Hispanic culture is center stage in Philadelphia this weekend. City Hall is hosting “Dialogo 365,” an exhibition of 30 local artists of Latino heritage, and the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture is currently holding it annual conference here (the first time NALAC has been held on the East Coast).
Hispanic sounds are even emanating from Chinatown.
The Asian Arts Initiative, at 12th and Vine Streets, is hosting a multi-media installation by the Latino art collective Las Galles. It features recordings of immigrants singing a traditional songs from both Puerto Rico and Vietnam.
Suffer no more Maybe tomorrow our tears will be left behind and if you tell me I await your love to shine light on my path.”
“Amor Dios” was sung by the father of artist Michelle Ortiz, one-third of Las Galles. She created a giant, two-sided lightbox: one side is a cut-out of a wooden-plank cabin her grandfather lived in, in Ciales, Puerto Rico; the other side is a cut-out of a dress pattern, accompanied by the singing of family friend Nhung Dang, who immigranted from Vietnam in 1986.
“We asked the grasses and trees, they wept and the wind howled
Ever since we lost our home, the wind carried people across oceans.”
Fellow Las Galles member Julia Lopez created a grid out of blue tape on the concrete floor of the AAI gallery. Populated with both found and constructed objects, it traces how people become sharply categorized once they start crossing political boundaries. A full-length portrait of Lopez’s son, obscured behind frosted glass, drives home her concept of the way identity is warped when a person immigrates.
The second part of the immersive triptych is Ortiz’s light box, with music and objects that have become emotional talismans, sometimes the only thing connecting immigrants with their former life.
The final section is a pile of personal detritus exploding out of a suitcase: old clothes, black and white photographs, native soil and spices. Hovering over the pile — as though it were suspended on an olfactory cloud of Mexican chocolate and ground Asian pepper — is a floating white dress, woven from thin white wire.
“That immigration is always with you,” explained artist Magda Martinez, the third part of Las Galles. “That constant struggle, making your way in a new place and trying to do well by your family and trying to make a living. That is the weight of the everyday. And your real self has to wait. That part of you that wanted to be a singer when you were a kid, doesn’t get to be that.”
The project was conceived in workshops Las Galles organized with both Latino and Asian immigrants in Philadelphia. Participants were asked to work with textiles, paints, spices, and physical movement to share their experiences as first- and second-generation immigrants.
The community sessions were held at the Asian Arts Initiative.
“When we had the opportunity to imagine a project, it made a lot of sense to be able to create the space for members of our two communities to come together and share stories,” said AAI director Gayle Isa. “To compare and contrast experiences of immigration and issues around language, food, and culture that all communities share.”
The art installation is the inaugural exhibition of the Asian Arts Initiative’s Neighborhood Spotlight series, wherein artists-in-residents explore the Chinatown North neighborhood to create pieces specific to that community, and it varied inhabitants. The next round of projects is expected to be identified by resident artists at the end of the calendar year.