Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit the studio of artist and curator Nery Gabriel Lemus. Lemus, who was raised in Los Angeles by Guatemalan parents, combines fine art with social and political beliefs and bi-cultural issues. Through his use of drawing, painting, installation and video, Lemus is able to discuss issues of stereotypes, immigration, poverty, domestic violence, and prejudice.
Many of the works he shared with me revealed the division between African-Americans and Latinos, such as in his series Black is Brown and Brown is Beautiful which focuses on the prejudices Latinos have toward African Americans, and in his barber shop series Fallen Nature and the Two Cities, in which Lemus documents a stylized haircut shared between African Americans and Latinos.
In his series Friction of Distance (which was shown at Steve Turner Gallery), Lemus juxtaposed and appropriated images to make the audience compare and contrast birds and humans as a way to challenge the issues of immigration.
Fortunately you can check out Lemus’ current show, which he has curated at Charlie James Gallery. But you have to hurry as it ends February 18th. Go Tell It on the Mountain appropriately opened during the weekend of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, as the show stems from the inspiration Lemus found in James Baldwin’s 1953 novel Go Tell It on the Mountain. The novel reveals the double-sided role of the Christian church for African-Americans. On one side, the church could be viewed as hypocritical and a vehicle to oppress people, whereas on the other side the church could be seen as a place for community and social awareness. As a curator and artist, Lemus decided to climb to the peak and speak out, showing both of these oppositional views. By doing this he hopes the differences can be respected. Although it isn’t stated which artists are believers and which aren’t, it’s interesting to see the balance of two sides, how they merge and how they become indistinguishable by playing with metaphors which can be interpreted in either way… just like the bible.
Upon entering the gallery space, Lemus’ own piece is there to greet you and set the tone for the show. Lemus’ Hypocrite’s Prayer is a cotton tapestry with a floral design that reads “Lord, forgive me for being prejudice, for being a racist, for being a bigot, for being homophobic, for being racist, forgive me for being a hypocrite. Amen”.
Next to Lemus’ tapestry is Carolyn Castaño’s Chocolate Jesus. According to Castaño:
“The Mystikal Chocolate Jesus- images of Jesus Christ abound. They portray him as a European dude, bearded with green eyes. His Mediterranean nose says that maybe he could have been a Sephardic Jew or one of the knights during the crusades who stayed too long in the Holy Land. In alternative and occult circles, images of Jesus also abound, but in that world he is either a dark swarthy Middle Eastern man or a black bearded man. Fans of this dark skinned Jesus are usually people of color who seek empowerment by claiming a Jesus that reflects them. So that is the first layer of Choco Jesus. On another level, as a former Catholic school girl, I’m fascinated with the Christian right’s invoking of Christian morals and the bible, but their total denial of the needs of women, the working poor, and people of color. Their ideology seems to come from essentially a racist and classist position, which is completely divorced from the morals they claim to aspire to. I think of JC’s teachings as totally radical. They were about love and acceptance of unpopular and un-beautiful people, basically the poor, the sick (lepers), and the shunned (prostitutes). I think of Chocolate Jesus as a mirror who reflects our aspirations, discomforts, and prejudices.”
If you want to see more of Carolyn Castaño’s work, she will be having a solo exhibition El Jardin Femenil Y Otros Ocasos at Walter Maciel Gallery, opening February 25th from 6-8 pm. This exhibition will have paintings from her Narco Venus series and a video entitled The Female Report/El Reporte Femenil. Also, if you want to know more about Castaño’s influences, you can read my post about her talk at the X Ten Biennial in December.
Right in front of Lemus’ tapestry is one of my favorite works by Sanjit Sethi, Church Pool. The pool is an inverted church. The symbolism can go either way, positive or negative; a place of baptism is also a place of drowning, a place in which one can rejuvenate is also a place where you can be sucked in, deep down into darkness. A place of community where everyone can swim together is also a place where repression can perpetuate. This work is not only an art piece but also a proposal for an actual structure.
