For some artists of color, getting help from local community organizations is just the boost they need for visibility in the art world.
This is why a new pop-up gallery, The Art Space OC, has emerged on Third Street in Downtown Santa Ana.
The Art Space OC Gallery is a collaborative effort between Casa Bloom Studios, a co-working space for entrepreneurs, and Community Engagement, a non-profit dedicated to sponsoring and providing resources for local artists.
For these artists, support is crucial.
Like a gallery to showcase their work.
The narratives told by artists of color in US museums are few in between.
Museums across the country are still working towards diversifying their collections.
But equity is lacking.
In major museums, artists of color are still considered a minority.
More than 80 percent are white.
That’s why local organizers say highlighting local artists of color is essential and grassroots curation is necessary.
“As a woman of color, I know firsthand we are not presented with the same opportunities, so it’s very important for me to hold space for BIPOC people and promote diversity in our community through the studio,” said Loni Paniagua, owner of Casa Bloom Studios.
“This is why this pop-up exists,” adds Community Engagement Executive Board Member Madeline Spencer, “to share their artistic narratives.”
On Fifth Street, brick-and-mortar galleries like Santa Ana Crear Studio are among the few Santa Ana galleries hoping to also help local BIPOC artists.
“It is extremely important we take space to create visibility for all of us local artists who have been establishing Santa Ana and OC from the ground up, most of the time with no long-term funding support,” explains Sarah Rafael García, LMAC Founder and Crear Studio Gallery Director.
The monthly exhibits will run through November, with a final exhibit showcasing all the artists in one final show on Dec. 2 at The Art Space OC to fundraise for the series.
Meet the five different artists making The Art Space OC their canvas.
Britt Samuels, 49, is a Black Orange County photographer who picked up a camera early in his adolescence in school. “I have been taking photos since I was 12,” says Samuels.
However, five years ago, Samuels jumped into commercial photography after working corporate jobs, “Something told me I wanted to do my art,” recalled Samuels.
Samuels, who has never shown his work in a gallery space, hopes to become a fashion photographer.
The experience of hanging work, printing, and framing in the pop-up gallery has impacted Samuels unexpectedly.
“People think I have been doing this for years, but this is my first show ever. I have been to enough galleries and know my expectations, but having this [exhibition], having perfect strangers admiring your work, is pretty amazing and good exposure. If I don’t sell anything, it still makes me happy.”
Samuel’s exhibit, “New Gods,” was showcased in July.
The monochromatic photographs featured models and everyday people posed on a literal pedestal while nude.
“I love antiquities, and I love Greek mythology and Egyptology, so I wanted to create something that just showed the admiration of the body,” explained Samuels,” When I look at these, you have two subjects: the pedestal and the model. It’s just really showing their strength.”
Samuels is proud to showcase his first show in Orange County while acknowledging the obstacles he has come across.
“Being a person of color in Orange County has its challenges, so I think that was kind of like my reservation to, you know, ‘where can I put my work out?’” said Samuels, “this was a special show for me; it’s putting me out there, even more, to just go for it.”
You can purchase Samuel’s prints here.
Albertina Norman, 39, is a Chilean artist who has had a passion for art from a young age. Norman, who has an identical twin, constantly searched for her own identity growing up.
“People always saw us twins as a unit,” says Norman, “My art made me feel unique.”
Whether Norman takes inspiration from Andy Warhol or David Lynch’s works, she constantly finds herself creating.
So much so that she balances a full-time job and creates after her shifts, to start, Norman uses all the resources she can find.
Sometimes those resources come from her friends and families, asking for clothing to create costumes for her next look.
Norman’s costumes for her photographs are a labor of love, and she doesn’t mind involving her community.
And her community shows up for her.
For one particular shoot, Norman recreated Frida Kahlo’s looks and used some of her costume pieces from a friend’s daughter’s Folklorico skirts, and used her twin in one of the images.
Norman, whose exhibit is currently on view at The Arts Space OC, showcases self-portraits with a nod to surrealist women artists, such as Dora Maar, Leonar Finni and others.
The homage to the surrealist woman comes in the form of her self-portraits.
“I want to shine the light on surrealist women and their artwork and how they are just not muses for men artists, but muses for themselves and what they are representing and what they want to say,” said Norman, “I want to shed light on surrealist women artists and how they inspired me.”
Norman’s photographic work is up until the end of the month.
William Camargo, 34, is a Mexican American photographer telling stories about his Anaheim neighborhood.
Camargo believes a camera can be used as a tool to change the course of how communities of color have been represented through images in history.
“This tool can be used for liberation, expression, storytelling, breaking stereotypes,” explained Camargo.
Camargo’s most recent showing was at the renowned, The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture of the Riverside Art Museum, where he exhibited images from his signage series, “Origins and Displacements,” where his images tell stories of the history of Anaheim Orange Grove workers, impacts of having Disneyland Park as a neighbor, and what he observes are quickly gentrifying areas in his city of Anaheim.
But despite being shown in large museums, Camargo says he sees the importance in DIY spaces because of their connection to the working class.
“I never went to museums until my 20s, so knowing that a family can walk by here and see some art, people that maybe their history is not talked about will see themselves in those images,” said Camargo.
Camargo says he plans to showcase work made in Anaheim and Orange County.
You can see his work starting Sept. 2.
Karissa Raya, 34, is a local Santa Ana-born photographer who bought her first camera as a teenager while working as a lifeguard at the Santa Ana El Salvador Community Pool in the Artesia Pilar neighborhood.
To this day, Raya has kept up with taking images centering on a subject she calls “taboo.”
Birth workers, and reimagining birth.
Which is happening all over the United States.
“Birth workers reclaiming ancestral and indigenous medicine and wisdom in birth work for their own personal and community healing,” explained Raya.
As a birth photographer, Raya is there when a mother gives birth, a moment she calls “sacred.”
“My vision is that birth becomes more normalized in every country and space, even if you don’t want to have children. You should know what it’s like to have been born and to be born so that you can support other people,” said Raya.
Rayas mission doesn’t stop there; she also advocates for more holistic ways to give birth, which she says is “abuelita knowledge.”
Like the birth work that many Latina grandmothers did back in their countries.
“There was a lot of wisdom there,” says Raya.
“A lot of people are reclaiming those practices and birth specifically because the contemporary birth space is very sterile, and it doesn’t incorporate culture,” said Raya.
Raya has amassed a collection of photographs of women who she says are excited to tell their stories of motherhood.
You can see them in a gallery setting for the first time on display starting Nov. 4th.
Steady Jenny, 37, is a Syrian and Cuban photographer from Orange County.
For SteadyJenny, working with photography began in the darkroom of her high school, which she credits, to her teacher, Mr. M, who helped her sell her very first print.
For the past 20 years, Jenny has made countless photographs.
For her exhibit in the month of October, she will be showcasing her show: LIBRA SZN.
“It is an invigorating and cozy feeling to share my art in a community that values and supports me. There’s nothing that compares to the feeling of seeing images on paper, in real life. We live enough of our lives on digital screens. These little squares don’t do the work justice. This is my first time showing my creations since pre-pandemic times, and it is time,” said Jenny.
The images will feature work from the past decades where she explores themes of “visions, meanderings, discoveries, and heartbreaks,” said Jenny in an interview “Also, chicken feet. That last part will make sense to anyone who attends. Prepare for chicken feet on opening night.”
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