A figure in profile with short hair and light-brown skin gazes out of frame and wears a blue polo, blue mask, red bandana, and black hat—painted against a deep red background with a centered white circle.

Celebrating the Complexity of Chicanx Identity Through Community Arts: Jake Prendez Interviewed

Jake Prendez, Essential Santos, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.

Jake Prendez’s art is as untraditional as his career. From “good kid,” to gang involvement, a master’s degree in Chicano studies and co-owner of Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery, it has been a journey. Prendez grew up in Bothell, WA, and spent fifteen years in Los Angeles before returning to open Nepantla in the White Center neighborhood of Seattle. The intentional choice to plant Nepantla in a neighborhood where it is surrounded by culture, despite ever-present gentrification in Seattle, is emblematic of the approach Prendez has taken throughout his career as an activist and artist. Culture, language, and place are prominent themes in Prendez’s work, which often features antigua imagery and evocative representations of Mexican food with modern Chicanx subjects. —katie wills evans

katie wills evans: From the Pop Up Mercado and The Barrio Boogie Collective to the Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery, you have repeatedly worked in collectives and communal settings. Why is that?

Jake Prendez: You know, I had a crew from middle school on that was important to me. We thought we were badass. It was called “different shades of brown.” It was the homies—we were Black, Mexican, Peruvian, Cambodian, and Filipino. Then, as I got older and became a part of different community organizations, whether they were civil rights or Chicano type organizations, I’ve always kind of worked with collectives. I guess I’m comfortable in that scene. Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery is me and Judy Avitia-Gonzalez, so it’s a team too. I think “Jake Prendez, the artist” is one of the first times I’ve ventured out on my own and it’s just my name attached to it. A lot of times that just feels weird. I’m more comfortable in a communal space getting together with people with other great ideas and bouncing things off of each other. I think about that a lot when Judy and I are working together. I love bouncing ideas off her. I’m a very ideas driven person, but Judy is great at helping me organize a lot of those things that might not come to fruition otherwise. It’s incredible having someone on your side that really complements you.

kwe: You were diagnosed with dyslexia later in life. How does knowing this about yourself now impact how you view yourself as a person and an artist?

JP: It’s a really important part of my life, but I didn’t find out I was dyslexic until I was done with the coursework for my grad program. My parents wanted me tested for dyslexia when I was in first grade, when I was writing Jacob with backwards Bs, so “Jacod.” I always had trouble with spelling, and later on with math. The school refused to test me. They said, “No, he’s not dyslexic. We don’t need to test him.” It’s an expensive test, and they just didn’t want to pay for it. Instead, I was in special help classes throughout elementary school. A couple of kids in the class and I would have to go in the coat room with a Special Ed teacher. You’d have to walk out in front of all your classmates and friends. It was just so humiliating. I grew up with very low self-esteem, always thinking, “I’m stupid, I’m dumb,” and it played out in really negative ways. I got involved in gangs and lashed out when I got to middle school. I went from the really good kid to an angry teenager. I performed badly in high school and barely graduated. Later, I learned studying techniques and things like that once I got into college.

Jake Prendez, Genetic Memory, 2018. 36 x 24 inches. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

It was important for me to get a diagnosis, just for the “I-told-you-so factor.” It was an emotional process because I always had impostor syndrome in school. I was always scared they were going to find out I was dumb and kick me out of college. I was telling that to the person who tested me and she said that’s very common with people with dyslexia. She said, “You feel like you’re faking it because you’ve had to learn alternative study methods. For it to make sense in your brain, you’re doing twice the work everyone else is. You have to take that information, convert it into a way that makes sense to your brain, and then regurgitate it.”

I remember one of the first things that really hit me was that there are things I’m just not going to be good at, things that are harder for me. But I realized, why dwell on these things that I’m not good at? Instead, why not pursue things that I am gifted in? I’m going to have a much happier life, I think. The test was good because it motivated me to throw myself into art. I figured I might as well focus on my talents and not my deficiencies.

kwe: Since your master’s thesis you have linked art and social justice. What’s the connection between the two for you?

JP: I was going to do a double major in art and ethnic studies at University of Washington. In the art program, I was already being told my art was too “ethnic.” At that point, I decided that I didn’t want to study art there. So, I focused on ethnic studies and really stopped creating art for almost ten years. After that, I did my Masters in Chicano studies. I was still always interested in art, but I wasn’t necessarily creating at that time.

My master’s thesis was called “The Art of Rebellion.” It was about social justice in Chicano visual arts. I end up taking a class with a Yreina Cervantez, a famous Chicana artist. It was a Chicano studies class, but it was also a painting class. I just fell in love with art all over again. It was fortunate for me because I wasn’t on the traditional path.

