Last week Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts wrote San Francisco a love letter. It took the form of an exhibition called You Are Beautiful. Accepting submissions from all over the city, MCCLA asked San Franciscans to respond creatively to the statement “you are beautiful”. The result was an exhibition chock full of surprises. Ranging from small works on paper to large-scale sculptures, San Francisco artists everywhere made a case for unconventional beauty.
Based on an exhibition of the same theme in Los Angeles in 2005 and on an existing campaign in Chicago, You Are Beautifulaimed to give a more intimidate and personally relevant interpretation of what beauty is in our society today. As You Are Beautiful’s statement maintains, “each individual is unique, complex, and beautiful”. It challenges the viewer to take a glance into the face of someone else’s version of beautiful and to reinvent and reshape what their own is. It is an initiative adopted by way of stickers, exhibitions, collaborations, and essays around the globe.
Upon being asked what it was like to curate a submission-based exhibition, Nicole Crescenzi, co-curator of the MCCLA gallery, replies “scary”. Submissions came in slowly. Only a few days before the opening of the exhibit, the gallery received only a hand-full of pieces. Yet, a day before the deadline submissions were rolling in, in all shapes and sizes. “You build it and they will come'”, Maurizzio Hector Pineda, MCCLA’s Gallery Coordinator, says with a smile. And come they did– large watercolor portraits, cartoon dogs, and a straw and wood sculpture reminiscent of ancient African art among them. The stipulations were that “anything goes”. Everything came.
You Are Beautiful allows visitors to engage with the work on many different levels. They see the work simultaneously from an artist’s perspective and from an audience member’s perspective .Pineda recounts the first visitors on the opening night of the exhibition. A group of young girls who had been featured in a You Are Beautifulvideo submission arrive. When asked how they heard of the show, one of the little girls says “I’m one of the artists.” Pineda laughs. “I thought that was pretty cool”, he says.
Maintaining the theme of community, You Are Beautifulartists are asked whether they want their work returned, donated, or installed in the streets. An overwhelming majority choose to have it installed somewhere in the neighborhood. An older gentleman ambles into the MCCLA gallery hours before the opening of the You Are Beautifulexhibition. He sheepishly asks if he can take a look around. It takes a few minutes before he identifies him as one of the artists. He points to his work, a photograph taken in Central America. He says,“I give my art to anyone. I gave a photograph to my barber the other day. I just want it to be in use.”
Pineda spoke about what it means to work in a cultural center. He said that people hear the “c” word (“community-center”) and cringe. They automatically assume that the work is second rate. MCCLA works to change their minds. Upon entering the gallery, one marvels at both the quality and the range of the work. Next to the painting made by a 9 1/2 year old boy (who writes his age next to his signature) is a piece by an San Francisco Art Institute MFA. While some pieces are conceptually bold others are heartbreakingly personal and made with an incredible amount of love and care.Above a mirror one artist writes “Smile, you are beautiful”. “More than anything this [the You Are Beautifulexhibition] is a campaign of optimism. It has a positive spirit”, Cresenzi says. Pineda nods his head enthusiastically. “It’s a simple statement-a celebration”. You are beautiful.
MCCLA will be hosting an interactive installation by Porous Walker on Februarry 11 (2-5pm). Contact the MCCLA Gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org or 415.643.2775 with further questions. MCCLA’s upcoming exhibition, Solo Esas Mujeres:Documenting the Universal/Material, highlightsthe curatorial skills of famed painter and DJ Iona Rozeal Brownas well as designer and educator Veronica Jackson. The exhibition features renowned artists such as Lisa Cortes, production of the film Precious, and Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz or the artist known as Chuleta. For more information visit www.missionculturalcenter.org.