AZTLAN REALISM: Chicano Revolutionary Art From Pelican Bay S.H.U.  by Jose H. Villarreal 

“Aztlan” refers to the homeland of the ancient Aztec civilization and came out of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement in a concerted effort to reclaim a spirit of “self” national identity. This same spirit was expressed through the Mexican muralist art movement with such celebrated artists such as Diego RiveraDavid Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco.

I first “met” Jose H. Villarreal in September 2014 after I had put out a “Call to Incarcerated Artists” for a special themed art exhibit I was planning to organize, curate and install at Alcatraz.  Jose was one of many men incarcerated in S.H.U. at Pelican Bay State Prison who responded.   Just a year prior to Jose contacting me, he had been involved with the the California Prisoner Hunger Strike to bring attention to the torture of, and to abolish long term S.H.U. (Security Housing Unit, which is basically solitary confinement. A small window-less cell with no contact with other human beings with the exception of the guards and prison staff).  Solitary confinement is a form of torture, and has nothing to do with so called “rehabilitation”…let’s make no mistake about it!

Released from prison the beginning of this year, Jose had been imprisoned for 16 years  - 10 of which were in S.H.U. at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, CA

“My life has been hard, but it was all a priceless education that I used and continue to use as I move forward in helping those just like me. There were times I struggled with many thoughts that came via my torture, even health issues. The thought of having a medical emergency and no one there to help was terrifying, but I knew deeply the causes of my torture. I read of others being tortured, not just in the U.S., but globally so this gave me strength to know I had a lot of company even though I was physically alone”.

“My studies, writing and art gave me a reason to wake up every morning. A reason to exist and to keep struggling mentally against the offense waged against me (both physically and psychologically) because of my beliefs. My studies allowed my mind to keep working and to fight against mental illness, which is precisely what S.H.U. induces”.

Jose’s book is a compilation of 200 drawings as a record of his S.H.,U. experiences:

“I wanted to show that even within a torture center like the S.H.U. that human beings can rise above any man-made abuse or injustice. That the human condition is good even in the presence of malice, or even death. That art surfaces even when dehumanization becomes the norm”.

Hence, I invite you to check out his book of drawings. They are uniquely Jose’s style of what I would call a combination of Chicano, folk and outsider art.  Each drawing has a story and carries a message...of hope, courage, resilience; a strong voice to tear away the veil and expose the truth.

Copies of his book may be purchased

$50 +$4 S&H = $54 to:


P.O. Box 4186

San Jose, CA 95150

Any questions, please feel free to contact me at 


Leslie Lakes, Director