I really don’t have much art training—I’ve taken maybe four art classes in my life. But when I did get into art, I already had this background in ethnic studies, Chicano studies, and social justice, which framed and informed the art that I was creating. I was studying things like Mexican muralism and what the greats—Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Siqueiros—were doing and how they influenced social realism in the depression era. I thought, “That appeals to me. I can do something like that.” You know, I paint what I want. I’m not necessarily trying to paint for a specific cause, but those are the things that are important to me, so it just kind of naturally comes out in the paint.

Jake Prendez, My Ancestors Got My Back, 2019. 30 x 24 inches. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

kwe: Nepantla, the name of cultural arts gallery you co-own, is a word in the Nahuatl language. What does it mean generally and to you?

JP: Nepantla means the space in between. It was popularized by Gloria Anzaldúa, a famous Chicana writer, who wrote the book Borderlands. I remember in college reading that book and thinking a lot about that idea of Nepantla. It could be cultural—the idea that you’re not Mexican enough for Mexico, you’re not American enough for the United States. The idea can apply to identity too. It relates to gender norms, racial and ethnic identity, and so many different things. But in each space, Nepantla is where you heal, you rejuvenate, you create. When Judy and I were opening Nepantla, we agreed that we wanted to heal the community; we’re rejuvenating, we’re creating in this space. It felt like the perfect word.

kwe: Can you speak to the use of language in general in your paintings?

JP: You know, it’s funny because my Spanish really sucks. There’s a term “pocho,” which means kind of like Americanized Mexican. It’s something our families in Mexico will call us. “You’re a pocho, man!” I’m third generation, so that language has really been lost with my cousins and me. There are words we still use that are residual culture. It’s still a part of our identity and lives. My family uses a lot of Spanglish. It’s funny just to see how language changes in communities.

I was in New Mexico one time and they had a laundromat there. Instead of being called a laundromat or a lavandería, it was “Washateria.” I was like, whoa! That is the most Spanglish thing I’ve ever seen. That’s awesome. I exist in that Spanglish world. There are Spanish words without any English equivalent that really does them justice. So, a lot of times, the title of a painting might be Spanglish, Spanish, or English. Sometimes I’m working on something that is talking about ancestors and it’s influenced by Indigenous culture and I’ll use Indigenous language to title the painting. It really depends on the piece and where it’s coming from.

I love how language adapts. I love slang, especially Chicano slang. For example, Caló, which is a kind of Mexican Spanish slang that originated in the early twentieth century in the Southwestern US. It’s Spanish, it’s English, it’s Nahuatl, and it’s other languages. There are things you’ll say and not realize that it might not even be a Spanish word. You think it’s Spanish, but that’s an Aztec word. Language is beautiful.

Jake Prendez, A Little Prayer for Those Who Migrate, 2018. 36 x 24 inches. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

kwe: The inclusion of Antigua imagery seems to be a recurring theme in your work. How does incorporating this imagery in more modern scenes relate to your feelings about history and Indigenousness?

JP: There are a few milestones in your life that adapt and change what you’re creating. I did a trip to Guanajuato, Mexico, to do some murals with ten other artists. We were there for two weeks seeing and being in the motherland, seeing Indigenous cultures. My art when I came back was much more heavily influenced by Indigenous culture and this idea of connection to our ancestors. I think being someone who was separated culturally from my ancestors but hearing their stories impacts me, you know?

There is a story about my great-great-great grandpa, who was this Indigenous man who couldn’t stand living in town for too long. He would leave the family and go up into the mountains and then come back a year or two later. One time, he left for a while. When he came back his wife was remarried and had a new family. That history in me too. I have these moments where I’m feeling the claustrophobia of being in the city and I just want to go out in the middle of nowhere and I think, “man, is that something in my DNA?”

I hear people talking about Indigenous people and culture, especially Mexican Indigenous cultures, like they disappeared. Like what happened to the Mayans? As if they are extinct now. No! They’re not extinct. They are still there. Our culture survives not just in the way we look, but in the way we dance, the way we cook, the way we raise our children, the way we work with our elders. That’s that residual culture that’s passed down. It’s in your DNA.

I think a lot of work in the “Cultural Resilience” series, was all about that. I was doing these portraits of friends and then painting Indigenous symbols over the portraits that represented that Indigenous culture that we walk around with every day. My “Contemporary Codices” series which was about creating these codices, but each in the style of our ancestors. It’s everyday life today, right? You have a Paletero, you have a college student, you have a girl taking a selfie. They’re things you still see, but in style of our ancestors. The combination is my way of reconnecting with my roots.

In an intimate photo of a work on white paper, streaks of black and blue race across the page in feverish movement,.

sidony o’neal: AuguRing

What can the drama of low dimensional objects/relations reveal about n-dimensional objects/relations?

