"For the Love of L.A." can be heard in many ways: a signoff, as an exclamation, or an ode. As I selected Valerie J. Bowers, Christine Hipolito and Anna Luisa Petrisko as my participating artists in this digital curatorial project, I thought of this phrase and the personal role Los Angeles has played in my life. What would my love letter to Los Angeles contain if I were to write it? Los Angeles represents to me, the moment in my life I finally felt seen as a 1.5 generation Filipina American immigrant.
I was raised in a very homogeneously white suburb of Seattle, Washington and never felt my Filipinx American culture as something to be experienced publically, studied or celebrated. Moving to Los Angeles and connecting with the Filpinx American creative community helped me see the power of art as a tool for connection and collective inquiry.
Seeing myself in the Filipinx American community of Los Angeles has been an essential step in finding my voice as a curator and arts administrator. To reflect on the role Los Angeles has had on me, and on so many other Fil-Am creatives, it has acted as a nexus for connection. For artists that don’t normally see themselves in the larger artistic canon, Los Angeles is a place to claim space and find community.
Mahalaga is Tagalog for the word “essential” and is the title I’ve given to this digital curatorial project. The word “essential” has been used frequently these past few months, as we have faced a global pandemic, social revolution and now record breaking temperatures and rampant wildfires. We have been pressured to reflect on the essential components to our lives. Who is essential? What is essential? And how have these essential people and ways of life shifted with the realities of our fast-changing environment?
Filipinx Americans are essential in the story of our country. We are essential as we navigate this pandemic. We are essential in the fabric of Los Angeles’ creative community. The artists showcased in my selection of For the Love of L.A. represent different components of what is at the heart of the Filipinx diaspora in Los Angeles. Valerie Bower, a Los Angeles documentary photographer and zine-maker, created her piece We Are Essential Mahalaga Kami to illustrate the history of how the Filipinx community has been imperative to the backbone of our ecosystem of food and the importance of shared nourishment in Filipinx culture. Christine Hipolito, a first-generation Filipina multimedia artist, confronts the often-taboo subject of mental health among immigrant communities in her creative mindfulness prompts titled Desire Portals, a subject that is as essential as ever, particularly with the current circumstances of the world. Anna Luisa Petrisko spotlights the innate goofiness that comes hand in hand with the Filipinx American identity in her video and original song Ulit Ulit. At the heart of every Filipinx American household is the karaoke machine and, with social distancing, comes new ways to gather and find a stage for your karaoke performance.
Creativity thrives during times of transition as we are forced to build new ways of life. Just as Los Angeles is a point of conversion for creatives to connect and create, our digital world has exploded with new levels of community and engagement. I’m excited for the way that creativity will take new forms in this new type of life as it is never a question of if, it is a question of how. For the Love of L.A. is a digital space of what L.A. has represented for me, and so many artists: a space to create and be inspired by the deeply diverse community we are so lucky to have in each other.
Jennelyn Tumalad is a program manager and independent curator passionate about work that is driven by empathy, community and empowerment. She is currently the program specialist at the Center for Nonprofit Leadership at California Lutheran University and has worked at institutions across the U.S. such as the J. Paul Getty Museum, Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. She received her Bachelors in Art History and Interdisciplinary Visual Art at the University of Washington and completed her Masters in the History of Art and Design at Pratt Institute where her research focused on the history and intersections of socially engaged art and museum education. Alongside her work within museums and nonprofits, she is an advocate and organizer within the Filipinx American creative community. Her most recent contributions to the Filipinx American community have been her exhibitions: Walking in the Sun at Human Resources, Los Angeles (May 2019) and Trabaj/ho: Resistance of a Colonial Imprint at the Carnegie Art Museum, Studio Gallery in Oxnard, CA (October 2019 - January 2020). Jennelyn was born in the Philippines, raised in the Pacific Northwest and is currently based in Ventura County.