Two other pieces that I absolutely loved were Alex Donis’ Nancy De Los Santos (after La Pieta) and Bianca Bracho (after the Baptism of Christ). I admire his work because not only is it controversial but it dares to redefine the boundaries that we are all so accustomed to within religion and society.
Two other artworks that also challenge are Erika Rothenberg’s America’s Joyous Future and Andrea Bower’s Quilt of Radical Hospitality/ Endredon de hospitalidad.
Interestingly enough it was a Sunday after talking to Lemus about his show concerning Christianity. From here I visited CB1 Gallery in downtown LA to listen to Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia discuss his current solo show Papel Tejido. Hurtado Segovia, originally from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, mentioned that the installation of his works in one of the gallery spaces was actually a panoramic view of a town with the church right in the middle and like the nave of a cathedral, the inner part leads the viewer to the sanctuary. Although this is not explicit, after today’s events I felt that I had been to mass! In some of his pieces, Hurtado Segovia uses the image of the cross as an emblem of his faith as well as the cross being the pattern of the weaving.
Papel Tejido is a beautiful exhibition made up of several large and some smaller woven paper constructions based on a grid motif. As I walked into the gallery, these large, hanging works reminded me of petate, a bedroll made of woven fibers of the palm of petate, used in Mexico. They also reminded me of the plastic woven bags that the señoras in Mexico carry around the market. But as you get closer to the works, you realize they aren’t made of palm or of plastic, but rather painted paper strips, meticulously rearticulating the painterly gesture.
Hurtado Segovia discussed his influences that eventually brought him to create these pieces, such as the weaving traditions from Mexico, the use of plaid within the world of fashion, and tartans, a pattern consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colors, particularly associated with Scotland. He also discussed some artists who have influenced his work such as Piet Mondrian, Alejandro Otero, and Jim Isermann, among others. Hurtado Segovia explained how the weavings are a way to rearticulate his painterly aesthetic. The smaller pieces, which are attached to the wall, were the basic foundation for the entire body of work. His use of paper, rather than fabric, allowed him to play with and manipulate the shapes.
As you walk from the front to the back of the gallery and then view the works from the opposite side, you will find a completely new and different show; from this perspective, the works are more intimate, as if seeing the small streets and alleys of the town Hurtado Segovia has created. Here is where the ikat weaving style can be appreciated. Lots of time and skill went into weaving these pieces that it makes you wonder if they are imbued with magical powers. Well, I definitely walked out feeling re-energized and positive. This show ends on Feb. 19th, so if you are in downtown LA, go and check out the magic for yourself!
Juan Carlos Muñoz Hernandez is another Mexicano from the border, this time Mexicali, who grew up in the Pico Aliso Housing Development in Boyle Heights, and who recently had a special Pop Up exhibition in Venice Beach, presented by Timothy Yarger Fine Art. Unfortunately because this was a Pop Up show, it was only up for one week and has just ended.
You may remember Muñoz Hernandez’ work as part of last summer’s group show Street Cred: Graffiti Art from Concrete to Canvas at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. It was his bronze sculptures, which look like three dimensional graffiti, that caught my eye and made me want to see more from this artist. And this Pop Up show in Venice was the perfect place, as it was very close to Robert Graham’s studio. Muñoz Hernandez fortunately was chosen by this great artist in 1992 to apprentice with him. Graham’s influence can be seen especially in Muñoz Hernandez’ bronze sculptures, which are quite feminine in their curves and movement.
Muñoz Hernandez began his career in art by learning the process of creating aerosol-based murals. In 1991 he got his first official commission with Homeboy Industries. Now his career has taken off, as he’s been commissioned to paint additional murals in LA county. Just around the corner from the Pop Up show, I visited Muñoz Hernandez’ commissioned murals on the back of Larry’s restaurant. I had to see the mural with my own eyes after watching Ollie Bell’s video, which was shown at the exhibition. So, if you are in Beverly Hills, you can check out his work at Timothy Yarger Fine Art, and if you are just walking in the streets of Venice, make sure to stop by Larry’s.
