Artist Guadalupe Rosales’s first solo museum show at the Vincent Price Art Museum starts with a pay phone in the hallway. You pick it up and get directions to a series of raves and parties that took place more than 20 years ago.
Once you enter the exhibit space, you are transported into the East LA youth culture of the 1990s, replete with rave lighting, go-go boxes pasted with fliers for parties, photos of Latinx teenagers, and an altar, dedicated to Rosales’s cousin, who was murdered in East LA.
“The show is more like a feeling, it’s more like a memory,” Rosales says. “I feel like it’s important to feel things instead of just talk about it.”
Rosales has been opening the floodgates of dialogue in East Los Angeles since 2015. That year, she started the Instagram account Veteranas and Rucas, a photo archive dedicated to Latina women raised in Southern California, which now has more than 170,000 followers.
“I was living away from home at the time,” Rosales recalls. “I was really interested in sharing my own story and how I grew up, because I felt like a lot of stuff out there wasn’t really telling my story. I couldn’t relate to a lot of material or articles or textbooks or anything that really told my story. You know, they were either too stereotypical of the Chicano lifestyle, or from a male perspective.”
From the beginning, Rosales saw Veteranas and Rucas as a community project. Rosales posted pictures of her own youth and encouraged other Latinas to submit their own photos. Soon, she was receiving photos with descriptions as simple as “this is my tia” to long, detailed emails describing the memories behind the pictures.
“It took a while for people to feel comfortable to talk about their past,” Rosales says. “But now people have begun to really embrace it and feel really good about it.”
This means talking about both the positive and tragic aspects of growing up in East LA, mainly in the Boyle Heights area.
“I had a lot of really good friendships,” Rosales recalls of her youth in the 1990s. “But there are also those times where I witnessed drive-by shootings, so it was good and bad. My friends lived in a few blocks radius around where I lived so we were really close. Also, my house faced Whittier Boulevard, which was the street where people would go hang out and cruise in their cars, meet people, socialize and all that stuff. And that was pretty much my front door.”
Veteranas and Rucas has been a cathartic experience for Rosales and the hundreds of women who have submitted their photos and memories. She explains that many women contact her outside of public social media, to tell their stories of love, loss, and violence through email or direct message on Instagram.
“I had really good conversations with women, letting them feel it’s okay tell our stories. That it’s okay to talk about trauma and about good memories as well,” she says. “I think a lot of women tend to feel like they can’t because it’s more common for a man to talk about the violence. But we’ve also witnessed it, we’ve experienced it, so when the time is right we want to talk about it.”
Rosales’ innovative use of social media as a kind community therapy, archive, teaching tool and artwork rolled into one, has long fascinated and inspired Pilar Tompkins Rivas, director of the Vincent Price Art Museum, who curated the new exhibit.
“It’s been really interesting to see what a digital archive can do,” Tompkins Rivas says. “I really think of it as a community-based sourcing of images that don’t exist in other kinds of historic archives... You’re creating this amazing opportunity to counter the negative stereotypes of Chicanas and women from East LA that could be pervasive in the media.”
In 2016, Rosales broadened the conversation when she started the Official Map Pointz Project, an Instagram account dedicated to ’90s party crews, raves, and warehouse parties. Those pictured look like kids-with their friends, figuring it all out, finding joy in dressing alike, in posing, in moving.
“I like photos that are very candid,” Rosales says. “That catch a moment. I love those.”
These photos of happy youth in the prime of their lives capture deeper truths about growing up in East LA.
“Teenagers, including myself, were creating unique spaces in the midst of gang violence,” Rosales says of her days in the ’90s rave scene.
Rosales’ teen years were a time of turmoil in Los Angeles.
“There was a lot of really difficult stuff happening in LA, with the ’92 uprisings, [Proposition] 187, all these things that are trying to legislate against brown bodies or make life really difficult,” Tompkins Rivas explains.
Many East LA teens fleeing to the parties and raves were creating their own community, away from a government system which often failed or discriminated against them, and an downturned economy which left many of their families in poverty.
“If they were going to go to a ditching party-a ditching party is when they would all ditch school in the middle of the day and go to a rave at somebody’s house in the Eastside, you have to thread the needle and say, ‘So what was happening, why would they not want to be in school and rather be in a ditching party?’” Tompkins Rivas says. “Because the schools were terrible, so they were creating new outlets.”
With both her Instagram accounts and her show, Rosales is creating not only her own outlet but also a new kind of historical record, where the people included control the narrative.
“It is about unlearning, relearning, reexamining our history as youth in Southern California,” she says of her work. “It is also about honoring those who we’ve lost in time.”
On September 15, more than 800 people packed the Vincent Price Art Museum for the opening of “Guadalupe Rosales: Echoes of A Collective Memory.” The opening was uniquely East LA, with a car show outside, and a joyful, family atmosphere throughout.
“The energy here for the opening was through the roof,” Tompkins Rivas says. “It was really so exciting to see people who are now parents bringing their little kids here and saying, ‘this is what daddy used to do,’ ‘this is what mommy used to do,’ and explaining it to them.”
Rosales’ work has achieved worldwide attention. In 2016, she earned her master’s degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She was the inaugural Instagram artist-in-residence at LACMA and was invited to take over the New Yorker’s social media account for a week.
Her new show, “Legends Never Die, A Collective Memory Exhibition” at the Aperture Foundation in New York, is running through November. Her first publication, Map Pointz: A Collective Memory, is slated to be released later in the year.
But for Pilar Tompkins Rivas at the Vincent Price Art Museum, she remains most excited for the impact that Rosales’ show will have on the East LA youth of today, many of whom are students at East LA College, where the museum is located.
They will be able “to see themselves validated in these images and find reflections of themselves that they didn’t even know were out there, even though this isn’t their generation,” she says. “There’s something in that that says ‘my experiences are valid too.’ I think it’s very positive and affirming project.”