Many artists and designers grapple with questions of identity. For artists and designers of color, these questions often take on additional layers of complexity. Last term, more than 20 ArtCenter students and alumni contributed work to Represent: Power in Color, a one-day exhibition at Pasadena’s The Armory Center for the Arts that explored themes of representation.
Presented by ArtCenter student groups Antiracist Classroom and CHROMA, and organized by students Sophia de Lara (Advertising), Benin Marshall (Graphic Design) and Lauren Williams (Graduate Media Design Practices) and alum Shivangi Singh (MS 18 Environmental Design), the exhibition highlighted the creative practices of Latinx, Asian, Black and Indigenous artists.
“In [the fields of art and design], people of color are too often underrepresented, misrepresented, or rendered invisible in spite of our deep contributions to art, design, craft and cultural production,” reads the exhibition’s website. “Other times, the creative contributions made by people of color are tokenized in such a way that overshadows the work itself.”
At the exhibition, which was attended by more than 100 guests, viewers not only took in the work on display, but accompanying wall text helped place each artist and their work in a greater context.
Film alumnus Steven Butler’s (BFA 2013) Living Room was inspired by his experience as a target of racial profiling by the Burbank Police Department. “The fact that I was seen as a criminal first and a person second by this authority figure really hit home,” read Butler’s artist statement. “Afterward, I did some soul searching and thought about the images that have been ingrained in my brain from TV, movies and advertising throughout my entire life.”
In the immersive video installation, Butler offers a glimpse into a world in which popular media represents Blackness equitably. Viewers are invited to sit down in a living room inspired by Butler’s childhood and watch a TV that presents imagery that both confronts their media-based biases against Black people and invites them to “create new pathways to viewing Blackness.”
The work on display by Photography and Imaging student Maribel Barcena Lopez explored her sense of identity as a Mexican American woman who was born in Los Angeles, but spent much of her life in Mexico, splitting time between Jalisco, Michoacán and Tijuana. “I come from a place of constant duality: two cultures, two languages, two perspectives, two lives,” read her artist statement. “My entire life, I have traveled back and forth between two places.”
Barcena Lopez’s works featured imagery grounded in her bicultural upbringing and that balances cinematic glamour with a nearly documentarian approach. Her statement described the collection on display as a beginning. “[It is] the foundation of being able to not just understand who I am and where I come from, but also how to produce work that reflects, communicates and transforms,” it read. “It is the start of an exploration of cultural duality, identity and transcendence.”
In his statement, Fine Art student Xiucoatl Mejia, who had multiple paintings in the exhibition, described himself as “[c]oming from a culture and history that has been seen as lost or destroyed by colonialism and genocide.” Mejia apprenticed for eight years underneath his father and indigenous tattoo pioneer Antonia Mejia. One of his works on display, Tlazocamati Tonanzintlali, depicts the Virgin of Guadalupe transformed into a hummingbird—the avian species is not only native to Americas but the Aztecs also believed the small birds were reincarnated warriors.
“It is important to me that I create my art not only as a representation of myself and my lineage, but as a direct resistance of the false ideology of its absence in modern time,” read Mejia’s statement of his work, which reflects his perspective in the punk, Indigenous and tattoo communities of his upbringing. It went on to describe his work as both a documentation of the indigenous community and medicines he grew up with and also “the evolution and growth of our cultura and arte as we harmonize with the four directions and sky above us.”
Also included in the exhibition was a work by first generation Filipino-American and Fine Art student Camille Papa, who was born and raised in Historic Filipinotown in Los Angeles. According to Papa’s artist statement, Pag-alala kung ano ang naging iyong tahanan is a “quilt that pays homage to my parents’ hometown while also featuring embroidered text that reflects my personal anxiety around what it means to be an ‘American’ and what it means to be a Filipina in the United States.”
Papa’s practice often involves creating soft sculptures and installations that appropriate documents and objects that tell the story of her family’s immigration to the United States. “Since my trip back to the Philippines in 2017, I have found myself falling unconditionally in love with the home country my parents lived in most of their youth,” continued Papa’s statement. “Seeing, breathing, and feeling the land of the Philippines left an impression on me as it held something my own identity was missing.”
To learn more about the artists and work featured at Represent, visit the exhibition’s website.