On a blistering Wednesday afternoon in the flatlands of Boyle Heights, the rhythmic hum of the Gold Line train and the distinct scent of oven-baked pizza create a sense of calm on First street. But inside Self Help Graphics & Art’s galleries, that calm gives way to the buzz of a venue preparing for opening night.  

Artist and curator Juan Silverio working with artist Manuel Lopez, whose work is on display at Self Help Graphics & Art.

Juan Silverio, a 22 year-old Los Angeles-raised artist, paces across the gallery floor as he gives instructions to a local sign maker on where to place the title to his exhibit –the finishing touches on over six weeks of work.

“The whole process of curating is really intense work… this project has been much more challenging than anything I have ever worked on.”

The third participant of Self Help Graphics’ Young Curator Program, Silverio was responsible for Hacer, Deshacer, y Rehacer, which explores the creation and recreation of the East Los Angeles landscape and the Latinx body through the works of established and emerging Latinx artists from the Eastside. The exhibit opened on August 9 and will be on view until September 22.

Vato Loco, 1973 Serigraph by Carlos Bueno.

The title of the show uses three verbs in Spanish and comes from the ways that Eastside artists produced artworks that reflected their world (Hacer), challenged cultural norms (Deshacer) and created new identities (Rehacer).

The two themes of the show, L.A.’s landscape and the Latinx body, were not initially intended to play off each other, but he said he now sees the similarities in the two themes.

“For landscape I was really interested in how artists witnessed their landscape, their community, and how they created, or recreated, their landscape through their art to be anything and everything but the glamour that L.A. is known for,” Silverio said.

“For the Latinx body, I really wanted to look at queer male artists because, in my view, there hasn’t been a lot of visibility for their work,” Silverio said. “But these artworks are telling really incredible stories, particularly about gender, sexuality, and masculinity.”

‘Hacer, Deshacer, y Rehacer’

Silverio said that one of his favorite items in the exhibit is one by Rigo Maldonado called Hard to Swallow because it resonates with him in the way that it “confronts and addresses masculinity in Latino/Chicano culture.”

The show also features artwork from well known Eastside artists Frank Hernández, Carlos Bueno, and others, along with emerging artists.

Silverio said that one of the most important lessons he learned by curating the exhibit was making sure that he “stayed truthful to what the works are doing and what the artist intended,” and making sure that “you don’t just put two works of art next to each other to fit your narrative.”

Silverio, a first-generation UC Santa Barbara Art and Chicanx Studies student, was born and raised in Koreatown by immigrant parents from Mexico who work in the garment industry. Silverio said that his parents’ immigrant status, his Mexican culture, and his queer identity all influence the artwork he produces.

“I’ve always been really interested in exploring coming of age themes,” Silverio said. “I think it’s my way of processing those experiences. Working through the great things [about my Mexican heritage], exploring the trauma that lies underneath, and using that to brown and queer up a space.”  

Silverio added that growing up in a Mexican household while identifying as queer was a challenge.

“I understand the root of the culture and how that manifested into patriarchy and all these other things that come together to sculpt a non-queer friendly space and culture,” Silverio said.  “It’s difficult to navigate that [and perform so much] emotional labor to continually work through it.”

Although he’s an accomplished young artist at UCSB, his own artwork is not part of the exhibit, focusing instead on telling a story.

Curating for Self Help Graphics

Silverio said that curator positions are not normally filled by people of color.

“That’s part of the reason why the [Young Curator Program] exists,” said Betty Ávila, the new executive director at Self Help Graphics. “We didn’t have a path for young artists of color who were interested in interpreting and telling the stories of their community.”

Silverio in front of his work, “Birth of Nauj.”

Ávila said that the Young Curator Program resulted from a 19 year old Boyle Heights artists who wanted to use the Self Help Graphics galleries to put on a show. She said the show ended up “being the the biggest opening of the year,” prompting Self Help Graphics to open a path for young curators that is not “filtered through a white lens.”

“Artists of color are producing so much work that ends up in museum collections,” Avila said “But what does that mean if we don’t have people from our community in positions where they can properly interpret artwork and not do so through a stereotypical lens that labels groups as ‘Other.’ There’s a lack of opportunity in this field for people of color and that Self Help Graphics hopes to help address.”

She said Silverio proved to be an excellent candidate for the program because he was able to “roll with the punches” and excel in a nonprofit arts organization.

John Decemvirale, a UCSB Ph.D. candidate and Silverio’s mentor in the program, said that Silverio “helped create a conversation between an older generations of Boyle Heights artists and emerging artists today to show that many of the same issues in the community are still happening.”

Silverio said that he hopes the conversation he tried to create between the artworks will cause visitors to look inward.

“I want them to be really reflective,” Silverio said. “Especially about the body because we are diving into difficult topics. And I hope that we will be able to start those conversations.”

All photos courtesy of Self Help Graphics & Art.

Hacer, Deshacer, y Rehacer

Exhibition ends Sept. 22

Galleries open Wed – Fri, 10am to 5pm

Self Help Graphics & Art

1300 E. 1st Street

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