There is an art space on Hollywood Blvd., in the heart of Thai Town to be exact, that recently traded their fluorescent pink walls for a melanin-induced makeover. Painted in various shades of brown, the walls of Junior High are now covered with paintings, photography, illustrations, and even a smattering of skateboards—all highlighting the experiences of women of color in today’s world. A Latina Wonder Woman hangs next to a decidedly Islamic beauty queen, which is placed beside a fiercely virginal Central Asian warrior. Freshman artists hang side-by-side with the established, emoting elements of socio-political commentary, humor, and massive artistic talent vibing in one otherwise lackluster room: Meet Miss Representation.
The brainchild of artists Maritza Lugo and Erika Paget, Miss Representation’s genesis is quasi-poetic. While showcasing work in a separate exhibit at Junior High in July, Maritza had a nagging feeling that wouldn’t subside. “I realized it was because I was sort of drowning in White Girl Feelings,” Says Lugo. “As someone who’s white passing, I didn’t see a lot of women of color represented, and I didn’t see that many different pieces of art from different perspectives.”
The team commenced assembling their army of artists, using the most quotidian of means: social media. The majority of the pieces came via open calls on Instagram and Twitter, as it apparently does go down in the DM. Artists who had never shown their work before were encouraged to submit pieces. “The whole point was to give people space, a footing.” says Lugo. “It’s not like these opportunities are out there waiting for you.”
So much so that several of the galleries Lugo and Paget approached turned them down, specifically citing non-interest in a showcase centered around women of color. “I unfollowed a lot of galleries.” Lugo declares. In a nod to Miss Representation’s origins, the duo considered returning to Junior High – a move which was warmly accepted by gallery owner Faye Orlove.
Though race and gender are central tenets, Miss Representation features the work of at least one transgender artist—at Orlove’s urging. “Taking these ideas of what it means to be a woman and a woman of color and rebelling against it, [is] like a recognition of the past interpreted through the lens of non-acceptance,” says Paget of the current exhibit.
Fifty percent of Los Angeles is female, yet seventy percent of the artists represented in the top one-hundred galleries are male. More than seventy percent of Angelenos self-identify as non-white, yet a study conducted by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation found that eighty-four percent of leadership jobs in top museums are held by whites. “The main focus was taking the past and challenging it,” says Paget. “Like a recognition of the past interpreted through the lens of non-acceptance.”
Check out Miss Representation for yourself! Originally scheduled to close December 11th, Miss Representation has been extended until January 6.