For this exhibition new works are motivated by philosophies of mathematics and conjectures in algebraic topology. Research in “open problems” often necessitates mathematical proof of existence/non-existence, development of techniques for the negation/construction of objects, and/or elaboration of intimate relationships among them. I engage some basic elements of these techniques toward the study of the “child object”—a term pro tempore that I have previously used to approach the material, affective, and intuitive relations between rendered objects and environments and internal objects and environments.

From here: landscape, time-consciousness, and inheritance are positioned not as symbols, but as post-digital relations that function with and beyond the onto-epistemic logic of some temporal objects. That is: a sculpture is sometimes an embedded graph, a local moss. A render dreams of becoming a transit system—generalizing over a rectilinear vision of 0D metric space. A “game site” serves as a category within a grave site, which is always the counting device ordered under n-dimensional shadow. Let a drawing return (in) time.

Where healing and longevity is concerned, does respiration always supervene?

sidony o’neal is an artist and writer based in Portland, OR. Recent group and solo exhibitions include SculptureCenter and Fourteen30 Contemporary.

Text accompanying the exhibition by Safia Chettih is available as a PDF online: https://veronica-projectspace.com/current
Appointment scheduling link: https://veronica-projectspace.com/30min-visit-scheduling

(AuguRing is supported in part by Western Bridge.)

A cabinet contains a few small items: the heads and arms of tiny figures, a painting of a black woman in a blue dress, a white car that reads "race, kind, sort."

Lisa Myers Bulmash: Holding Patterns

How can this be “an unprecedented moment in history” when Black people have seen — and survived — even worse? We are so often the first to be hit by tragedy. Today COVID-19 kills nearly three times more African Americans than white people. Forty years ago, we were dying of AIDS faster than any other group; before that, tuberculosis. You could make similar points about police-involved killings, sexual predators, climate change forcing people out of their homes.

We are all waiting for what comes next. But it’s hard to tell if we’re waiting to touch down into a more humane future, or waiting for The End.

I may be stuck in this holding pattern with the pandemic, the racist fallout from the last four years, and my rage at feeling so vulnerable as a Black woman. But as I wait, I can transform these anxieties into collages, altered books and other works of art. I can attempt to bring something more loving, truthful and melanin-rich into existence. And I hope to show viewers that they are not alone in this precarious time.

Lisa Myers Bulmash is a collage and book artist who works primarily in acrylics, paper and found objects. Informally trained, Myers Bulmash began her career making handmade cards. After her father’s death in 2006, the artist felt compelled to take more personal risks in her creative life. Questions of identity, trust and the imperfect memory now drive most of her work. The artist aims to nudge the viewer into recognizing our shared stories, especially those narratives that are usually experienced in isolation.

Collage work by Myers Bulmash resides in two city art collections: Shoreline and Seattle. The latter includes art by Barbara Earl Thomas, Dale Chihuly and Kara Walker. She is also the winner of a Sustainable Arts Foundation grant, an award to support artists with children under age 18. The artist’s work and commentary have been highlighted in five books as well. Myers Bulmash exhibits her work in group and solo shows throughout the Seattle metro area. On the East Coast, she is represented by Morton Fine Art Gallery.

A painting of orange and red flowers on a light blue background. The flowers seem to be floating through a blue sky, with silver and purple swirls and white dots weaving around them.

Art on the Mind: Ten Years of Creative Aging

Many of us know or have known someone who is living with dementia, a condition in which people experience a shift in their perception of the world due to changes in the brain, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common type. Individuals living with dementia have a wide spectrum of abilities and experiences, and the acts of creating and discussing art introduce new forms of self-expression that meet different needs.

In the past decade, the Frye Art Museum has presented a variety of Creative Aging programs, including small-group experiences in the galleries and art studio, one-on-one art-making in community care facilities, and conferences and workshops on creativity, dementia, and healthy aging that bring together social services and health-care professionals. Designed to alleviate some of the social, emotional, and financial challenges that a person living with dementia may face, the Frye’s Creative Aging programs serve as opportunities to deepen their life experiences, foster friendships, and build community through art.

This exhibition shares stories and works of art that highlight the experiences of people living with dementia, their care partners, and those who help make the programs happen, including teaching artists, volunteers, and the Creative Aging Advisory Committee. Their experiences are testimony to the success of arts engagement programs in bringing joy, respect, and dignity to people living with dementia while destigmatizing the disease.

 

Installation view of Cross Section, 1956, Franz Kline, and Untitled, 1954, Philip Guston, in the home of Virginia Wright.

