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L.A. artist celebrates rafa esparza at Art Basel Miami

Guadalupe Rosales

(Star Montana / For The Times).

This story is part of “Corpo RanfLA: Terra Cruiser,” a special collaboration between rafa esparza, Image magazine and Commonwealth and Council. Learn how the entire project came about here.

I was born in Boyle Heights, East L.A. East L.A. is where I spent most my teenage years. I love to tell you that I lived on Whittier Boulevard, which is known as a cruising spot. This culture and this lifestyle were very much part of my childhood. I didn’t come from a family that owned lowriders — not everyone did or could afford these cars — but they were always in front of me. I could see them from my windows.

In some ways, it was part my identity and who I am. Growing up in East L.A., it wasn’t necessarily always safe, especially for a young girl or a teenage girl back in the day. I think it’s important to talk about the complexities of East L.A., without leaning toward one side — like the celebration and the beautiful things. I grew up during a time of violence at its highest. There were the 1992 L.A. Uprisings, gang violence, and war on drugs. For me, it was about living in a time and place where no one taught us how to survive — no one said, “You need to break these rules.” We were rebelling, we were surviving, we were resilient. We are still.

The work that I’ve been doing as an artist always comes back to belonging and memory. For example, the Whitney Biennial photos I took were all images of landmarks and meaningful sites from my childhood. My approach is to be very intentional — paying attention to what it feels like when I think about my memories in these locations. I want these emotions and energies translated into the work. Was a given night hazy, hot, quiet? How can I capture this in photos? They’re very cinematic. This is the representation of L.A. for me — it’s not the Hollywood sign or the beach. It’s the experience of being at night, running the streets, while the city sleeps.

I’ve been collecting materials like magazines, party fliers, clothing, photographs — all are mostly focused on ’90s subculture in L.A. — and posting them on Instagram. Street. Beat magazine, which was published between 1990 and 1996. It began in El Monte (SGV). It felt like a yearbook. Or a family album. Teenagers would take cameras from school to party or cruise with them and take pictures. The magazine would then publish the photos. Everyone, including the editors, were young. Teenagers used computers at school to create party flyers. We didn’t put the address on the flier; we didn’t put the location of where the party was going to take place. Instead, we had this term called “map points,” which is kind of a pin where you meet the person that has a direction — let’s say a gas station or a grocery store parking lot. You would then go to the location, give them money and give them two dollars. The person would then give you a piece of paper with the address. That was our ticket to the party.

I’ve been hosting these physical materials in my studio, and the goal is for me to open a community archive space, a space where people can come and run workshops. These are all stories that weren’t being preserved in institutions. It’s this piece of a puzzle that was missing. It’s not just my own work; we’re doing something together — people have been donating materials. We’ve been almost starting this movement about the archive, our histories, and challenging the world, challenging institutions to rethink and resee us in a different light.

I noticed that when I started this project on Instagram — two projects, “Map Pointz” and “Veteranas and Rucas” — I had gotten rid of many things from my teenage years, and I started wishing that I had kept them. I also met people who wanted to get rid. Not because they were like, “This is trash” — everyone knew that there was some importance. “Why did we hold onto this for over 20 years? Now that it’s been 20 years, we don’t want to just throw them out” — these are the people who are donating the materials. It almost feels as if we need these things to be able to reflect on the past or to prove our point. Like, these moments existed — here is this to tell you the story. The beauty about it, too, is that I’ve had experiences where I pick up these boxes of fliers or clothing or magazines, and I can smell a perfume, a home’s smells. By saving these materials and people handing them to me, it’s almost like we’re humanizing these archives.

The body is an archive. When I started thinking of our bodies as these containers, I was reading a lot of philosophy and thinking about my cousin’s death and the way he was murdered — he was stabbed, he was punctured. There’s pain there. And I think that experience for myself, or even when someone passed away in a violent way, to me — it’s again, like the fliers, this is evidence. Even scars and bruises, but also memories. Before I started this archive, I’d call back home and talk to my sister as an adult — this was 2014, when I was living in New York — and I’d ask questions like, “Hey, do you remember this person? Do you remember this party, do you remember where it was?” And she couldn’t remember. But then the next week, she’d remember. It’s almost this fluctuating thing that kind of expands — we forget, suddenly we remember, or other people remember certain things. That’s why I really like this idea of collective memory. Because that’s what’s happening with the archive on Instagram, where all these senses get activated, and then it encourages us to talk about our own memories. It’s almost this chain reaction. That’s what I mean when I say the body is an archive.

Guadalupe Rosales on a chair, looking straight at the camera

“We’ve been almost starting this movement about the archive, our histories, and challenging the world, challenging institutions to rethink and resee us in a different light,” says Guadalupe Rosales.

(Star Montana / For The Times).

When I first started thinking about the archive I was in New York and was missing my home. I moved to New York in 2000, when I was 20 years old. After suffering a lot of trauma in East L.A., it felt like I could start over. This led me to often need to disconnect from my family, friends, and community in L.A. I lived in New York 15 years. I returned to Los Angeles around 2013. I was missing my sister, and I was missing L.A. I was basically following L.A. online, reading the L.A. Times every morning. Searching the internet, I searched for people I grew up knowing to check if they are still around or what their interests were.

In 2015, I returned to L.A. and moved back. Because of my work, I had already built a network. I also reconnected to friends and family that I had lost touch with before I moved here. So it wasn’t like I had to start from the beginning again. Rafa Esparza was one of my first contacts when I moved back. Funny thing is, rafa and me had overlaps even before we moved to New York. I was in this punk band when I was a teenager, and we used to play all over L.A. And he told me, “I think I saw you guys play.” We didn’t know each other.

But the moment that really stands out is one of those trips that I made when I still wasn’t living here, around 2014, but was spending a lot of time in L.A. before moving back. My nephew and me were driving around East L.A./Boyle Heights. I was visiting all the places that I had previously spent time in and hanging out in. Then we drove under this bridge between Lorena and 4th Street. We drove by it and stopped, and then I saw two hands on the wall with blood — very dramatic — and I told my nephew, “Oh, my god, like, what the f— is that? Did something bad happen?” My nephew made up all these assumptions and stories of what could’ve happened; I took a picture. Then I met rafa, maybe the year after that, and I don’t know how that came up — maybe I saw a picture online — and it was actually from a performance he had just done. We always talk about it — funny thing that I was making up all these stories, but it was a performance that he had done a week before.

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