RAW At Asia

It's a pretty mild, clear sky night, inhabited by nocturnal denizens and surrounded by the usual white noise emitted by passing vehicles in Obama's backyard. It's a perfect night for a festive gathering, a late night tryst with a lover, or as in my case, an opportunity to indulge in art forms. A generous half-a-block line is forming on I Street outside Cafe Asia in downtown D.C. A collective of young individuals are gathering inside the premises of a local pub to celebrate, explore and share the rising latents expressed in forms of visual art, photography, music, fashion, etc. Stimulus (not to be confused with governmental affairs) was the tittle of the night, conjured up by RAW: natural born artists, an arts organization that selects local artists to showcase their work. According to their website, their mission is to "provide up-and-coming artists of all creative realms with the tools, resources, and exposure needed to inspire and cultivate creativity". After experiencing the shindig, a much need reassessment must be apply to such statement. 

  It was by a familial liaison--supported by chance--that I learned about the RAW event taking place just days away. The art and fashion enthusiast in me couldn't reject such proposition. It wasn't necessarily a desire to see more art, or more fashion, but a genuine, insatiable urge to explore the new. What's out there that I haven't seen? This question takes a different angle in a city like Washington, where there seems to be an efflorescence of fashion businesses, but lack of talent. Although I didn't see anything new, I found a spark of hope amid the chaos. 

As soon as you stepped inside Cafe Asia, you get a sense you're not in a traditional Japanese sushi place, but a suburban hip little joint where the young come to gather. The tables have been put away, and a live band set is placed in lieu. A giant screen hanged on the background displayed images of the participants, none of whom sounded remotely familiar. As I enter the main room, I feel an impetus to shift to the left and scrutinize what is unfolding in my vicinity. It was more of an architectural nuance, the center of a white wall bares a rectangular shaped cut-out, and inside there is layer of organic green vegetation that ramifies to all corners, taking over the entire space, creating a sense of depth. Beautiful. This was partly covered by streaked street signs, as if the venue has been vandalized the day before. It certainly was vandalized, or rather modified, by artist Marc William Bryant. He's calmly sitting by his work, writing last minute makeshift business cards, wearing a herringbone sportcoat, button-down shirt and a modicum of facial hair that suggests he prefers the scruffy-chic look. After being greeted by his pieces of painted metal at my entrance, it doesn't take long to infer which artist clearly and heavily influences his work. "He's one of my favorite artists", Marc concedes matter-of-factly, when I bring up Michael Basquiat. His series is titled, "Street Expressionism", which constitutes for around a dozens pieces of traffic signs that depict a perverse humanism through abstract strokes via graffiti-like techniques. "I really like to tell a story with my art", he says, "I like to depict a lot of drug use, a lot of gritty, hideous shit." This sort of morbid, yet exquisitely executed, approach to his work is perhaps best expressed in a piece dubbed, "Riding The Love Boat", an outline that appears to be a man in a schizophrenic state of mind, the red paint oozing from his head suggest blood, and the play with texture can be interpreted as a skin condition, "one of my ex-girlfrined's cousins used to do PCP, so I wanted to depict severe brain damage, like you're crying blood and shit", he explains. The amount of Marc's art displayed around the venue suggests he's the star of the night. His work comprises almost the entire first floor, and a quarter of the second level, "I always love the feeling of looking at my artwork", he says proudly. He tells me he is planning to move to Manhattan to attend Cooper Union on a full scholarship, and deservingly so. His work that night simply attests why. 

It would be convenient if I said the event was outstanding, but that would be intellectually dishonest. For one to get a grasp of the conditions at this small event, gander at the photo below, which depicts the left wing of the second floor teeming with people jostling to get from one end to the other. When one attends a gallery exhibition, it's customary to spend a few minutes delighting your eyes with what's being shown. And while doing so, if possible, exchange a few words with the artist. This seemingly feasible feast, was provided difficult with the narrow passage of walking space and the rather raucous music emanating from the loud speakers. It was KISS at MoMa--not happening! It seemed to me an obvious mistake had been made. It was either the amount of tickets were purposely oversold, thus overpopulating the place, or the funds were not sufficient enough, which did not allow a rental of a more accommodating venue. I'm not sure what really took place that night. 

Continuing my disquieted exploration around the premises in search for creative nirvana, I was able to descry a few talented individuals from the pack. It was a rather festive group of canvases at my ascendence to the upper level that caught my eye. One of which reminded me of Ernie Barnes' Sugar Shack, a social gathering perhaps taking place in Latin America, where a few beverages and feel-good music is enough to start a party. Nearby, there is a Warholian-esque postcard-size vignette of B.I.G laying on a table and an open-mouth portraiture of a woman in acrylic, while a disco ball seems to rotate within the frame, rests causally against the wall. Dona Summer? or, Diana Ross? or it could have been a vague expression of music blissfullness. It was a shame the artist shone by her absence. 

