Exhibit Review | Art Share L.A. : SOMOS

Review | Art Share L.A. : SOMOS, Photo Credit: Enrique Bautista

In 2023, a significant legislative change occurred in California, led by the state’s governor Gavin Newsom.

Review | Art Share L.A. : SOMOS, Photo Credit: Enrique Bautista

This new law legalizes both the use of lowriders and the practice of cruising. Lowriders are modified cars characterized by their modified suspension systems that allow them to ride very close to the ground and are a vibrant part of Chicano culture.

This culture, rooted in the experiences and traditions of the Mexican heritage, is rich in various practices including art, music, and community gatherings. The lowrider movement, which started in the 1940s and gained momentum in the 1950s and 1960s, is particularly prominent in the Southwestern United States. Cruising, a key tradition where individuals drive their lowriders slowly through popular streets, is integral to this culture. It’s not only a way to display these unique vehicles but also a means to strengthen Chicano community bonds. Currently, the Art Share Gallery in downtown Los Angeles’ arts district is hosting the SOMOS exhibit. This exhibit shines a spotlight on Chicano culture, celebrating its unique aspects and providing a platform for this community to be recognized and appreciated.

Located in the bustling Art District of Downtown Los Angeles, Art Share L.A. is a beacon of cultural expression, especially evident during its eventful Friday night openings.

Navigating the parking challenges in this area is a well-known aspect of the L.A. experience. After parking in Little Tokyo, a brief walk of 5-10 minutes took me to the gallery. The presence of two lowriders parked outside the building was a fitting introduction to the artistic atmosphere within.

Review | Art Share L.A. : SOMOS, Photo Credit: Enrique Bautista

Upon entering, I was greeted by two security guards who were scanning tickets. My interaction with them was pleasant and informal; they inquired about my drinking intentions, respecting my decision to abstain due to a 21-day fast. They quickly clarified that the event was free, allowing me to enter without needing to present a ticket. Hearing those gentlemen calmly say “You good brotha, enjoy the show” let me know it was going to be a chill environment.

Review | Art Share L.A. : SOMOS, Photo Credit: Enrique Bautista

The exhibition began with two impactful pieces by Obed Silva titled “Firm They Stood, yet they Fall.” These artworks prominently featured two shirtless young Latino men, dressed in baggy jeans and Nike Cortez sneakers, with detailed tattoos including the Virgin Mary and old English lettering. Each figure held a chain leash for two dogs, set against a vivid red background adorned with birds, roses, butterflies, skeletons, candles, demons, and angels. Silva’s use of acrylic on canvas brought a surreal quality to these pieces, making them immediately captivating.

Review | Art Share L.A. : SOMOS, Photo Credit: Enrique Bautista

Another standout artwork was “AmeriKKKa” by ShowzArt.

This piece, painted with acrylic on an American flag, portrayed a young Black boy at the center, with three figures aiming guns at his head, including two gang members from the CRIP & BLOOD sets and a police officer. This powerful piece resonated deeply with me, reflecting the complex and often adversarial environment faced by young minorities in L.A., marked by gang culture and police scrutiny. It stood out as not only a highlight of the gallery but as one of the most memorable pieces I’ve encountered in my experience with art.

Review | Art Share L.A. : SOMOS, Photo Credit: Enrique Bautista

The first gallery featured an eye-catching green lowrider bicycle, a symbol deeply embedded in both Chicano and Los Angeles cultures. Jesse Fregozo’s artworks, dedicated to the iconic Whittier Blvd, celebrated the tradition of lowriding and cruising meetups, integral to the local scene. Rick Ortega’s pieces, portraying Latina women in traditional headpieces and red lipstick, struck a chord with my friend Josh and I, reminding us of our aunts and female relatives.

Navigating through the bustling gallery, I was heartened to see a diverse crowd, with a notable presence of Latinos supporting their community’s art and culture. As someone with a keen interest in fashion, I observed the attendees’ attire: flannels, Dickie work pants, high white socks, and Nike Cortez sneakers – quintessential elements of L.A.’s and particularly Chicano fashion. This mirroring of life and art lent a poetic touch to the atmosphere.

Review | Art Share L.A. : SOMOS, Photo Credit: Enrique Bautista

Two pieces by Fabian “Spade” Debora particularly resonated with me. “Teen Angel” depicted a young Latina girl in a striped, blue tank top, blue Dickie work pants, and Nike Cortez sneakers, accessorized with big gold hoop earrings – a quintessential Chicana look. “Double Trouble,” also by Spade, featured two young Latino boys in matching short sleeve hoodies and black pants with Converse Chuck Taylor shoes.

