A New NYC Gallery Puts the Spotlight on Latine Artists

Towering over a small seaside town, a colossal power line sparks furiously, practically lighting up the canvas itself. In Jonathan Carela’s “Yegó La Lú” (The Light Has Arrived) (2023), what looks like a fireworks display of primary colors soon reveals itself as an important symbol of island living.

In the United States, blackouts are rare, usually occurring during the summer when everyone is blasting their air conditioners and too much energy is being zapped from the grid. But for Caribbean countries consistently barraged by hurricanes, like the Dominican Republic, where the artist lives, power outages are all too familiar.

Carela is among several artists featured in Act I: The Showcase, the inaugural group exhibition of Ala Projects, a new gallery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side that seeks to center the work and experiences of Latine artists.

Founder Amanda Garcia told Hyperallergic that while Latine artists “are more and more in the spotlight, there’s still a lot of work to be done. “I feel like Cubans had a moment, but even now I’m not seeing enough Cuban artists, Dominican artists, Puerto Rican artists, and Central American artists,” Garcia said.

On Saturday, May 18, Ala Projects celebrated its inaugural foray into the art world at 54 Eldridge Street. Dozens of smiling art lovers spilled from the intimate gallery space onto the sidewalk, carrying on lively conversations with cocktails in one hand and Venezuelan tequeños from a nearby food truck in the other.

Multimedia works filled the space, telling stories of what it means to be from the Latine diaspora and what it feels like to not be part of the taught history.

“I just had one course on art history and it was very Pre-Columbian, Renaissance, not a lot of or not any Latin American art in general,” said artist Gabriela Agreda of her education in Venezuela.

It wasn’t until she went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago that she was exposed to contemporary Latine names in the art world. Agreda recognizes this privilege, a sentiment she acknowledges in “Untitled” (2023). A pink house sits in the midst of a lush terrain as a woman walks by, her legs mid-step. The painting has been brushed over while drying, creating a sweeping effect across the canvas and blurring the subject

“It’s not something that a lot of people can benefit from,” Agreda said of the verdant landscape in relation to the overwhelming poverty of her native country, explaining her decision to abstract the greenery.

Gustavo Ghavani’s “Hecho a Mano” (Made By Hand) (2024) also touches on issues of class and social constructs. The hand-twisted rebar embedded in cement and accented with barbed wire harkens imagery of border patrol and the current migrant crisis in the US.

“In the States, at a large scale, [work like this] is done by heavy industrial equipment,” said Ghavani of “Hecho a Mano.” “But in Latin American countries and developing countries, it’s all manual labor, and it’s backbreaking work.”  

Its name shortened from arte latinoamericano, Ala Projects has been six years in the making but only established earlier this year by Garcia, formerly a gallery coordinator at Leon Tevor Gallery on the Upper East Side. The gallery joins ventures such as Proxyco and Calderón Gallery, both also in Manhattan, whose programs largely center Latin American as well as Latine/Latinx artists.

Act I will runs at Ala Projects through June 29, followed by Act II this fall. Act III will be showcased in Miami in December.

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