For more than 40 years, Denver’s prominent Abarca Family has been collecting various mediums of Mexican and Mexican-American art. Last night, a fraction of that
collection started its six-week exhibit at the Emmanuel Art Gallery on the Auraria campus in Downtown Denver.
The exhibit, titled Belleza Mexicana, celebrates the power and strength of Mexican women and features works from artists of all backgrounds—including a photograph and a painting by the late Luis Abarca, who, after a lifetime of appreciating art, became an artist himself later in life.
“This is a dream that I dreamt with my parents,” Adrianna Abarca, co-curator of Belleza Mexicana and the founder and chair of the Latino Cultural Arts Center, said of the exhibit. That dream began 40 years ago and “It’s amazing to have it come to fruition in an exhibit at Auraria, because our parents raised our family near to this neighborhood.”
As children, Abarca told event-goers at the opening reception, they would hang out at St. Cajetan’s church where their father was working as a secretary at the church’s credit union. They also frequented the historic Casa Mayan restaurant that brought in musical talent from Mexico.
It’s not just because the exhibit opened at the family’s old stomping grounds that makes the event special, Abarca said. It’s a milestone for the Chicano, Mexican and Hispano communities of Denver.
“Our history has been, oftentimes, overlooked, not acknowledged,” Abarca said. “We haven’t received the respect that we deserve and I think this exhibition is really increasing awareness that we’re so worthy of respect and pride. The pride that we have is for a very good reason.”
She said having the young students from the CU Denver College of Arts and Media co-curate and hang the exhibit is a tremendous opportunity to be proud for many reasons.
“They come to a school that cares about their heritage and culture,” Abarca said.
David Ocelotl Garcia, a Latino Cultural Arts Center Artist in Residence, is honored to have his piece “La Muerte Joven” be part of the show.
“The exhibit is so unique and so special,” Garcia said. “It’s even more so because I know quite a bit of the artists involved, I know their passion and I know their work. To be a part of that is just amazing because I am inspired by many of these artists.”
Laurence Kaptain, Dean of the CU Denver's College of Arts and Media said that Mexico and its culture and art have a special place in his heart because he was once a Fulbright Scholar to Mexico, where he did his doctoral work in Chiapas in Southern Mexico.
“I’m so pleased and excited that we have a director and curator here, Jeff Lambson, who has the sensibility and skills to work with people who are very prominent in the art community—like Adrianna Abarca,” Kaptain said of Lambson, the Emmanuel Gallery director.
“I really, really want to thank Adrianna for bringing her vision for outstanding art in the community and using the space that we have and the talent that we have at CU Denver to combine and support her artistic vision,” Kaptain added. “We’re very proud to be associated with Adrianna.”
The event featured music from Las Dahlias and both colorful and black-and-white artwork that ranged from pencil on paper to photographs to textiles to jewelry.
“I loved it,” said Victoria Medina, a commissioner on the Lafayette Cultural Arts Commission who made the trek from Lafayette for the event. She appreciated that the show celebrated Latinas and said it was beautifully arranged. “The placement of everything—they paid really specific attention to everything. They very cognitively placed the art so that the eye wanders the gallery properly.”
Marianna DiVietro, director of development for the Office of Advancement at CU Denver, said the first thing you notice about the exhibit is its vibrant colors. She especially loved that the pieces are all about women from birth throughout the end of life.
“It speaks to me as a woman,” DiVietro said. “It’s really nice to see an exhibit that exemplifies us.”
Judi Diaz Bonacquisti, co-owner of Bonacquisti Wine Company, said she loved the variety of regions the artists represented and the variety of mediums of the pieces.
“It’s a good representation of the beautiful country that Mexico is from the textiles to the ceramics to the prints and photography,” Diaz Bonacquisti said. “It was amazing. It instills a lot of pride in history.”
The Launch of the LCAC
At the Belleza Mexicana opening reception Abarca announced the launch of the Latino Cultural Arts Center, which will break ground in 2020 and will feature a north and south campus including a museum, a library, an academy and a store in Denver’s Sun Valley neighborhood.
This prospect pleases many people in the Latino arts community, including Medina, who thinks a center for Latino arts will attract top-tier artists to show their work in the area.
“We want to show that we’re as capable as anyone else to represent ourselves, to have an institution that we can house this beautiful art,” Abarca said. “This is the beginning of something much bigger and much needed in our community.”