For nine days in November, it was like summer camp for eight Latin American artists who had been invited by Thinkspace Projects to create murals and installations on the walls of the Fullerton Museum Center.
They were street artists from Mexico (Edgar “Saner” Flores, Hilda “Poni” Palafox, Curiot, Paola Delfin) and Brazil (Zezão, Fernando Chamarelli, Fefe Talavera), with the exception of watercolorist Alvaro Naddeo, a Uruguayan born and raised in Brazil who lives in Torrance.
“The museum had never let anyone come in and take over to the extent that we took over,” says Andrew Hosner, Thinkspace co-owner and curator of the exhibit “Instruments of Change,” which is on display until Feb. 23. “I could see the fear … ‘Can we paint the columns?’ ‘But they’ve never been painted before.’ ‘I understand that, but can they be?’ ”
“There were time restrictions, and working in a historic building had its limitations as well,” says Kelly Chidester, Fullerton Museum Center’s curator. “At the end of the day, we’re here to serve our community, so we don’t shy away from challenges. We embrace it, and this exhibit was no exception.”
The artists came in with a plan, but often improvised as they found inspiration. They extended their murals to adjacent walls or even down to the floor. Flores created ceramic art from vases found in local thrift stores.
Curiot added fake plants found in the museum’s back room, a nod to the fact that he regularly creates murals in the middle of forests and jungles, while Zezão figured out how to install a light inside a floor grate underneath his mural as a symbol of his beginnings painting graffiti in the underground sewers of São Paulo.
“Every day there was another crazy scheme that I had to go get permission for,” Hosner jokes.
Due to unexpected weather-related flight delays, one installation wasn’t completed until hours before opening night.
Hosmer admits it was stressful at the time.
“But now it’s a fun anecdote,” he says. “It shows how much the museum was willing to work with us to make this happen.”
Hosner remembers having a conversation with Flores when Thinkspace brought the Mexican artist to Glendale for his solo exhibition, “In a Dream (En un Sueño),” at the Brand Library & Art Center in 2016. They connected over the idea that Latin American street artists often don’t get credibility within institutions.
Thinkspace’s previous Vitality and Verve exhibits, which invited street artists to paint murals at the Long Beach Museum of Art, were popular, so Hosner wanted to start a similar series that focused on Latin Americans.
“It’s supposed to be like you’re walking through the back alleys of Rio de Janeiro or Mexico City,” says Hosner, “or even downtown L.A. in the Arts District … and it’ll be gone in a few months, so there’s nothing like being here and being surrounded by it now.”
Some of the artists were directly influenced by the exhibit title, “Instruments of Change.”
Flores says he believes in the power of education and the soul to change society, so “the vases of water and the paradise that grows around the main character” in his mural show the need to feed both the body and the brain with positivity.
“[During] this time, when we feel more violence or more social division, is when we need to do the hard work that doesn’t involve all this negative division,” he says.
Palafox, who often portrays the female figure in her work, says “for me the only real instrument of change is us ... We have to confront each other and recognize us as human beings and work together to create change.”
Her mural represents “a receptacle where these two minds and forces combine to create something that kind of explodes into something bigger.”
Hosner invited Naddeo to display his miniature watercolors as a contrast to the murals.
“Everyone else is about working larger-than-life, and his work is about the minutiae,” says Hosner. “I wanted to include an artist that wasn’t necessarily a street artist but still spoke to everything street art comes from.”
Naddeo has a “cart series” that started with pictures of shopping carts and imagining what an individual would need in order to survive on the streets.
His 2014 carts start with the basics: a sleeping bag, suitcase, ladder, umbrella, broom, family portraits and a bag for recyclables. But as the cart series evolved, he imagines more elaborate “high-rise” carts and other types of multiple-story mobile homes as a way to reveal social inequalities.
His “Instruments of Change” exhibit alludes to lives lived out of a hot dog cart, golf cart, mail truck and helicopter.
At Hosner’s encouragement — and with the help of local wire artist Spenser Little — Naddeo brought one of his watercolors “Sidecart” to life.
Naddeo found yellow bike on Craigslist, Little added a wheel and attached it to a shopping cart, and they packed it with a boom box, Pan Am shoulder bags filled with blankets and pill bottles, bottles and cans for recycling, and a blinking light.
“It’s super-functional,” says Hosner. “Once we’re done with it, we’ll probably donate it to someone [on] Skid Row ’cause they’ll probably actually be able to put it to great use.”
One of the biggest hits of the exhibit, especially among students who tour the museum, is Zezão, who comes from Brazil’s pichação graffiti movement.
“I was told by a number of people, you’re not going to get these guys in an institution,” Hosner says of the young renegade street artists known for rapelling off roofs and creating very detailed graffiti on the side of buildings, several stories up. “Their whole thing is [expletive] the institution, [expletive] the government, [expletive] the man.”
But they were able to invite Zezão, a muralist who now exhibits in galleries but has roots in the movement. His mural features his blue, abstract signature derived from the word vício (addiction) surrounded by angular lines and shapes he creates with black fabric tape.
“There are incredible artists from other regions of South America that we tried to get, but timing didn’t work out,” says Hosner. “So I definitely hope this is the first of many ‘Instruments of Change’ shows.”
“This is only a small part of what Latin American street art can be,” says Palafox. “We have very strong roots and a very strong voice. And I think we connect with each other through that.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Instruments of Change”
Where: Fullerton Museum Center, 301 N. Pomona Ave., Fullerton
When: Tuesdays through Sundays through Feb. 23
Cost: $3 to $5; free for members and from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on the first Friday of every month
Information: (714) 738-6545; thinkspaceprojects.com; the “Instruments of Change: A Compendium” exhibition will be on view up the street at the Fullerton College Art Gallery (321 East Chapman Ave., Building 1000, Room 1004) from Jan. 30 to Feb. 19.