biennial, SF Moma, MOCA LA, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is increasingly experienced virally as Internet videos, podcasts on mobile devices, and community concerts in unexpected public spaces in the Bay Area.


Program Notes

More information about John Jota Leaños

Artists Up Close

Expand your MCA Stage experience with Artists Up Close, our series of discussions, rehearsals, and workshops held throughout the season.

Leaños talk: Decolonial Disruptions: Specter of Change
Sat, Sep 8, 3 pm
FREE, reservation encouraged
John Leaños shows examples of his media art in this talk about the decolonial and transformative potentials of art today from Latino perspectives of popular culture and mainstream media.

Los Cuatro Vientos Jam
Sat, Sep 15, 3 pm
FREE with museum admission or Imperial Silence ticket
Registration encouraged
Bring your guitarron, accordion or just yourself for this interactive talk and jam with Los Cuatro Vientos, Tucson’s best-known mariachi quartet. Natives of Mexico, they have expanded their repertoire by integrating songs that have become standards in today’s Mexican folkóric form with original work with hip hop, blues, and other genres.


Imperial Silence: Una Ópera Muerta is made possible in part by support from the National Performance Network (NPN) Residency Program. Major contributors include the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts (a federal agency), and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.