South Central Invades the Art World

On a recent Saturday night at a Señor Fish, a restaurant in the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles, a dozen or so up-and-coming artists gathered on the patio to promote "La Reina". La Reina, or "the queen" in Spanish, is an art fair put on by Street Biz Inc. to celebrate the city of L.A.

The patio outside was brimming with commotion. Exhibition Tables lined both sides of the patio. The back corner was filled by a stiff crew of gentlemen who turned their chairs around in a line in order to face the crowd. The stink of reefer hung in the air as a group of party goers danced to a Bob Marley tune.

The most exhilarating part of the night festivities was when the rappers went up to perform. The Inner City Dwellers were lead by MC RHIPS (Resting Humbly In Poetry & Song) who started things out with a shout out to the crowd,"Is there any gangbangers in the house?" It drew a strong response from the audience who cheered and waved their fingers in the air. RHIPS then busted out a rap song with lyrics in both English and Spanish.

In between songs, RHIPS raged on about immigration. "We're all illegal and no one is going back," he said to the delight of the audience. RHIPS' alias Andres Rivera seems posed for stardom.

Rivera is heavily influenced by his immigrant Mexican parents and the neighborhood he grew up in, South Central L.A. Rivera is part of a new wave of Latino rappers who are emerging from the streets of L.A.

Most of the crowd who attended weren't hipsters or yuppies but straight up gangsters. No Che Guevara t-shirts here. Most of the crowd was careful, trying to avoid a fight or worse yet a shooting. But the event was peaceful with no bloodshed.

The most notable exhibition display had to belong to Hazek Shakti, who showcased about 20 unique handmade necklaces. The designs, inspired by nature, used colorful and distinctive stones. The necklaces were priced fairly reasonably, ranging from $18 to $40.

Social justice was the theme at Raquel Chavez's display. On her table she laid out a borrowed collection of 1950's black and white photos from the Los Angeles public library. One of the pictures titled "An Urban Strategy" shows a plan by L.A. to redevelop the inner city. When asked if there were any political overtones or implications to the display, she said, "Yes, a celebration of people of color."

It was amateur hour at a bar set up in the back. The bartender was selling supermarket store brand vodka for six dollars a shot. The whole bottle could be bought for six dollars.

Across the aisle a painter, Dazer 169, was half way through a work of art that could be best described by himself as "street art." There were several other people painting on easels scattered about. Eddie Baldono was finishing up his final picture in a series of six entitled "Mariachi".

Although the theme was supposed to celebrate the city of L.A., that vibe seemed scarce; almost all of the art was celebrating Latino culture.

The DJ's could best be described as novices for playing the Bee Gee's and Bob Marley. The rappers were raw and genuine, paramount to the night's success.

In the end, La Reina had accomplished what it had set out to do, celebrating L.A. by encouraging imagination and creativity throughout the city.