An artistic revival in Barrio Logan
By Andrea Lopez-Villafaña
Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, known for her self-portraits, said she often painted herself because she was the subject she knew best. Gabi Vega, an artist in Barrio Logan, has a similar motto.
“You are your own best model because you see yourself the most and you’re always available,” she said.
Despite being blind in her left eye, Vega is a pencil and graphite portrait artist.
“I was always told growing up that I wouldn’t be able to (paint), because I see everything as flat and it’d be hard to do realistic portraits,” Vega said. “I took it as a challenge.”
Vega and her wife, Anah Turner-Vega, decided to move to Barrio Logan from Chicago because they sought a rooted and cultured neighborhood.
She is one of the many artists that participate in the Barrio Art Crawl, a monthly community-driven event intended to bring attention to the art galleries, artists and businesses of the neighborhood.
The event is an all day self-guided tour on Logan Avenue from Sampson Street to South Evans Street. It’s organized by community leaders and shop owners in Barrio Logan.
Chicano Art Gallery owner and Barrio Logan native Cesar Castañeda said he was nervous before April 8, because it was the first art crawl event he was participating in this year.
Castañeda became interested in art through his parents, and in his late teens decided he wanted to pursue art as a career. When he discovered a building was available in Barrio Logan, Castañeda purchased it and created Chicano Art Gallery.
“I saw so much potential in this space,” he said. “And being so close to Chicano Park, which is an amazing landmark here in the community, I thought it would be a very wonderful opportunity to do some sort of art center or art gallery.”
Multiple galleries in the neighborhood created the Barrio Art Crawl to bring positive attention to the community. The event highlights the artistic movement occurring in Barrio Logan especially after Chicano Park, located under the San Diego-Coronado bridge, was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 2016.
The bridge columns are covered in murals that showcase Chicano history and resemble the Mexican Muralist Movement of the 1920’s in Mexico, when famous artists such as Diego Rivera painted murals on buildings as a form of public art.
The Barrio Art Crawl is hosted by the Logan Avenue Consortium, a group of community leaders and shop owners in the area.
Castañeda said the art crawl allows businesses in the neighborhood to promote and support each other.
Community and culture
Milo Lorenzana, owner of Por Vida Cafe in Barrio Logan, decided to open the cafe that doubles as a gallery because he was drawn to the community. He is also involved in the planning of the art crawl.
“The art crawl is kind of something that’s been going on for a while now,” Lorenzana said. “Some friends of mine actually started it and now it’s been passed down a few hands.”
Lorenzana said the community leaders place a great amount of effort in keeping the culture of the community unique and keeping it alive.
The sense of community and support is apparent with Chicanista Boutique, a cart shop located in front of Por Vida Cafe on Logan Ave.
Elizabeth Rodriguez and Dani Cisneros, sisters and co-owners of the shop, make purses, jewelry, aprons and accessories using recycled and repurposed materials with Latin themed colors and prints.
Rodriguez said Chicanista Boutique highlights the Latin product and skills like sewing that are often undervalued.
“Society looks down upon those skills like sewing, cooking, welding, carpentry, gardening when in reality they’ve sustained cultures for centuries,” Rodriguez said. “We should uplift those people and value those skills.”
Nuvia Crisol Guerra, one of the six owners of Golondrina, an art gallery in Barrio Logan, said although they initially planned on being a temporary store or pop-up shop, the support of the community is what has kept them at their location.
Guerra said Golondrina is a collective of six artists, which allows them to showcase their work, but also to focus on encouraging local artists to exhibit their work and make a living.
During the art crawl event, galleries keep their doors open to allow people to experience all the art on display.
“We hope that many people come to our little nest and find things they enjoy and that they can take back to celebrate our culture in their home,” Guerra said.
Despite the art revival, the neighborhood faces overcoming negative stereotypes. Although more tourists are paying attention to Barrio Logan, the community is working to get rid of the violent or dangerous label sometimes tied to the neighborhood.
“When people hear about Barrio Logan they automatically think of something negative,” Castañeda said.
For some like Guillermo Valenzuela, a Barrio Logan artist known as “Monstro,” the violence in the neighborhood has not stopped him from calling it his home.
Valenzuela was stabbed during a fundraiser Feb. 26, while trying to help in an altercation between a gallery owner and several men who were turned away from the event.
However, Valenzuela turned the altercation into a painting and presented it along with other artwork in his exhibit titled, “Naked Circus” at Basile Studio for the Barrio Art Crawl event.
“I called it naked circus because life is a naked circus,” Valenzuela said. “No one’s life is the same, we juggle family jobs and everything so life is a circus.”
Valenzuela is originally from South Bay but he said Barrio Logan is the community that accepted his work and it means everything to him.
“This is the place where art lives and breathes,” he said.