"We All Felt The Same Way": The "Latinx World" Art Show at The Dojo
Written by Erin Roux
It was 70 degrees and the sun was setting. Outside a nondescript building in Pilsen, Chicago, a young girl with brown skin and brown hair squealed “Party!”. Her smile was bright along with the dusk light and her pastel dress.
On July 1st, The Dojo, a house converted to a DIY haven for dialogue searchers and creative minds alike, hosted the “Latinx World” art show to amplify the voices of the Latinx community through an engaging art showcase.
The clean white walls were decorated with the vibrant voices of Latinx artists, a striking contrast. Adolescents of different sizes and colors walked freely through the gallery, the carefully yet chaotically postered hallway, the intimate, low-ceilinged kitchen, and backrooms all filled with different mediums of art. Photos, writing, mixed media, interpretive performance, paintings, and clothing all danced within the numerous nooks and crannies of The Dojo. It was the house party you always wanted to go to, with more poetry and just as much sweat.
Alex Palma, a curator and organizer for “Latinx World” as well as habitant of The Dojo, spoke on his intentions and aspirations for this event.
“When space is provided for artists to openly express themselves in a multicultural environment, the viewer can experience and witness the artist's point of view, voice, and perspective on their environment,” Palma says. “Since art is a mode of communication, the viewer can take in another person's culture.”
People of Latinx culture as well as other cultures swarmed to The Dojo to experience this “eclectic mix of people with various connections culturally across Central and South America.”
“When we walked by, we actually didn’t know if this was the right place,” attendee Becca Browne says. “But we just said, ‘If it isn’t, we’re staying here anyway!’ It’s so inviting and lively, and there’s such a culture here.”
The event provided a safe and open space to showcase a culture, and for people to learn.
The Dojo has hosted events celebrating intersectionality, Black History Month, women, women of color, and other collections of art, but not one which focuses on Latinx art or their immediate local community in Pilsen. This sparked the creation of the event.
“I wanted to throw a show to celebrate Latinx folks, as I haven't thrown a show in alignment with my heritage yet, which is Mexican-American,” Palma says.
Palma lead event attendees into the courtyard just outside. It held a content crowd surrounding artists standing on a stone patio. Prose writers, spoken word poets, and storytellers all took turns shining light on their experiences in the Latinx community. Whether it be about anti-immigration phonecalls, the gentrification of Chicago neighborhoods, or experiences being an Afro-Latina, all had their say.
Puerto Rican poet Luis Tubens, self-proclaimed “Logan Lu,” proudly represented his home neighborhood of Logan Square by performing a few outstanding poems and rhythmic spoken word songs.
“My good friend and Latinx organizer, Lester Rey, invited me to perform,” Tubens says. “This space is important to perform my work because it provides an interesting intersection of a non-Latinx centric space in a majority Latino hood. The show offered me the opportunity to reach an audience that otherwise would have not experienced my work.”
DIY spaces such as The Dojo provide for a unique opportunity for artists, especially marginalized artists and people of color, to showcase their art in an open and accepting space.
“Sometimes it is the only space that would allow an artist like me to perform,” Tubens says. “I have two equal goals that I attempt to achieve at the same time. One is to capture the audience through entertainment. If I cannot do that, then my content means nothing, as it will not be heard. My other goal is to provide content that revolves around the themes of identity or social consciousness. I want to have something to say.”
The next group performance certainly had something of importance to communicate as well. In the warm, pink glow of the low-ceilinged basement came a beautiful theatrical performance from a Pilsen-based group formed in September 2015 called FEMelanin. They are a small group of women of color who write and perform original pieces regarding misrepresentation, gentrification, and sexism, amongst other topics.
FEMelanin is looking to open a theater in Pilsen, but for now they perform their work in various festivals. The audience was met with song, dance, humor, perspective, and the question: “What did you learn about your body through the eyes of others?”
Guests were constantly met with friendly yet persistent calls to see a new perspective, to step into The Latinx World, to feel that The Latinx World is a vibrant and lively place that truly thrives.
Palma feels as though this space will continue to live on past the warm and sweaty hours of the event.
“I think the most important thing was that all of the art, celebration, and discourse was held in a open and receptive environment, so that experiencing it as one cohesive experience was memorable.”
The Dojo is a space full of simultaneity, stimulation, and unity. The Dojo is a feeling, an experience that is open to everyone, that holds the microphone out to voices that are often muted by society.
Contact Erin by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
All photos courtesy of Megan Stringer