Three Exhibits, Many Visions

Show at Self Help Graphics, Plaza de la Raza and USC's Fisher Gallery show depth and diversity

By Chrissie Castro
Published on LatinoLA: February 26, 2000

Three Exhibits, Many Visions

Just take one look at LatinoLA.com's Calendar and you'll see it for yourself: our city is brimming with art. There are so many gallery openings, exhibits and showcases, it's virtually impossible to see it all. Yet, I was feeling ambitious, so I went out on a recent Saturday to see at least three shows.

The morning started at Hecho en Califas: The Last Decade at Plaza de la Raza in my hometown Lincoln Heights. It had been almost a year since I'd been there, and upon entering, I heard a little voice amidst the stomps of the practicing Folklorico dancers in the adjacent dance studio.

"I like this one Mommy." "Why do you like it?" her mother answered. "Ummm?."

Turning in curiosity, I caught a little face looking up at the bright colors of one piece. Then, all of a sudden, her raven hair whipped around to focus on another. I waited, but she never answered the question.

All I could think was how much I felt like she did. There was so much to say, you could hardly say anything. Envision the barrage: 31 artists with distinct styles, mediums, ideas, influences. Picture everything from bright neon to earthy brown, smoky glass to saturated canvas, cut wood to sooty brass.

And though the exhibit ? designed to show both known and new California Chicano artists of the last ten years ? did a good job of exposing the artists in a single collection, it was difficult, if not impossible, to gauge the focus of any one of their work. Here, I'll try to do justice to just a few pieces:

This would have caught your attention: a vacuum-sealed meat package that looked like it had just been bought at a supermarket. Instead of a lump of ground beef or T-bone, there was a severed arm. "Cheap Labor" was the title of the work by Hector Dio Mendoza. On the package were stickers. "California," "Fresh," "Value," "2 for 1 Special." There were bite marks on the sides of the arms, meat ripped out of one of the forearms, fingers ripped off, dirt smeared all over the clay and latex skin. Thought-provoking.

Here's another to think about: "David & Jonathan, 1 Samuel 20:41. The artist attempted to capture the sensual and tender moment between two men in a deep kiss. And, somehow, he achieved it with only lipstick as his paint and paper as his canvas. Their embrace said many things. I'm guessing that the feeling you get while you stand in front of this piece depends on your politics. I was moved, feeling like I was witnessing a version of love that is not usually seen, or accepted.

Spotlight three: A raspada stand. Each side panel was used as a canvas to capture the labor injustices of the state. Pete Wilson was drawn on the top of the stand, where the ice would usually go, wearing an INS outfit, a badge, a pink face and a plastic smile. Little figurines of the stereotypical docile drunk with a sombrero covering his face were placed around the wooden perimeter. A sun-umbrella hovered over it all.

Four: A self-portrait collage where the artist cut himself out of a picture and manipulated a scene to appear as he's chillin' with Frida Khalo. The artists sips on some coffee and there he is, next to Frida and Posada. I took it in as a fantasy miniature ? a Chicano version of Alice in Wonderland if you will. (I liked this one.)

I continued my walk and saw some familiar work: "California Fashion Slaves," by Alma Lopez and Frank Romero's "The Death of Ruben Salazar." I also saw some others that set off sparks: "California Grown" by Jesus Angel Perez, "Untitled" by Alexandra Dalce and "Zapatos" by Sylvia Zavala.

As you may have assessed, I walked out more curious than satiated. But, there was more art to be seen. I had to keep moving. Next exhibit.

I drove down Mission to Main. A left on Cesar Chavez, and on my way to Self-Help Graphics. Flying through East Los, I couldn't help but marvel at all the people out; people in all directions were shopping, waiting for the bus, strolling with their woman or man on their arm, selling raspadas, staring back at me in my car, eating freshly buttered elotes, and walking home ? locs, flannel, white tee ? the whole nine.

I focused on where I was just in time to make a quick right into the SHG parking lot. I walked in through the back entrance and was immediately in my element.

On all of the walls was one of my favorite mediums: the photograph.

While traversing over the ten photographers on display at SHG's "Exposure at Zero Hour," I ached to dust off my old manual camera and snap a few of my own images.

Esteban Oriol was particularly inspiring. There were very few prints on display, but those that were up were real. "Hynas" for example was a simple shot of two young Latinas in Ben Davis jackets, standing before a bridge. Their faces were pure beauty, and he captured them in a moment that said "Yes, I'm Latina and beautiful and proud of it." One in straight blown-out hair, the other letting her Chicana waves kick, both with make-up perfectly placed, model beautiful. Their expressions said they trusted the camera and they gave the photo something of themselves.

And there were others by Oriol. Notably, there was a shot of "Mono," a tatted young man that ? like the previously described women ? looked into the camera with sincere abandon. But before I say this is real, I'll let it speak for itself.

There was a tear drop penned in next to the title on the gallery wall, followed by the fresh hand-written inscription: "RIP, January 21, 2000." - Just the day before the exhibit opened. It made me look over all of Oriol's photos a few more times. And I cherished the images... as I think Oriol meant them to be.

Another of the displayed photographers that caught my attention was Olivia Barrionuevo. All of her work was shot from her car, either the passenger side or driver side. Over several years, she captured passing street images, using the car window as her frame. To lend texture to the pieces, she juxtaposed the scene directly outside her window with the scene in her rear view mirror. She arrived with striking contrasts.