Another show, which is about to end and should be seen, is Gusmano Cesaretti at Roberts and Tilton. Cesaretti is an Italian immigrant who came to the US in the 60s and documented the East LA lowrider and graffiti scene. In the 70s Cesaretti was drawn to the uncensored culture of the Eastside. He would go there and watch people walking around the streets, eating, arguing, running around, just living their daily lives. He’d notice the writing and paintings on the walls. It was this accessibility that he loved. By taking pictures of the people of East LA, Cesaretti began to understand the culture and what’s interesting is he never imagined these photos would be a historical document. These pictures show the true emotion of his subjects. They are real, raw and honest.
The exhibition features these vintage black-and-white prints, shown for the first time in Los Angeles. In the back room are newer photographs from his series Children of Silence, taken in Colón, Panamá of children in an impoverished community. Once again, Cesaretti uses his interpersonal skill to capture his subjects in an intimate and natural way.
A really fun event took place at the Fowler recently as part of the PST show Mapping Another LA currently on view (and ending on Feb. 26th). Josh Kun led a musical conversation with the Grammy-nominated LA based band La Santa Cecilia. La Santa Cecilia mixes cumbia, bossa nova, rumba, rock, jazz…Basically they are a hybrid of it all. Kun asked interesting questions about how this band started and became what they are today and then had them play the songs that were discussed. It was informal, very much like being in someone’s living room, listening to this band joke around and then play some tunes at the request of Kun and the audience. Kun is the curator of the PST/Grammy Museum exhibition Trouble in Paradise: Music and Los Angeles 1945-75, currently on view and which I’m very excited to check out. If you can remember, in October I posted a playlist compiled by Josh Kun as part of MOLAA’s PST Mex/LA “Mexican” Modernism(s) in Los Angeles, 1930-1985 exhibition. And let me tell you, there are some really great Chicano oldies that took me back in time to my parents’ Whittier Blvd.
After the concert we all headed up into the museum to witness former Asco member Patssi Valdez lead a crunch-and-fold workshop inspired by Asco’s performances and style and help create paper fashion designs with students from Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. It was a dynamic and fun night to make art with this Asco icon.
It was also nice to walk through the exhibition Mapping Another LA again and see photographs and artworks of some of the Chicano artists whose work and memorabilia I had recently viewed at Avenue 50 Studio. The show Resurrected Histories: Voices from the Chicano Arts Collectives of Highland Park, curated by Sybil Venegas, has already ended, but it was a great archival exhibition that told the story of the Highland Park Chicano art collectives Mechicano and the Centro de Arte Publico.
Last but not least, I want to mention a project that occurred in 2005 that I absolutely love and which has made a return for a limited time. Argentinean designer Judi Werthein created Brinco trainers to assist immigrants seeking to cross the Mexican-American border. “Brinco” means to “jump”. The trainers include a map of the region printed on the sole, a compass, a mini-flashlight, a secret pocket to hide money and other features to aid migrants in the dangerous trek. 1000 shoes were made; half of them were given away for free in Tijuana to Mexicans setting off for the border. The other half were sold as a limited edition in a high-end boutique in San Diego, with proceeds going to a shelter in Tijuana. By doing this, Werthein revealed how shoes can be both a functional tool and a luxury commodity. These trainers were part of Insite05.
The art collective Bulbo from Tijuana is trying to raise money to help them finance screenings of their documentary Brilliant Soil. The film raises awareness about the problems faced by the families of Purepecha potters from the State of Michoacan, Mexico, who use lead-based glaze. Bulbo is selling Brinco sneakers on ebay. By purchasing a pair of Brinco sneakers, you are helping to stop lead intoxication. And you will also look muy guapo! ¡Ándale, cómprate unos ya!