Expect the unexpected, it's what they say. I find it rather odd at times to catch yourself in a moment that was seemed completely unbecoming just minutes ago. I take a few short steps and I find this woman behind standing behind a table, who look like a lost member of Gwen Stefani's Harajuku Girls. It occurred to me, the woman was not attempting to make a fashion statement, but a statement on how she dresses on a daily basis. Her rather ostentatious garbs did not necessarily captured my attention, but a long  wooden door resting against a wall, adjacent to her did. It was a kitschy kitty allotted betwixt a thick-letttered "I" and "DC". Although I found her message banal, the decaying effect she achieved was quite interesting, the dripping black paint balances the super saturated sweetness of the image. 


A Resurgence Of Rubén Blades

A few days ago, last Saturday to be exact, I found myself seated in a quite dark room in a populated area in downtown D.C. It was a rekindle of sorts, or perhaps a fastidious lingering to stimulate my senses with a stream of visuals projected in a gargantuan screen. Daniel Espinosa's "Safe House" jumped out in the glare of my iPhone while swiftly scrolling through Fandango. Once I glanced at the characters' list, Denzel Washington seemed to be a valid enough reason to consider the film. Also, the story synopsis seemed appealing. The deadpan silence momentarily existing at the film's commencement was obstructed with a hoodrat' skirmish on the last row over apparently a mere seat. Luckily, she was escorted out, along with the other suspect of Hispanic origin, by a bevy of burly men clad in navy blue uniforms and black bullet-proof vests, bearing the name "Police" in yellow letters festooned on their backs. The fixation of my eyes to what was unfolding on screen never lost its focus. 

It wasn't even Ryan Reynold's toned specs of flesh passing through my eyes, when I casually lower my vision to the bottom of the screen and I mentally read "Rubén Blades" as the credits were passing by. Those two words inadvertently preoccupied my mind with childhood memories as Reynolds was divesting of his shirt and stepping into a running shower. What an inhibited moment of puerile infancy retrospect met with suggestive homoerotic imagery. I was really there for Denzel, but Blades made a pleasant, unexpected appearance. 

I was able to comprehend the fist-fighting, action-condensed story line of my first Espinosa film, and marvel at the typical, hat-tipping performance of a Hollywood Royalty constituent, but after the movie came to an end, I started to ponder upon the intrinsically familiar, yet apparent long-muted name Rubén Blades. I was bemused for a moment. It was unbeknownst to me the man could act, let alone display, albeit brief, a decent, bonafide, believable portrayal of a document forger residing in Cape Town named Carlos Villar (drawing similarities with Adolfo Kaminsky), and trade lines with someone the caliber of Washington and Reynolds. I will later learn, belatedly, the man has been part of hefty blockbusters including Stephen Hopkins' "Predator 2" and Robert Rodriguez's "Once Upon A Time in Mexico", and one of the ultimate TV series, The X Files. So then, when one considers this man's accomplishments; Minister of Tourism of Panama from 2004-2009, Harvard graduate, Grammy-award recipient, and legit Hollywood actor -- it's befittingly apropos to catalogued him as one of great Latin America's multifaceted performers. 

Growing up in Lima, Rubén Blades was constantly being played in my living room. The windows, wide open, letting out the distinctively cooing voice of Blades, accompanied with slow thuds of conga drums loudly emanating from the black stereo constructing a lively background to any salsa party. The man was being equally praised, if not as much as Héctor Lavoe and Willie Colon, and his ballads, laden with social and political messages established a connection with the peruvian public. I vividly remember chanting to Amor y Control with cousins, and I even knew, albeit no longer, every single lyric from Plastico ("ella era una chica plastica..."). One that carved a hole in my psyche was Pedro Navaja, a narrative that tells the story of the life and presumed death of a panderer of the same name (navaja means knife or razor in Spanish) in New York City. It was his rendering of Pedro Navaja (video above), performed in a fully realized, beautifully decorated stage that might've imbue Diego Rivera, in which he brilliantly fuses his hip-swinging inducing sounds, the art of story telling, live performance with the theatricality of a play that takes his work, and the salsa genre, to a different level. I mean, the man has senior citizens showing off on stage! (Betty White not included).  

To my world-citizens, non-latin fellow music enthusiasts, you're welcome.