by Rob Strauss
Two altars stand in the corners of the Harris Art Gallery and silkscreen prints adorn the walls as part of the new art exhibition entitled “Que Vida.”
“Que Vida,” Spanish for “What a Life,” is a collaboration between the University of La Verne and Self Help Graphics, a Chicano arts organization in East Los Angeles.
According to Ruth Trotter, chairperson for the Art Department and co-curator of “Que Vida” the exhibition is a way of educating students about Chicano art.
“The purpose of the exhibition is to expose our students and the community to a survey of [silkscreen] prints that have been produced at Self Help Graphics,” said Trotter.
The exhibition, which began on Tuesday and lasts until Oct. 17, is also a tribute. The altars in the corners of the room are for Sister Karen Boccalero, the founder and director of Self Help Graphics, and C. Gonzales Castro, a printer at Self Help, who both died this past summer.
Boccalero founded Self Help Graphics in 1971, which, according to Trotter, was a time of “political activism in California and Los Angeles.”
“Sister Karen was sympathetic with these political movements, however, her goal was primarily to create an artistic environment for people of the community to work in,” said Trotter.
Alex Alferov, the coordinator of “Que Vida,” began working with Boccalero in 1987. She allowed him to work with Self Help Graphics even though he was born in Yugoslavia and was not from the Chicano culture.
“[Boccalero] had strong beliefs about putting artists in an environment without being criticized,” said Alferov. “[She believed in] artists challenging themselves, not other artists.”
Under the direction of Boccalero, Self Help Graphics has put out an experimental workshop called an “atalier” every year. They invite several artists to come to Self Help and work with the printer there and put out a print. The prints then become part of an exhibit.
“This is what we have here on show [at “Que Vida”], examples of ateliers,” said Trotter.
ULV invited Self Help Graphics to display artwork in Harris Gallery before the summer. Trotter said Boccalero had been helping to organize the exhibition when she died.
“We originally expected it just to be a survey [of works by Self Help Graphics], but with her passing the show has kind of amplified to become a tribute to her,” said Trotter.
The altars for Boccalero and Castro follow tradition and include many symbolic items. According to Margaret Beltran, who designed the altar for Castro, the altars are “an enticement for the soul to come back and visit on the “Day of the Dead.” Beltran states that the candles are symbolic for lighting the way, the water is refreshment for the long journey, the marigold is a traditional flower, and personal items of the deceased are included as well.
Along with the altars, there are silkscreen painting which evoke different moods. According to Trotter, there are essentially two components of the exhibition. One side includes primarily political work while the other side has whimsical and personal work.
This duality is essentially where the name, “Que Vida,” came from.
“We chose it to speak of the kind of paradoxical mixture of joy and irony that makes up the Chicano experience,” said Trotter.
Trotter and Alferov both feel that the collaboration has turned out well.
According to Alferov, part of the goal of Self Help Graphics is to reach communities like La Verne that are too far away from the center’s location in Los Angeles. Trotter also feels that collaboration is “ideal” due to the very significant Hispanic student body population at the ULV.
The partnership between ULV and Self Help Graphics has gone so well that a catalog of the exhibition will likely be available in October. The catalog will include artist statements and reproductions of the works. They will be free although they plan to ask for small donations. According to Alferov, Boccalero liked having catalogs of her exhibits as mementos to look back upon.
Alferov states that they would also like to expand the show to include other colleges. According to Alfervov, Boccalero wanted Self Help Graphics to expand.
“What Karen wanted was for [Self Help Graphics] to be on the top floor, not in the basement…not in the elevator shaft,” said Alferov.
Additional plans include a collaboration between the exhibition’s artists and students at ULV. They would visit different elementary schools in the Los Angeles community to mentor children.
For now, Alferov and Self Help Graphics are focusing on “Que Vida” and paying tribute to the woman who founded their organization.
“La Verne is my final goodbye to her,” said Alferov.