Nora Chapa Mendoza is a painter, educator, activist, and a long-time presence in the Detroit arts community. Mendoza journeyed from her home state of Texas to Michigan to pursue her career as an artist. To Southwest Detroit, she brought American Southwestern roots, indestructible Chicano-Indigenous pride and unwavering commitment to the causes near to her heart: civil rights, fair labor practices, and heritage.
Cultural contribution is paramount to being named a Kresge Eminent Artist. Mendoza’s work has enriched theconversation through its celebration and exploration of the Chicano and Indigenous identities she holds. She shares, “My hope is to [expand] my U.S. audience [in order to] broaden their horizons and understanding of the history and current issues of the Indigenous and Hispanic peoples within the U.S.” Mendoza has taught adults and young people to paint, introducing new techniques and sharing the history of the visual arts in the Americas through Maya codices, as well as Aztec and Maya manuscripts.
Mendoza’s work is held in prestigious corporate and private collections and archives. She was commissioned by Cesar Chavez for a series of paintings to support his Children of the Fields program. Mendoza’s archives are housed in the Smithsonian Archives; her patrons include the Ford Foundation, Detroit Edison, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and CBS among many others. Her contributions to Detroit have been recognized by many, including a Michigan Artist of the Year award.
Her paintings—which range from abstraction to realism—reflect back the pain of injustice, the healing of human resolve, and the beauty of nature. That pain and resolve is felt in her work “Ten Little Indians,” a title borrowed from a nursery rhyme about the genocide of Native People. “The central skull represents the attempted extermination of Native People. Yet the spirit as expressed through the flames remains central and vibrant,” says Mendoza. “The eagle is my personal symbol in the Maya Calendar and four always appear at the end of any spiritual ceremony in which I participate. Despite the centuries of elimination, the Native Peoples are still here, their spirit strong and their influence being felt.”
Mendoza says her need to paint is a longing that she has felt since holding her first paintbrush. Like her need to eat, her art sustains her. The rich earth tones of her landscapes, ethereal palettes of her abstractions and the complexity of textures and stories that make up her mixed media work create a feast for all who engage.
She studied art at the College for Creative Studies (formerly Center for Creative Studies) and Madonna University (Livonia) under the mentorship of Richard Kozlow and Ljubo Biro. In 1978, Mendoza formed Nuestras Artes de Michigan, a network of Latino artists and organizations focused on promoting Latino arts, unity and advancing the values of freedom, accessibility, and integrity. She was also a founding member of the Michigan Hispanic Cultural Art Association. Mendoza opened her own gallery in Detroit in 1981, Galleria Mendoza. As her practice evolved to include restoration and mural projects, she was one of eight artists invited to renovate the Detroit Music Hall.
Kresge Arts in Detroit is generously funded by The Kresge Foundation and administered by the College for Creative Studies. Mendoza is the 16th individual to receive the Kresge Eminent Artist title—and first to receive the no strings attached award at the new $100,000 level.
Every year, a different panel chooses the Eminent Artist based on a distinguished record of high-quality work, professional achievement in the arts, and a lifetime of contributions to their art form and the cultural community of metro Detroit. We are deeply appreciative of the time and intention the panelists dedicated to the selection process.
We are honored to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions and achievements of Nora Chapa Mendoza, 2024 Kresge Eminent Artist.
Director, Kresge Arts in Detroit