Photo depicting Judy Avitia-Gonzalez and Jake Prendez standing in front of the bright-orange colored exterior of Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery.

Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery Features Comics Art Show by Chicano Artists

by Ronnie Estoque

The Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery, located in White Center, is a multiuse, multicultural, accessible arts gallery grounded in the Chicano and Latino arts traditions. Its March exhibition is called “Ka-Pow: An Artistic Tribute to Comics.” Much of the art showcased includes work from local artists, while other pieces have been sent in from all over the country. All money from art sales goes directly to the artists, says Jake Prendez, owner and codirector at the Gallery. 

The current exhibition “is an artistic tribute to comics, and there’s so many of us in the Chicano community that are comic book fans,” Prendez told the Emerald. “We want to focus again on marginalized communities and find the voices of those folks that might not get seen in … other galleries.”

Siblings Alex (left) and Sara Vasquez (right) both had their artwork featured in the exhibit. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

When Prendez moved back to Seattle from East LA in 2015, he sought out community through art. He had been heavily involved in the East LA Chicano art movement, and he dreamed up the Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery in hopes it would foster a similar environment to what he had experienced there. 

“[Nepantla was] really like taking my favorite places in LA, my favorite galleries, my favorite Chicano apparel in art stores, and my favorite community centers and trying to kind of create this space,” Prendez said. 

Prendez holds up artwork for a gallery visitor to see. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

Judy Avitia-Gonzalez, the codirector of the Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery, is also Prendez’s fiancée. They had initially received offers to open their space in Beacon Hill and Columbia City, but ultimately chose White Center, where Gonzalez has lived since she moved to Seattle from East LA at the age of 11.

“We’re just overwhelmed with the support we get with the community embracing our dream. I wouldn’t be able to do all of this without God, and [Avitia-Gonzalez],” Prendez said. 

Every month, they have new exhibitions in the space. Prior to the pandemic, they hosted open mics, a youth art program and residency, and free art workshops. Previous shows have featured the artwork of Northwest Black, Indigenous, Pacific Islander, queer, and women artists. 

Next, the couple hopes to open the Nepantla Cultural Arts Center, which would be a large community space where art rooted in Chicano and Latino art traditions could be created in a variety of capacities. They are currently applying for grant funding. Prendez says the cultural center would expand the current gallery to include a black box theater, a digital art space, studio rentals, and a maker space. 

Some of Prendez’s art hangs on the walls along with a shelf of some retail items. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

Nepantla is a Nahuatl (Aztec language) term that describes being in the middle, or the space in the middle. Prendez hopes their space can continue to be a welcoming environment for those who feel connected to this idea. 

The term was popularized in the 1990s by Chicana scholar Gloria Anzaldúa. “I remember reading [Anzaldúa’s book Borderlands] in college and just really embracing that concept,” Prendez said. “It can [describe] anyone that is kind of feeling like they’re in this in-between space. But in that boundless space, that’s where we heal, we rejuvenate, we create.”

Artwork commemorating Puerto Rican activist Lolita Lebron by Jo Cosme on display at Nepantla. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

Gonzalez says the space is also important to her three children, who are growing up in White Center. 

“It’s so important for them to see the hard work [and] to see the culture, to see the diversity,” Gonzalez said. “To help make [Prendez’s] dream come true. And then see the dream thrive, and then see the community embrace it and enjoy it. It’s super humbling to me.” 

Both Prendez and Gonzalez are looking forward to future exhibitions in their space. The next show, “Soy Seattle,” will focus on different interpretations and experiences of Seattle.

Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.

📸 Featured Image: Judy Avitia-Gonzalez (left) and Jake Prendez (right) in front of Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery in White Center. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

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