whitehot | August 2008, Vexing: Female Voices from East LA Punk @ Claremont Museum of Art
Teresa Covarubbias, courtesy Claremont Museum of Art
Vexing: Female Voices from East LA Punk
May 18-August 31, 2008
Claremont Museum of Art
536 W. First St.
Claremont, CA 91711
Pink Viscera—A Permanent Triumph
The élan of the Vexing… exhibit at Claremont Museum is its tribute to a regional phenomenon. The exhibit centers on the Punk Movement of the l970’s and l980’s that occurred in Los Angeles. For this article I was fortunate to interview four of the magnetic women that were participating in producing and directing this creative vortex in its early stages. These women are: Diane Gamboa, Alice Bag, Exene Cervenka and Teresa Covarrubias. Pink viscera-the forthright strength of their voices was a gift for me. The exhibition took on a different dimension after these interviews. I learned that using the Vex for this exhibit was more of an umbrella and a concept for the Los Angeles Punk Movement. Alice Bag said that she was part of the Hollywood Punk scene (The Masque)-preceding the Vex, and Teresa Covarubbias said that her band The Brat came along after the Vex.
Diane Gamboa helped to emphasize my impression of the regional quality of the exhibit by saying that her 10’x60’ painting on unstretched canvas was designed to embrace the girls she used to work with in the early punk days. She said that creating her painting was reminiscent of how she would paint or design a set on the spot, using whatever was handy like a sabana (bed sheet), like the Little Rascals when they put up a show… For Diane this exhibit was the first time the girls had collaborated outside the club scene. As a visual artist, Diane provided a window for her friends to see how she maneuvers around the politics of a museum. She expressed how they dialogued over the discernable differences with the museum audience. Additionally, because of her small stature, the scale and physicality of the painting became challenging for Diane. She said she felt like David and Goliath. On opening night Diane’s painting became the backdrop for the performances of her friends Alice Bag and Teresa Covarrubias.
Consistently intriguing are the photographs taken by Louis Jacinto of Alice Bag and The Bags. The photograph of The Bags entitled Day with The Bags at Hollywood Forever 1978, is displayed on the center wall upon entering the museum. Jacinto’s photographs capture the physical emotion of his models. Alice refers to her facial expressions of the punk period as …a scary, angry gorgon. This description was in response to my comment about the peaceful nature of one of her website photographs. As Alice said in her online interview, "I don’t know if I can honestly say that I’m at peace. I think I have figured out a way to negotiate a truce which allows me to express myself in positive ways, or at least, to be less impulsive than I once was. I still have the capacity to rant and rave." She goes on to say that she still considers herself uncivilized.
In her online interview, Alice discusses how she was part of the well integrated Hollywood Punk Scene that preceded the scene at the Vex. (However, after The Bags broke up in l980, she did play the Vex with The Castration Squad, an all female proto-goth ensemble, and other groups.) She said, Latinos were performing alongside other punk musicians in integrated bands. Other Latino kids of her ethnic, economic and gender were inspired and motivated by seeing a woman from a poor, working class family from East LA play and sell out popular clubs of the day. Alice’s voice was not about her background or gender, as she states, "I was simply being who I was and singing about a broad range of topics."
Teresa Covarrubias of The Brat felt that the exhibit was a stepping off point…giving some attention for a phenomenon that "…never got a lot of play…it (the exhibit) got a lot of conversation that needed to be explored." She also gave credit to Exene Cervenka from the band X for helping her band launch their EP Attitudes.
Exene Cervenka was acknowledged as part of the punk vanguard and also as a visual artist with her display of collages and journals. She mentioned that she was flattered to be included in the exhibition.
The exhibit also included a host of nubile talent in the music and visual arts arena.
In Shizu Saldamando’s Pee Chee LA 2004, the pee chee folder takes on allegorical quality because in the past it has been used by some Latino boys as part of their school uniform. The pee chee could be seen rolled up in the back pocket of boys who didn’t want to be known as school boys. It was also essential for the pee chee to be personalized with the owner’s doodles. Shizu has followed that tradition by embellishing the graphics on the folder with her own drawings.
The Vexing exhibit will be on display for almost three and a half months. The exhibit has helped to give the Claremont Museum welcomed recognition and visibility.
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief