east l.a.'s latinx culture in images: from tattoos to tommy jeans
‘East Side Story,’ a new group exhibition in L.A., celebrates the city’s historic Hispanic enclave through its curator’s lived experiences.
Technically, Gil Veni Vici hails from one of Los Angeles's least racially diverse enclaves. El Sereno — the East L.A. neighborhood where the model, designer, and most recently, curator was born and raised — is largely Latinx; over 80% of its residents identify as Hispanic. The vast majority of them, like Gil, are of Mexican descent. While these demographic statistics are true, "least diverse" in no way reflects the region's vibrant history and richly elastic culture. So Gil sought to celebrate his community by creating a deeply personal window into it; for East Side Story, a new group show he curated at HVW8 Gallery's Los Angeles outpost, he tasked 14 artists to create work they feel represents the Latinx landmark. Often, Gil himself is at the center of the portraits — proudly embodying all the things that make his home so special.
East Side Story includes images by photographers both established and emerging, among them Estevan Oriol, former professional skater Steve Olson, Dan Regan, and Adri Law. In Oriol's black and white portrait, Gil stands stoically in a suit in front of a vintage car, and wears his long hair braided. In Rick Rodney's photograph, he rocks a boxy Tommy Jeans jacket. Both images feel reminiscent of what can be found flipping through @veteranas_and_rucas — a public archive of Southern California's Chicano youth. The account spans images of dapperly suited 40s dandies, lowrider car enthusiasts, rave-loving "party crews," devoted Brit-pop fans, and some seriously excellent workwear, not unlike Gil's jacket.
In addition to these portraits, East Side Story also incorporates installations designed to make the gallery space feel more like a familiar neighborhood: there are religious objects and iconography, live parakeets in brightly hued cages, pillared cakes, piñatas, a wall of tri-color Novena candles, plus a few dirt bikes and lowrider whips. A mariachi violinist even performed at its opening party. And given a certain presidential candidate's divisive, racist rhetoric, shows that celebrate America's wonderfully varied cultures and communities are exactly what we want to see more of.
'East Side Story' is on view at HVW8 Gallery through October 16, more information here.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Estevan Oriol