The Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) describes one of their current exhibits “Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray” on their website as Muray capturing Kahlo as the woman she was known for with “her deep interest in her Mexican heritage, her life and the people significant to her with whom she shared a close friendship.” With the exhibit quickly becoming an Instagram sensation and on everyone’s go-to spot this summer, there’s a hidden gem at MOLAA that some might overpass.
The exhibit “En Visión: Picturing the Self,” a collaborative project with Las Fotos Project (LFP), lives in the museum’s Education Gallery with the walls painted in a hot pink color, self-portraits of young girls from LFP and some of the museum’s Permanent Collection. Las Fotos Project is a non-profit, community-based program that mentors young girls through photography, writing, and other creative projects; specifically, girls of color who live in South, Central, and East Los Angeles.
Nalini Elias, the Education Programs Coordinator at MOLAA and curator of “En Vision: Picturing the Self” became a mentor for LFP where she saw something in the girl’s work worth sharing. LFP curates exhibitions every semester with the girls’ work which usually revolves around a theme. Their last exhibit was called “Esta Soy Yo,” which is Spanish phrase that translates to “this is me.” “After seeing [their] self-portraits, I felt like they should be displayed at MOLAA. I came back to my supervisor and MOLAA’s Curator of Education, Gabriela Martinez, with an idea of having a photography exhibition and she loved it” Elias said.
Shortly after, a partnership was soon created to make “En Vision.” MOLAA funded the exhibit and Las Fotos Project provided the photographs and props. The exhibit—through photography, writing, and audio—is a platform for these young girls to express their identities and their world through their eyes. “They comment on society and pop culture, beauty norms or issues of gender by capturing their evolving identities, and through body language and visual symbols,” Elias explained. It’s meant for people to ask questions about their “identities, opinions, hopes and desires.”
Metztli Garcia’s self-portrait is a close up of her holding a pink flower near her face with her eyes closed. Garcia said she never really liked taking pictures of herself. “I chose that angle because it showed a part of me, but not all of my appearance,” she said. The flower was inspired by the rapper Tupac’s famous poem “The Rose That Grew from Concrete." She wanted the rose to represent who she was and the type of person she wants to be: determined. “When you first look at the picture you won’t see it but I want people to look more in depth.”
Katelee Carvantes is photographed in her room where she is sitting on her desk and smiling into the mirror. Her desk holds some of her favorite things that bring her peace and make her feel safe: a photograph of Frida Kahlo, lipsticks, and a candle to name a few. “When I took this photo I was listening to music and thinking about what makes me happy, which is art,” she wrote in her artist statement. “[It] shows my positive and warm personality.”
Jessye Bautista photographed herself looking into the mirror as she sits on her bathroom countertop. This body position is one she likes to rest in whenever she feels stressed or tired. “That mirror meant a lot to me when I was younger because I was self-conscious and I remember crying a lot,” she said. “I know that a lot of girls my age ask themselves ‘Why don’t I look like this girl on Instagram’?” However, now she’s accepting herself for who she is, and feels like many young girls her age could relate to this photo.
Celeste Umana explored with light, mirrors, and reflection as she photographed herself in her room holding a mirror near her face. “I was thinking about what I loved about myself and finding out who I am and I thought of what better place than my room since it’s so personal,” she said. She displays purses, a drawing, and other personal items such as lotions. Umana was very excited to see how people reacted to her work. As someone her age, 12, she said people might have different opinions [on her work] and may not take it so seriously, but she’s expressing herself and wants to see what people think of everyone’s work represented.
For her work to be on display at a museum like MOLAA, and with Frida Kahlo’s photographs just a few feet away, it was a “great coincidence.” “I identify myself as a proud Latina Chicana and [Frida Kahlo] is such an inspiration to me for what she stood for,” she said. In essence, it’s like both of the exhibits are in conversation with one another representing self-love and self-discovery.
“It’s not only my photo, it’s a group of young women exposing themselves in such a vulnerable way,” Umana said.
“En Visión: Picturing the Self," 628 Alamitos Avenue, Long Beach; through Sept. 17. www.molaa.org/exhibition/en-vision/