By Faith Petrie
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — After almost nine months of planning through a flurry of Zoom, phone calls and texts in addition to a global pandemic, SoLA Contemporary has unveiled its latest exhibitions “Pickled Memories” and “Breaking the Mold.” The exhibitions continue until Sept. 26.
“Pickled Memories” is a photo and audio experience focusing on the theme of the family by Adrian White. “Breaking the Mold” is an abstract art showcase compromised of six artists: Regina Herod, Mirena Kim, Pete Hoffecker Mejía, Moncho 1929, Jamaal Hasef Tolbert and curator Sharon Louise Barnes.
Peggy Sivert, SoLA’s founder, and executive director worked with curators Barnes and Anefertiti Bowman to coordinate the separate shows despite COVID-19 restrictions. Normally, receptions for exhibitions at SoLA would include a packed room and wine drinking but on opening day, safety protocols including limited guests and mask requirements.
“It’s funny because sometimes COVID does interesting things, it’s made it so it’s enough space for people to actually see the art,” Barnes said.
SoLA is a nonprofit organization and art hub, founded in the South Bay in 2013. Sivert said that the gallery has been at its current Los Angeles location for three years, a newfound sense of security for the space.
Barnes, who curated and also created pieces for “Breaking the Mold,” said that the inspiration behind the exhibition was to highlight Black, Indigenous and people of color who create abstract art.
With over 20 years of art experience, Barnes said that abstraction has existed in a multitude of cultures outside of European ones and hopes that “Breaking the Mold” spotlights those groups ignored during the popularization of movements like modernism, abstract expressionism and surrealism.
“They were there,” Barnes said. “Sometimes you don’t know who they are until they’re 90 years old but they were working in the same time period as the Picassos or Jackson Pollock, they were just marginalized and you have to look and research to find them but they’re there.”
In the past, all of the artists involved in “Breaking the Mold“ crossed paths with Barnes whether at an art gallery or in shared classes, spurring her to contact them to share their work.
Oregon-based artist Hoffecker Mejía said that he uses his work and materials as analogies to speak on larger issues in the world. Similar to Barnes, Pete Hoffecker Mejía said that he was interested in exploring the value that Western art maintains compared to other, minority voices.
“There’s a lot of similarities in the gestures we’re making and I can’t help but think that it’s kind of rooted in what we’ve processed and what we’re pushing against,” Hoffecker Mejía said.
Herod, a Los Angeles sculptor and artist, said that the materials she uses in her work emphasize themes of social justice and the “marginalization among people of color globally.”
During the pandemic, Herod said she has found a “sense of urgency” to use her role as an artist to produce work that will tell stories about the state of the world and her community.
“Breaking the Mold” artist Moncho 1929 said that he’s produced around 20 pieces of art during the span of COVID-19.
“No change is ever comfortable,” he said. “It’s never going to be fun and you just have to roll with the punches.”
L.A.-based artist Kim shared that the pandemic has made her attempt to communicate efficiently through her art so people know exactly what she’s thinking. Her piece “Yellow Monument,” a seven-foot tall sculpture, is at the forefront of the gallery, a commentary on American historical monuments and its relation to race.
Adaptability was one common theme that Sivert, Barnes and Bowman could agree upon, sitting in SoLA Contemporary, chairs spaced out allowing for socially distanced seating. Sivert said that “creative survival” spurred SoLA to produce window galleries including a Black Lives Matters poster exhibition.
“And yet, it was inadvertently historical and artistic,” Sivert said.
In a room furthest to the back of the gallery space, a looped audio and visual sequence played on a small television tucked into a corner. Visual artist and photographer White’s exhibition, “Pickled Memories” used both photos, audio and video to create an immersive experience into his family and hometown in Statonburg, North Carolina.
Jars with liquid in them contained submerged photos of White and his family and rested on shelves in the exhibition, inspiration striking from his grandmother constantly making preserves and shelving them away as a child.
“As I have my camera in my hand and I shift the lens from family member to family member, I think I’m telling the story of America in a way,” White said.
White, a professor of photography at California Baptist University, said documenting his family, particularly his grandmother, the matriarch of the family, was his way of maintaining the characteristics and spirit she passed on to them.
SoLA board member Bowman was invited by White to curate “Pickled Memories.” To help him refine his exhibition, the two maintained weekly calls to fine-tune any and all details about the debut show even down to the reclaimed wood used.
“This is not about me as the curator, I’m listening because I want you to tell me your story… [curating is] more listening than telling,” Bowman said.
Bowman, a long-time artist, and program producer said that “Pickled Memories” was something she could relate to, helping Black creators and artists is a priority for her and her work.
“I create spaces and I am that voice, I am that advocate because I’ve been placed in these spaces of access,” she said.
Sivert said that the gallery will continue bringing relevance to contemporary art and underscoring diverse works and artists through virtual events and community-driven projects like “We Are Home” a fundraising quilt project aimed at raising funds for organizations like Peoples Concern to help support people experiencing homelessness.
In October, SoLA will showcase two exhibitions, “Tactility” and “Sarah Arnold – Recent Paintings.” Although COVID-19’s effect on the world remains uncertain, Bowman said art is the one thing that remains consistent, ever-evolving, yet always there.
“Mother Nature is tired and so she has done something for us as the individuals that run this earth to allow us to be still, to think, to have a sense of peace for our minds to calm down so we can release and create,” she said.
Faith Petrie is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.