Local Artists Explore Identity and Diversity in WHO ARE YOU, MOLAA’s First Exhibit of 2016


Images courtesy of the artists. De chile mole y dulce by student Cintia Segovia.

How do you read others’ physical characteristics? How do you emphasize (or hide) your own? What makes you unique and how do these signifiers compose your identity? These are the questions explored in Who Are You, the inaugural exhibition at the Museum of Latin American Art’s (MOLAA) Port to Learning gallery, a new space now dedicated to providing interactive programming and showing the work of local artists and emerging curators.

Who Are You presents works by 14 local artists in dialogue with pieces from the museum’s Permanent Collection. Curated by Gabriela Martínez with Nalini Elias, the exhibit explores how we choose to express facets of our identities through language, clothing, traditions, the food we consume and our own bodies.

Gabriella Martínez let the Post in on how she and Elias first formulated the idea for Who Are You and what she hopes visitors will take away from a trip to the museum’s newest space. Martínez noted that Long Beach was an inspiration in itself as one of the most diverse cities in the nation, not only in regard to race or ethnicity, but also gender, sexuality, religion and class. All the works in Who Are You explore identity through these specific lenses.

“Neighborhoods, for the most part, are really mixed here,” she said. “People are really open to publicly proclaiming and celebrating who they are, and learning about and participating in cultural rituals in which they weren’t raised. So, we thought that an exploration of identity would be fun and interesting to our visitors.”

For example, in Kim Morris’ Masquerade, the artist has made a mask of synthetic hair which completely covers her face, while strands of her own hair protrude from the top. The CSULB graduate student talks of the ways that we judge women by the way they style their hair. According to Martínez, the artist is asking the viewer to question why we think some hair textures are more “professional,” while others may be seen as more “exotic.”


Masquerade by Kim Morris.

“It speaks to standards of which often tend to favor what could be considered ‘white’ features—both in mainstream society as well as within ethnic groups themselves—like certain shades of skin, smooth hair, etc.,” she said. “It also demystifies these processes that usually take place in our homes that are very much centered around women in their search to be seen as ‘beautiful,’ ‘desirable,’ or—at the very least—visually acceptable.”

“Nalini and I have started recounting times when we tried to hide or self-censor aspects of ourselves because they didn’t seem ‘mainstream’ or because we felt that we would be made fun of—specifically as the daughters of immigrants,” said Martínez. “Everyone has a story like that I think. And then there are situations when you feel proud of what makes you unique, as well, and want everyone to know what makes you different.”

Elias created an activity booklet intended to assist visitors in identifying the things that make them stand out, to prod gallery goers into reflecting on how they respond to different visual cues, actions, or language and how they make judgments based on these signifiers. The booklet is just one of several activities visitors can participate in, created to spur a contemplation of their own identities, as well as others’.

“We are—for the most part—comfortable with that which we know, but sometimes it may be hard to wrap our head around the way that others who are different from us behave or think,” said Martínez. “This can lead to cultural misunderstandings or—worst case scenario: censorship, discrimination and hate crimes.”


Lucille Ball by Myriam Gurba.

Martínez is especially excited about how Who Are You places local artists in MOLAA’s newest gallery alongside established artists from Latin America. She told the Post her goal with this exhibit is to show the parallels between how artists from all over the world approach similar topics, specifically identity in this case.

“Long Beach locals will be excited to see all of the talent exhibited by the local artists as well as the very thoughtful ways in which they address the topic,” she said. “Some play with the idea of identity, while others very explicitly show their struggle with aspects of their identities like skin color or gender roles. Some talk about food, or a specific place that informs their identity and background, while others identify objects and rituals that are closely connected to who they are—like huaraches or wedding ceremonies.”

The opening reception for Who Are You will take place on Sunday, January 17 from 1:00PM to 4:00PM. For more information about MOLAA, click here.

MOLAA is located at 628 Alamitos Avenue.

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Asia Morris has been with the Long Beach Post for five years, specializing in coverage of the arts. Her parents gave her the name because they wanted her to be a world traveler and they got their wish. She has obliged by pursuing art, journalism and a second career as a competitive cyclist.