Latino Neighborhoods Become Literal Street Art

During this ongoing conversation of what is a mural, or what is not a mural, sometimes you find an artistic style that invites itself to be outdoor public art. Such is the work of a Los Angeles-based artist with a very personal artistic interpretation of Latino neighborhoods that, hopefully, will find a way to get installed on a wall someday. For now, it is an insightful detour in a Texas gallery.

Salon of Beauty, an installation by Highland Park artist Ana Serrano, is currently on display at Rice University Art Gallery in Houston. The site-specific stroll takes you through a brightly painted neighborhood, an assemblage filled with brightly colored barbwire, metal electric boxes, storefronts with signage, and porches with organic shapes, Wander through and you can see potted plants near windows with burglar bars, as seen in this short film by the San Antonio, Texas, film making team Mark and Angela Walley.

And it is all crafted from cardboard.

Ana Serrano constructing portion of Salon of Beauty  I Photo by Nash Baker for Rice Gallery
Ana Serrano constructing portion of Salon of Beauty I Photo by Nash Baker for Rice Gallery

"I like elevating it the point where it does become art," says Serrano, a recent Art Center College of Design grad. Not only does cardboard go beyond a craft material, but the installation shows Latino street scape with a distinct and endearing aesthetic. It stays true to the street without redeveloping Latino neighborhoods into Los Toonville.

"My intention in this exhibition was to pluck out certain details and moments from the urban landscape and condense them in one installation," Serrano says to KCET. "A large part of my inspiration is Los Angeles, because its where I'm from and where I live."

"But while I was creating this exhibition I didn't limit myself to identifying it as a specific city or neighborhood," says the artist who was born in East Los Angeles, grew up in South Los Angeles near 41st Steet and Long Beach, and currently lives and works in Highland Park.

It may go beyond Los Angeles. The walk-through sculpture, at close to ½ scale, is also touted by the gallery on the campus of Rice University as capturing a mood found in their regional Latino neighborhoods.

Salon of Beauty, an exhibition name based on the straight Spanish-to-English translation Serrano saw on a beauty salon, is not a recollection of where she is from. "I feel its a representation of how I currently experience urban environments," she says. "What's interesting is that the exhibition doesn't have that element of nostalgia for me, as it does for many people. To me it's still very much of my present history."

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Before this site-specific commission, she worked in much smaller scale. "It felt natural for me to enlarge my smaller sculptures into an almost life sized."

With this quick transition to large scale work, one can wonder how Serrano would fare with an outdoor installation with different materials--or simply painted. It would certainly be a unique mural combining the traditional Latino mural themes with a twist of contemporary pop-abstraction.

In the introduction to Salon of Beauty, The Rice Gallery picks up on the artists' statement and writes that the work speaks to "those in socioeconomic positions, with a particular interest in the customs, beliefs, informal economies, fashion, and architecture" within the collective of Latino communities.

It is also literal street art. Serrano's heightened reality of evolving folk and commercial iconography, romanticized through an affectionate eye, is understood by anyone who drives through the streets of Los Angeles.

Salon of Beauty  I Photo by Nash Baker for Rice Gallery

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