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John Jota Leaños

Portrait of John Leaños
Professor of Film & Digital Media
Documentary Animation, Chicanx/Latinx Cinema & Media, Indigenous Media, Science Fiction/Speculative Fiction, Social Documentation, Digital Media Theory and Practice, Community Arts and Social Art Practice.
Research Interests: 

John Jota Leaños is a Mestizo (Xicano-Italian-Chumash) interdisciplinary artist and animator concerned with the embattled terrains of history and memory as they relate to nation, power, and decolonization. A Professor of Film and Digital Media at UCSC, Leaños teaches courses on Chicanx and Indigenous cinema/media, sci-fi & speculative fictions, documentary animation, documentary video, street art, and new media. His practice includes a range of film, animation, public art, installation, new media, and performance focusing on the convergence of memory, social space, and decolonization. Central to Leaños' art practice and cultural work lies the investigation of the documentary as a transformative discursive system where subaltern histories, untold stories, and decolonial perspectives arise in fictional and non-fictional forms. His research explores the slippery slope of the documentary within the discursive spaces of the public sphere, media outlets, the virtual sphere, the museum, and the gallery.  

A Guggenheim Fellow in Film and Media, Creative Capital Artist, and United States Artist (USArtist) Fellow, Leaños’s practice includes a range of media arts, documentary animation, video, public art, installation, opera, and performance. His work has been shown at the Sundance Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, Ars Electronica 2020,, the Whitney Biennial, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Pueblo Film Festival, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, Albuquerque, WILDsound Film Festival, Toronto, San Francisco International Festival of Animation, SF, the KOS Convention '07, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.  

Leaños' installation work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art's Whitney Biennial, Art in General in New York City, the Oakland Museum, Olimpio Cultural Center, Merida, Mexico, San Francisco Art Commission Gallery, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Galería de la Raza, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.  

His multimedia Mariachi opera, "Imperial Silence: Una Ópera Muerta/A Dead Opera in Four Acts" has been staged at various venues including Teatro Maria Matos, Lisbon, Portugal, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Museo del Barrio, New York, The World Theater, Monterey, and The Luckman Fine Arts Center, Los Angeles. Leaños' ofther performance work has been presented at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, the Galería de la Raza as well as several universities, including Brown University, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Texas, Austin, University of San Francisco, University of California, San Diego, and Arizona State University.  

Leaños is a Creative Capital Foundation Grantee and has been an artist in residence at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the Center for Chicano Studies, Carnegie Mellon University in the Center for Arts in Society, and the Headlands Center for the Arts.  Leaños was an Assistant Professor of Chicana/o Studies at Arizona State University from 2003-2007 and an Assistant Professor of Social Practices and Community Arts at the California College of the Arts from 2007-2009.  His recent projects have been funded by the Creative Capital Foundation Grant, the MAP Fund, the Creative Work Fund Award, and the Irvine Creative Connections Grant.  

Phone: 831-459-1887
Office: 109 Kresge Annex B
Selected Publications: 


Frontera! Revolt on the Río Grande

Destinies Manifest

DNN: Dead News Network

Radio Muerto

Los ABCs ¡Qué Vivan los Muertos!

Deadtime Stories with Mariachi Goose and Friends


Written Publications

"Destinies Manifest," Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art, University of Chicago Press, February 2021.

Tales de la Vida: The Latinographix Collection, Ohio State University Press, 2018.

"Animating Resistance." Anthropology News, June 5, 2017.

"Public Pedagogy and Cæsura" in Handbook of Public Pedagogy: Education and Learning Beyond. Edited by Jennifer A. Sandlin, Brian D. Schultz and Jake Burdick.  Routledge, 2010. 

"Social Art Tactics," in Handbook of Public Pedagogy: Education and Learning Beyond. Edited by Jennifer Sandlin, Brian Schultz and Jake Burdick Handbook of Public Pedagogy: Education and Learning Beyond Schooling, Routledge 2010.

"Dead Conversations on Art and Politics" in Filming Difference: Actors, Directors, Producers and Writers on Gender, Race and Sexuality in Film. Edited by Daniel Bernardi. University of Texas, 2009.  

"Art Education in the Age of NeoConvervatism" in Knowledge and Power in the Global Economy: The Effects of School Reform in a Neoliberal/Neoconservative Age.  Co-written with Anthony J. Villareal. Editor David Gabbard.  Lawrence Erlbaum, 2007.  

Honors and Awards: 
YBCA 100, Yerba Buena Center for the Art, 2017; Guggenheim Fellowship in Film & Media, 2014; United States Artist Fellowship (USArtist), 2012; UCSC Art Dean's Excellence Award; Visions from the New California, Alliance of Artists, Headlands Center for the Arts; Center for Arts in Society Fellowship, Carnegie Mellon University
Education and Training: 
M.F.A., San Francisco State University