Review | Art Share L.A. : SOMOS, Photo Credit: Enrique Bautista

The central graffiti element – the derogatory term “wetbacks” crossed out and replaced with “Chicano” – was especially powerful. This artwork conveyed the societal challenges faced by young Latinos, transforming a racist slur into a statement of empowerment and pride in Latino heritage. It was a poignant reminder of the struggles and resilience of young Latinos, encouraging them to embrace and celebrate their culture with pride.

Continuing our exploration of the gallery, we entered a spacious room where artists and curators were expressing their gratitude to the attendees.

Adjacent to this room was another corridor showcasing the colorful and humorous works of Latino artists such as RERUN, Ramon Vargas, and Phoebe Clemens. Circling back to the first gallery, we discovered two more hallways featuring creations by REBORNZ, Steven Rahbany, LittleRicky, Daniela Garcia Hamilton, Perseus Lira, Sara No Special Name, Rebecca Laws, Elizabeth Munzon, and Otha “Vaskeen” Davis III. Most of these artworks were crafted using acrylic, oil, and mixed media on canvas, with some pieces uniquely rendered on wood, enhancing their realism and surreal quality.

Review | Art Share L.A. : SOMOS, Photo Credit: Enrique Bautista

The atmosphere at the exhibit was charged with positivity, reflecting a community eager to learn about and celebrate Chicano culture. A recurring theme in various artists’ work was the commendable work ethic of Latinos, often stereotyped yet undervalued in terms of labor contribution.

Pieces by Elizabeth Munzon poignantly depicted an elderly Latino couple toiling in the fields, underscoring the relentless hard work often expected from the community. This exhibition seemed to underscore the aspirations of the newer generations for equitable recognition and compensation in the workforce. Stereotypes often portray Mexicans as willing to engage in hard labor for minimal pay. This perception has always been a source of discomfort for me, as our community is indeed known for its strong work ethic. The concept of shirking work is virtually non-existent in our culture, to the point where even expressing doubt about this might humorously result in one’s grandmother brandishing a chancla. However, there is a significant issue at hand: our dedication and hard work are frequently undervalued and inadequately compensated in the workforce. The SOMOS exhibit, through paintings by Elizabeth Munoz, poignantly addresses this theme by depicting an elderly Latino couple laboring in the fields. These works underscore the enduring strength and resilience of our community. I am optimistic that the forthcoming generation will boldly seek fair and equal compensation, rightfully recognizing the immense value we contribute to the workforce.

Review | Art Share L.A. : SOMOS, Photo Credit: Enrique Bautista

For visitors planning to experience SOMOS, I recommend stopping by Chuy Tacos Dorados, less than half a mile from Art Share L.A., for some crunchy tacos and horchata. Timing your visit during weekdays or early in the day could enhance the experience, allowing for easier parking and a less crowded gallery. The SOMOS exhibit offers not just artistic insights but also a profound understanding of Chicano culture. Until next time, Hasta Luego Chicharrone!

Review | Art Share L.A. : SOMOS, Photo Credit: Enrique Bautista

“Art Share provides a safe and creative environment for artists to live, work, develop, perform, and exhibit free from judgment and protects the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of working artists each year; representing the manifold social experiences and cultural voices of those living in and around our community; and infusing our community with the vibrant energy that comes from artists creating and sharing work.”

A bit about Homeboy Art Academy from their website:

Homeboy Art Academy strives to extend the mission of providing hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated youth and adults, by securing a space in which the arts can be the central modality to healing and transformation.

“SOMOS (We A re) originates from a declaration within the gang subculture — a call to stand firm with pride and dignity in our representation of communal identities and beliefs. In this exhibition, twelve LA artists reclaim and celebrate the culture as a testament to the anchor provided by our Pintores Maestros. These master artists have tirelessly upheld a cultural movement across generations, fostering a lasting legacy in our communities.

We continue to challenge the labels that seek to dictate what art is or how it is created. These art forms reflect more than technique, they represent deeply embedded personal narratives. Art, for us, is a mirror held up to our audience, eradicating the invisibility that has long persisted.”

Featured artists include: ARi, Showz Art, Onni Arte, Fabian Debora, Ricardo Estrada, Jesse Fregozo, Megumi Nakazawa, Rick Ortega, GIO, Obed Silva, Tonantzin 1901, and Esmeralda Villarreal

– Curator Fabian Debora, Executive Director of Homeboy Art Academy

Art Share can be found at 801 E 4th Pl, LA, CA, reached at 213.687.4278 and is open Tues – Sat, 1 -5pm.