City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art That Shaped a New Seattle

Virginia “Jinny” Wright (1929-2020) played a pivotal role in the cultural development of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Along with her husband Bagley (1924–2011), Jinny (as friends called her) wanted to make Seattle and the Northwest a premier venue for the arts, generously supporting numerous cultural institutions including SAM. City of Tomorrow tells the story of the future-focused initiatives spearheaded by Virginia Wright. Landmark modern and contemporary paintings, sculptures, drawings, and photographs from the illustrious Wright collection are complemented by historical ephemera that trace formative moments and initiatives, including the organization of the Contemporary Arts Council that brought major contemporary exhibitions to the Fine Arts Pavilion in the 1960s before SAM had a department of modern and contemporary art. You’ll follow Jinny’s intuitive eye and journey of discovery starting in the 1950s as it led her from celebrated to lesser-known artists of the moment, all of whom are now icons, including Carl Andre, Helen Frankenthaler, Philip Guston, David Hammons, Jasper Johns, Franz Kline, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Frank Stella, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol, and many more. Yet this is just the beginning of the story as Virginia Wright championed and funded works in public spaces around Seattle and beyond and spearheaded initiatives to benefit the entire region.

A collage of imagery related to the fight for womens right to vote. In the foreground, a woman with brown eyes and brown hair looks out at the viewer. Behind her, black and white images of Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, and other Black women activists layer over newspaper clippings with articles about voting rights.

What Story Would the Unintended Beneficiaries Tell (WSWUBT)

To be a woman or femme-identified/identifiable person and engage in politics can feel, at times, like a rebellious act. Since the founding of the United States of America, they have not been included, until recently, as part of “We the people”. To engage with politics as a member of any historically marginalized group is a different experience. One which has not enjoyed any exploration and examination at the same level as the “politics as usual groups”.

WSWUBT is a group exhibition that encourages artists to provide their perspective, to peel back the layers of white-washed history and examine the 19th Amendment, a non inclusive historical moment, through new perspectives that can not be ignored or erased.

On Aug. 18th, 1920 the 19th Amendment was ratified. It stated, “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex”. This in effect gave every female citizen the right to vote under the Constitution, although in reality it only gave a privileged few white females that right. The right to vote and to have one’s voice heard and counted has always been held in an almost sacred regard since the founding of our government. Our country’s belief that the governed should have a say in how they are governed is one that has not proven to be inclusive of all citizens or people.

In actual practice we as a country have denied equal opportunities to vote to persons historically categorized as marginalized groups, especially women of color. Even with the passage of the 19th Amendment women of color were not allowed to vote until decades after this amendment was ratified. Indigenous Americans were not granted citizenship and the right to vote until 1947. Asian American women did not win the vote until the passage of the McCarran-Walter Act in 1952. African – and Latinx-Americans did not gain the explicit right to vote until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Currently all members of the African-American and Indigenous communities are fighting for fair and equal access to ballot boxes.

What Stories Would the Unintended Beneficiaries Tell, takes a new look at equity, equality, our collective history, and the erasure of marginalized history. CoCA seeks to ascribe new perspectives and visual meanings to restructuring of the Amendment through visual space supporting open transparency in thought and opportunities for creative actions.

Featured artists: Monyee Chau, Bonnie Hopper, Ashante Kindlé, Lisette Morales, Charly ‘Carlos’ Palmer, and Carletta Carrington Wilson

An image of a film projecting on a pull down screen. The image shows a collage of moments; a Black man in a denim shirt, jeans, and a baseball cap stand in front of an image of rapper Tupac sitting, his mouth slightly open as though in mid-sentence, with a photograph of a Black boy behind him. In the background on the left, we see the New York City skyline behind a chainlink fence. On the right, we see a New York street corner with a liquor store.

Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair 2020

In an innovative show of collective effort, a group of 60 Seattle art galleries, nonprofits and art institutions have come together to reconstruct the traditional art fair with a community-led effort. They did this not just for the support of our small businesses, but also for the artists in their community who have worked hard to create artwork for the official Seattle Art Fair that was cancelled due to the pandemic. Its closure left a palpable void in the visual arts world, whose support is crucial to the vibrant cultural capital of the region.

Within 24 hours of the topic of creating and alternative Art Fair being conceived, there was an overwhelmingly positive response; a democratic approach to the naming of the event; and committees formed to assist with information gathering and promotions. Word spread quickly and through cooperative efforts of all involved, the Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair was created.

This idiosyncratic and iconoclastic take on an art fair dismantles the traditional “central warehouse” design, in favor of participating venues hosting exhibitions—both in person and online. With no application process, no costly booth fees, no jurying panel—the participant just has to run a Seattle area art gallery, art non-profit, or art institution—and say, “Yes.” The Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair inclusively highlights the breadth of our regional arts and gallery communities.

Exhibition dates vary by gallery throughout the month of August, and each gallery will be offering various hours open to the public. We will all be practicing safety standards according to Safe Start mandates. In addition to collectors and art fans seeking out their usual gallery favorites, the ultimate goal is that art enthusiasts can use this event and the website portal to explore all of the participating venues, discover more of our regional arts community and a variety of artists and creators to support.

Free to the public to visit online and by appointment.