In one shot, she captured a middle-aged woman standing on the fire escape of a cheap motel. In another, she captured a youth sitting on the bus bench, $1 clutched close to his body. She snapped at a homeless couple finding refuge beneath the cover of a storefront awning.. She wrote, "From the car we feel and see only the reflection of who we have become." Something else to think about.

I looked at my watch, and tried to speed up my visit. Laura Aguilar's her work seemed to challenge the discomfort we have with the body, and her photos exhibited differently proportioned nude bodies in the context of nature.

There was also a collection by Harry Gamboa Jr., who used digitally-altered head shots, showing the hypocritical human nature, with such titles such as "I don't make fashion statements," or "I will not allow myself to be erased." The captions said one thing; the photo showed the opposite.

There were others. Justin de Leon, Kathy Gallegos, Cristina Fernandez, Sergio Zenteno?. but I had to race to beat traffic. I walked out briskly and noticed all the graffiti bombed on the walls. Chicano art abounds in this city.

I glided across the dark stretch of freeway, from East Los to South Central. I made it with some time to spare. The exhibit was "Crossing Boundaries" at USC's Fisher Gallery. When I finally got there, I was tired, and my head was pregnant with images. I walked in and found this exhibit was only giving more to think ? not to mention write? about.

Three rooms and four artists. Doesn't seem as busy as the previous two? Well, they were. Perhaps even more so.

The first room I entered was dedicated to Ronald Gonzalez. In front of me was an army of erect skeletons fashioned from plaster, wax, rust, steel and carbon ? amidst piles of bird and other animal bones. The sculpture was massive and commanded a good ten minutes of my attention. I still have yet to pinpoint what was the lure of the subject. Perhaps it was the curiosity of mortality and death. Perhaps it was the fascination with war and destruction. Perhaps I had just never seen huge piles of animal bones before.

In another room, was a street vendor box, by Steven La Ponsie. I studied this piece for quite some time. I enjoy seeing everyday objects used as vehicles for artistic expression. That's exactly what this piece did. It used CDs, fliers, stamps, an old Mexican blanket, brushes, shoe shine, a computer keyboard and a mouse. It was an interface between the street and technology, museum art objects and everyday life objects.

In to the last room, brothers Jamex and Einar de la Torre flashed a collection of colorful blown glass mixed with abstracted found objects. I'll just give you a tease of my favorite concept (because there's just too much to describe). It reminded me of a funhouse. There were about 15 pieces of oval-shaped blown glass, each with a different set of colors and with a different name under it. Eva, Rosa, Beatris, y mas. As I stood in front of each one, and looked through, each glass oval had a glass cross counterpart, on another wall about two feet from the opening. The two detailed glass pieces were mean to be seen together, and the combinations of colors and shapes was pure love.

But I wondered why the oval glass had women's names. I looked a little closer and realized that each cross had a name under it as well. Lalo, Hugo, Tito, Victor, etc. I began to see. The ovals were actually vulvas, and peeping inside the woman, you found God, which of course in the Christian religion is male. I saw this as giving God an androgynous identity. The coupled glass pieces were consecrating the female gender with the male to symbolize a gender equalized God. Nice concept. And you can imagine, this is only one example. There were several other pieces that evoked similarly imaginative ideas.

I wanted to stay, but I realized I already had so much to write? "Another day," I reasoned with myself, "I'll come back another day." I walked out, and the sun was already close to the horizon. I breathed a deep sigh and thought about all the other art I still hadn't seen. As I walked back to my car, which was on Exposition, I noticed a sign for "El Nuevo Mundo: The Landscape of Latino Los Angeles" by Camilo Jos? Vergara. "Tempting," I thought. "But maybe next weekend."

Where to go:

Self-Help Graphics & Art, Inc. is a community based visual arts center located in the heart of East Los Angeles. Open to artists since the 70s, the center continues to reflect the deep cultural values of the Chicano community. Their mission is to (1.) To foster and encourage the empowerment of local Chicano artists, (2.) To present Chicano art to all audiences through its programs and services, (3.) To promote the rich cultural heritage and contribution of Chicano art and artists to the contemporary American experience. Along with exhibitions of diverse medias, the organization maintains Tienda Colores, a shop of "artist made nichos, papel picado, jewelry, cards, and other unique items."

Self-Help Graphics is located at 3802 Cesar Chavez Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90063 (corner of Cesar Chavez and Gage). For further information: (323)881-6444.

Website - www.selfhelpgraphics.com

Plaza de la Raza Cultural Center for the Arts and Education, opened in 1970, is the only multidisciplinary cultural arts center for Latinos in Los Angeles. Situated in Lincoln Heights, Plaza offers the community artistic outlet through its dance, theater, visual and musical workshops. The center also hosts several cultural festivities throughout the year. Plaza's "La Tiendita" offers cultural items and art pieces.

Plaza de la Raza is located in Lincoln Park, on Main Street and Mission in Lincoln Heights. Classs prices vary. Refer to website for calendar of events and class schedules.

Plaza de la Raza - www.plazaraza.org

Fisher Gallery, opened in 1939, has grown significantly in stature and prominence as the museum of USC. It serves as a working laboratory for the Museum Studies Graduate Program, assisting the Art History Department of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences in the training of future museum curators, educators and directors in the complete planning and implementation of an annual and professional exhibition which always includes a scholarly publication.

USC Fisher Gallery, 823 Exposition Boulevard, University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA 90089-0292. (213)740-4561

Website: www.usc.edu/org/fishergallery

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