Art lovers who climb the three flights of steps to the Vox Populi gallery will find a thoughtful, timely exhibit called “Buenas Vibras: A Celebration of LGBTQ Latinx Artists.”
The display features roughly 40 works by seven artists, including Nicole Olivieri Pagan and Noél Puéllo. The show is the third installment in “En Comunidad,” a series begun by curator Wit López in 2016.
The phrase means “in community,” explained López, a disabled, nonbinary trans performer and visual artist. López originally conceived of it as a way to call attention to artists whose work was overlooked.
“Part of the reason why I do these shows is so that people know how many Latinx artists exist, and that they exist in multiple genders, and multiple sexualities and from multiple countries,” said López.
The artists in “Buenas Vibras” are certainly diverse. The painter Genesis Pizarro, for example, is a Colombian-American nonbinary queer, whereas fabian romero, a poet and filmmaker who prefers the pronoun “they” and uses lower-case letters, identifies as a two-spirit indigenous person born in Mexico.
López’s approach to curating “Buenas Vibras” was to encourage artists to submit pieces they felt best represented them. When hanging the art, López deliberately omitted explanatory notes and titles. “I like to do things that increase dialogue or increase the chance of dialogue,” they said.
The exhibit is a metaphorical dialogue that takes place in two ways. On the one hand, the works of art, which complement or contrast one another, are engaged in a kind of conversation. On the other, viewers become part of that conversation as they form opinions about what they’re looking at.
One might notice, for example, imagery involving hair. In Jairo Rodriguez’s photographs, notions of beards and chest hair — usually fixed marks of gender — shift when combined with makeup and gender nonconformity. There’s also an unexpected tuft of hair at the base of the phallic protrusion on an otherwise abstract sculpture by fabric artist Puéllo.
Space is another theme that emerges: “Three Routes,” by romero, is a brief, poetic meditation on identity and place. By combining still photographs and archival film clips, the series raises questions of what happens while traveling from Mexico to the United States. “Borders eat memories,” the narrator says at one point.
Andrew González approaches space from a different angle in one pensive black-and-white photo. It depicts an androgynous figure standing between two buildings with a third edifice in the background. Despite being surrounded, the figure doesn’t appear to be hemmed in or confined. And with the figure looking back across the right shoulder and shadows falling in a diagonal in the background, there’s actually a feeling of dynamism.
For López, it’s important for LGBTQ Latinx artists and audiences to have a space of their own. As López explained, people from multiple marginalized identities sometimes feel compelled to choose between their queerness and their Latinx identity.
“For those of us who are part of these identities, these are always conversations for us. And sometimes it’s hard for us to find space to have these conversations with people, with other people who are like us, or even to find spaces that are welcoming.”
Although “Buenas Vibras” addresses serious issues, it also has moments of levity. Look closely at Pizarro’s oil painting of a figure floating in a pool; you might be surprised to find a disembodied phallus popping up unexpectedly.
Carnality is front and center in six colorful, cartoonish illustrations by Vanessa Tejada, a pansexual queer Dominicana whose work combines food and sex. These images, including a papaya with a ball gag and a Cubano sandwich “stuffed” with a vulva, are both hilarious.
For her part, Tejada thinks “Buenas Vibras” is an excellent showcase for LGBT Latinx artists.
“We’re kind of nudging our way through, and I love seeing that,” she said. “That is inspiring — to show that all this hard work is getting somewhere.”
“Buenas Vibras” runs at Vox Populi, 319 N. 11th St., until Oct. 20. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.voxpopuligallery.org/exhibitions/buenas-vibras.