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Interns in the Southland: The Charlie James Gallery

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Interns in the Southland: The Charlie James Gallery

Date: 
Thu, 2016-08-18
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The next stop on the intern’s exploration of Latinx art in LA led them to the Charlie James Gallery in Chinatown. The name of the current exhibition there is Southland, a group exhibition inspired by the greater Los Angeles area, and is curated by Patrick Martinez— artist and curator.


When curating this exhibition, Martinez’s eye concerned itself “less with Hollywood and the West Side, the areas of LA commonly exported to the rest of the country, and more with pockets of the city such as the San Gabriel Valley, the East Side of Los Angeles, North East LA, the Harbor Area, San Bernardino, the High Desert, and DTLA.” Martinez also made sure to recruit artists native to Los Angeles asking them to make work about their relationship to the city. This was very evident in the exhibition, which displayed numerous depictions of urban space and realities for residents of these neighborhoods. Not surprising is the fact that most of these spaces have high concentration of Latinx residents. The interns focused on how this exhibition centered those peoples’ lives and everyday experiences through artwork and representation.


There were three pieces in particular that caught the attention of the interns. One of the pieces was a painting replicating an image of Google Maps with a focus on North East and East LA. Typed into the search bar was “public pools” because all the public pools in that region are highlighted in red. For the interns, this piece reflects how community members in these areas of the city have so few and little access to public pools. Children of color and their families do not have readably accessible and a large range of options when it comes to going to the pool—something that seems so mundane and simple, especially under the often-brutal California heat. Another very impressionable piece was a larger painting depicting a scene of police brutality in Latinx communities. The dramatic scene depicts LA cultural symbols: palm trees, LAPD badge, and a man wearing a Dodgers hat. It also shows a police officer with a beating club hitting something, a raid of police officers, and helicopters peering down into the community as a man runs away—it was a very powerful piece. The last of these pieces was equally as thought-provoking. This piece consisted of a magazine cutout of a large lucrative home with a pool—a scene that very often gets used to depict and is representative of LA. However, painted over the magazine is a brown man hiding his face under a cap cleaning the pool. While LA gets imagined as a money-spinning city filled with celebrities, wealth, and mansions with pools, the reality is that thousands of Mexican and Latinx laborers are exploited, overworked, and underpaid to sustain this imagined reality. Because the man is deemed invisible in the eyes of most, being painted over the magazine was intended to disrupt the beauty and serenity of the fancy house and pool reminding people that he exists, that his time and labor are important, and that LA is a city of two tales.


These three pieces, along with many more in the exhibition, did a great job at depicting some of the most ignored lived realities and experiences of Latinxs in LA. Whether it be lack of public pools in neighborhoods, police brutality, or income disparities, this exhibition also reminds its visitors that Latinxs are able to thrive and form bonds with the people and spaces in the communities they inhabit.


Southland will run until the end of August at the Charlie James Gallery.