The Chicana Photographers L.A. exhibit opened in Weingart Thursday, Oct. 20, with a ceremony and panel discussion featuring artists Laura Aguilar, Star Montana, Aydinaneth Ortiz, Christina Fernandez and Sandra de la Lonza. The exhibit features the work of these five photographers from Southern California whose collections focus on the female body, family relationships, urban settings and the evolving cultural landscape of Los Angeles. The exhibit was organized by Oxy Arts and Avenue 50 Studio, a nonprofit art studio that exhibits work predominantly by Latinx artists.
The opening was crowded with a mix of over 40 art students, faculty and community members. Studio art major Lila Chu (senior) and physics major Tiggy Bayley (junior), an exchange student from the University of Bristol, both attended the opening for Professor Lyford’s Modern and Contemporary Art class, but agreed that they would have attended even if it were not required.
“There are not that many shows in Weingart so I think going is an important part of being a studio art student at Oxy,” Chu said. “It is an interesting way to see how Oxy Arts integrates the art world into school.”
Both Bayley and Chu commented on the show’s feminist theme.
“It’s explicitly moving away from white feminism and featuring Chicana women within L.A., which is recognizable to Oxy students and another reason why students might enjoy seeing the show,” Chu said.
De la Lonza moderated the panel, asking each artist to describe their work, how each artist discovered their passion for photography and their formal and informal education in the medium. De la Lonza’s work, part of a series she has titled “Stoner Spaces,” includes landscape photography that specifically focuses on youth spaces.
Aguilar, who is known for her nude portraits set in nature, according to the exhibit material, discovered photography when her brother gave her his old camera. Working for her college newspaper gave her access to a darkroom, according to Aguilar, and she described her introduction to photography as stumbling into everything but a formal education. She told the audience that she challenges herself and her comfort zone to evolve as an artist, which is how she began incorporating nudity and nature into her work 15 years ago.
Ortiz used photography as a way to escape family troubles, starting when one of her younger brothers was diagnosed with schizophrenia. According to Ortiz, during her education at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), she realized that she did not see any representation of her community within the art world, which she describes as very white. The portraits featured in this exhibit are from a more recent project she is working on titled “Hija de tu Madre.” The artist described the title of this particular project as a sentimental joke, which contrasts the more serious themes regarding similarities between mothers and daughters found within her work. Ortiz focuses on mothers who have migrated from other countries and whose daughters have taken advantage of educational opportunities. She attributes their educational drives to their mothers and how the daughters were raised.
“Part of this project was that I wanted to highlight these mothers and show that they are strong women. Part of it was the times, our current president and how he feels about migrants,” Ortiz said. “I wanted to show that we [the daughters] are important and they [the mothers] are important as well.”
Fernandez uses her artwork to address labor, gender and migration through photography and textile works. The specific pieces on display were from her thesis exhibit from the California Institue of the Arts (Cal Arts) focusing on garment factories. According to Fernandez, she was studying with a topographic group and wanted to apply their techniques to her own environment of Boyle Heights.
“There was this one incontinuity among the garment factories and that was these barred, impenetrable windows. Windows are meant to be looked out and looked into, yet all of us were prohibited from doing that, so I wanted to present a work that got at this separation but also dealt with a little bit of the life of the garment workers,” Fernandez said. “I wanted to convey some of the terror that these garment workers felt who had experienced immigration raids.”
Montana was born and raised in Boyle Heights and discovered photography at age 16. According to Montana, after a rebellious phase, photography became her way of creating instead of destroying. The portraits on exhibit are part of her project “I dream of Los Angeles,” which she started to satisfy her desire to photograph her community and a need for Boyle Heights representation.
“It’s about visual representation of people of color in my area and gentrification,” Montana said. “It is a very hot topic, but I feel that it is very superficial and people are not actually interested in talking about gentrification and the people it affects, but rather, about how they feel about gentrification.”
Montana’s three large portraits hang on the wall opposite the entrance to the gallery, on the only wall repainted for the exhibit. According to Sybil Veneers, the exhibition curator, she chose the dusty orange to keep with the southwestern theme of the exhibit; they are the only portraits in color and the first pieces a visitor sees upon entering the gallery.
Chicana Photographers L.A. is on display until Nov. 12. The gallery is open to the public and free of charge.