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  John Leanos

John Leanos



Arts Division

Film and Digital Media Department



Latin American & Latino Studies
Dolores Huerta Research Center for the Americas
Art Department

Regular Faculty

New Media
Public Art

Communications Building

By Appointment

Film and Digital Media


John Jota Leaños is a Mestizo (Mexican-Italian-Chumash) interdisciplinary artist, documentary animator and social art practitioner concerned with the embattled terrains of history and memory as they relate to nation, power and social justice. Leaños is a Guggenheim Fellow of Film and Media, Creative Capital Artist and United States Artist (USA) Fellow. His practice includes a range of media arts, documentary animation, video, public art, installation and performance introducing alternative perspectives into the public imagination through strategic revealing, social documentation, and symbolic intervention. Leaños’ animation work has been shown internationally at over 60 film festivals and museums including, the Sundance Film Festival; Cannes Film Festival, France; and the Morelia International Film Festival, México. His installation and performance work has been shown at the Whitney Biennial, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and others. Leaños’ animated films have won Best Animation at the 2014 39th Annual American Indian Film Festival, 2014 XicanIndie Film Festival, Denver, Best Animation, Arizona International Film Festival and VideoFest, San Francisco. His animations include: Destinies Manifest, Frontera! Revolt and Rebellion on the Río GrandeEvil White FoodsDead News NetworkRadio MuertoDeadtime Stories with Mariachi Goose and FriendsLos ABCs ¡Qué Vivan los Muertos. He is currently a Full Professor of at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the Department of Film and Digital Media.

Trained as a photographer, Leaños also works in art installation. His installation Remembering Castration: Bloody Metaphors in Aztlán debuted at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2002 Biennial. Other conceptual, sculptural, and video installations have been shown at venues such as Arte Interactiva Biennial, Merdida, Mexico, the Oakland Museum, Art in General, NYC, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, El Museo del Barrio in New York, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. His 1968 Chevy Impala lowrider media installation, El Muertorider, has been exhibited at several museums including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and the Petersen Automotive Museum as part of the exhibition, "The High Art of Riding Low: Ranflas, Corazón e Inspiración." Leaños also produced radio-installation works at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and the Oakland Museum. He also streamed radio programming created by artists and Oakland youth for the Neighborhood Public Radio (NPR) installation at the 2008 Whitney Biennial.

In response to the climate of political and ideological censorship during the height of the “War on Terror,” Leaños began working in musical and documentary animation as a tactic to diffuse political intolerance. In his first animation, Los ABCs ¡Qué Vivan los Muertos!, a Mariachi chorus documents twenty-six injustices of war in a Days of the Dead, Gorey-esque fashion. 

Leaños is director and librettist of the mariachi performance Imperial Silence: Una Ópera Muerta / A Dead Opera in Four Acts in collaboration with choreographer Joel Valentín-Martínez and the Mariachi Ensemble Los Cuatro Vientos. This “dead opera” fuses dark-humored animation with Mexican baile folklórico, modern dance, traditional Mariachi music, hip-hop, and borderlands blues. Imperial Silence has been staged at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Teatro Maria Matos, Lisbon, Portugal, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, University Theater, Riverside, El Museo del Barrio, NYC, Brava Theater, San Francisco, the Luckman Theater, Los Angeles and others.

From 2000 to 2004, Leaños was a third of artist collective Los Cybrids: La Raza Techno-Críitca, critically engaging high technology from Latino perspectives. Los Cybrids performed at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (2002), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2001), the Galería de la Raza (2002), and in the streets. Their performance “El World Brain Disorder:surveillance.control.pendejismo” toured galleries and universities, including Carnegie Mellon, Brown, and the University of San Francisco.

Documentary Animation
Social Documentary & Social Practice
Chicanx and Latinx Film, Art and Popular Culture
New Media & Techno-Culture

Public Art, Installation & Photography

Documentary Animation History and Production
Social Documentary Practice
New Media & Social Practice
Latina/o Popular Culture

2012 Guggenheim Fellow
2012 National Association for Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC) Artist Award
2011 United States Artist Fellow
2011 San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Artist Grant
2010 Irvine Foundations Creative Connections Grant
2009 The MAP Fund Grant
2007 Creative Work Fund Award
2002-03 ), Center for Arts and Society Fellowship, Carnegie Mellon University
2002-11 Creative Capital Grantee

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