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John Jota Leanos

Affiliated Faculty

John Jota Leaños is a Mestizo (Chicano-Italiano-Chumash) interdisciplinary artist, animator and Professor of Film and Digital Media at the University of Californa, Santa Cruz. His practice includes a range of film, animation, public art, installation, new media and performance concerned with the embattled terrains of history and memory as they relate to nation, power and decolonization.


A Guggenheim Fellow of 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 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 film festivals and museums including the Sundance Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, France, the Morelia International Film Festival, México, the Whitney Biennial, New York, 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 directed and produced the animated documentary short, Frontera!, retelling the history of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt in New Mexico. The work was done in collaboration with artists, scholars and leaders including Conroy Chino (Acoma Pueblo), producer and former television anchorman; Warren Montoya (Santa Ana Pueblo, Tamaya and Santa Clara Pueblo, Khapo Owinge’), an award-winning visual artist; Lee Moquino (Santa Clara Pueblo, Zia Pueblo, Apache/Yaqui), a traditional artist and spiritual leader; Aimee Villarreal, Associate Professor of Mexican American Studies, OLLU; and Cristóbal Martinez (Alcalde), member of Native artist collective, Post-Commodity. The project’s research advisors included Professor of Anthropology, Robert Purcell (Brown University); the late Dr. Linda Cordell, author of Archaeology of the Southwest; Matthew Liebmann (Harvard University), author of Revolt: An Archaeological History of Pueblo Resistance and Revitalization in 17th Century New Mexico. The 20-minute animation has been supported by a Latino Public Broadcasting Public Media Grant, a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship in Film and Video, a San Francisco Arts Commission Grant, a Center for Cultural Innovation Grant and a National Association for Latino Arts and Culture Grant. Frontera! won Best Animation at the 2014 39th Annual American Indian Film Festival, 2014 XicanIndie Film Festival, Denver and Arizona International Film Festival. 


His multimedia Days of the Dead animated Mariachi opera, Imperial Silence: Una Ópera Muerta/A Dead Opera in Four Acts has been staged at various venues including Teatro María Matos (Lisbon, Portugal), The Museum of Contemprary 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 shown at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, the Galería de la Raza as well as toured universities such as Brown, Carnegie Mellon, University of Texas, University of San Francisco, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz.


His current work, ¡Eureka!, a musical documentary animation about the making of colonial California is supported by the California Humanities California Documentary Project Production Grant, UCSC Art Dean's Excellence Award, San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Artist Grant, NALAC Master Artist Grant (National Association of Latino Arts and Culture), San Francisco Foundationa Bay Area Documentary Fund, and UCSC Arts Research Institute.


Leaños is a 2017 Yerba Buena Center for the Arts "YBCA 100" artist and has been an Artist-in-Residence at the Center for Chicano Studies, UC Santa Barbara, the Center for Arts in Society, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Headlands Center for the Arts. From 2003-2007, Leaños was an Assistant Professor of Chicana/o Studies at Arizona State University and worked as an Assistant Professor of Social Practices and Community Arts at the California College of the Arts 2007-2009. He is currently a Professor of Film and Digital Media at UC Santa Cruz.


Education and Training: 
MFA, San Francisco State University
Teaching Interests: 

Documentary Animation

Chicanx Cinema & Media

Public Art/Street Art/Art Activism

Future Worlds and Speculative Fictions

Indigenous Art & Media Practice

Social Documentary Production

Office Hours: 
Office hours are by appointment through email