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MACLA Goes ‘Beyond the Diaspora’

In Culture
BECOMING: Mixed-media, growth and self-affirmation all play a role in the ambitious collection 'Beyond the Diaspora.'

BECOMING: Mixed-media, growth and self-affirmation all play a role in the ambitious collection 'Beyond the Diaspora.'

Set against a concha-pink wall at San Jose’s Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana (MACLA), photographer Diamela Cutiño’s series of black and white paintings pop.

The effect is characteristic of the gallery’s kaleidoscopic new exhibit, Beyond the Diaspora, which explores concepts of belonging, exploitation and gentrification through a riot of color and emotion.

The new exhibit showcases Afro-Latinx artists from a mix of cultural backgrounds, gender and sexual identities and artistic experiences.

“We wanted to be intentional about who was in our space, especially our gallery, and who we are offering our platform to,” says curator Maryela Perez. “To me personally, that meant making sure as many identities as we can cover are being showcased.”

As a non-Black person, Perez wanted to highlight Afro-Latinx artists while being careful not to influence the narrative of the exhibit, wanting the art—and the artists—to speak for themselves.

“I personally didn’t feel comfortable curating this by myself,” Perez says. “So I brought on a small curatorial advisor team made up of Afro-Latinx folks.”

The team reached out to artists through social media and created the prismatic exhibit featuring artists, painters, illustrators, musicians, photographers and documentarians.

Ventura-based artist Vanessa Wallace-Gonzales says she was excited to have a place in the exhibit. Her works—which layer painted sheets of paper, resin, seashells and the delicate bodies of moths and butterflies—explore our layered identities and their connections to the divine and historical.

“Getting invited into the show, I was very excited,” Wallace-Gonzales says. “I’m glad spaces like this are focusing on marginalized communities that have multiple intersections.”

Wallace-Gonzales’s more two-dimensional works reveal themselves slowly, a quiet cacophony of faces turning towards one another. Her resin pieces erupt and take flight as moths and butterflies appear to leap and fly off the work.

“Vanessa means butterfly in Latin,” Wallace-Gonzales says. “They have a very visually obvious transformation process that I really relate to. That’s something that has helped me embrace my identity: knowing that we are not stagnant entities and we can redefine and be fluid as we wish.”

Beyond the Diaspora flows from Wallace-Gonzales’s ethereal works to Dominican photo artist Patricia Encarnacion’s meditative and dreamlike photo collages. Against a black wall, the verdant green leaves of jungles surround scenes of exploitation and appropriation, a commentary on tourism in places like Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

The series is called I am from where you vacation.

In an enclave, the works of DJ Leydis and Los Rakas—part music video and part documentary—explore Cuba and the political and cultural roots of Reggaeton.

Chilean-American artist Thomas Jones is known as a muralist and street artist. His smaller acrylic paintings featured in the exhibit are a departure from his usual medium, but still include the vibrant color and Indigenous African and South American influences of his murals.

Heavily influenced by psychedelics, nature and Afrofuturism, Jones’ paints appear to flow upwards in lava-lamp-like antigravity, envisioning metropolises that are clean, bright and harmonized with nature.

“It’s very utopian,” Jones says. “I’m thinking about how we are going to evolve in the future, working in a place without capitalism, money and all those systems. That peace.”

Oakland illustrator Robert Liu-Trujillo’s Sesame Street-like works depict a child’s ownership of her neighborhood as she fights against eviction. These pieces make issues like gentrification and tenant eviction accessible to children—who are rarely included in the conversation.

San Francisco-based artist Anna Lisa Escobedo was part of the curatorial advisory team. Her painting, La Unica, is placed before an altar of Black and Indigenous self-love. Inspired by Drag Race star and Black trans activist Honey Mahogany, La Unica is meant to encapsulate the essence of Black womanhood. A photo of Escobedo’s great aunt sits beside a vase of plastic flowers.

The altar, Escobedo says, allows audience members to reflect upon their own beauty and self-care.

“I want everyone to think of themselves as strong queens,” Escobedo says. “Let’s put our earrings and lipstick on and pull people away for a few minutes. We’ll get out the door and show the rest of the world how awesome we are.”

Beyond the Diaspora
Through March 13
Fri-Sun, 12-5pm, Free
MACLA, San Jose

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