By Pablo Jaime Sainz
When Dr. Carmen Velasquez moved to Baja California from the state of Veracruz in 1973, she wasn’t very impressed with the Mexican art that was sold in Tijuana’s tourist sector.
“I always thought that what they were selling in the streets of Tijuana wasn’t the best quality Mexican art there was in Mexico,” said Velazquez, who practices as a dentist in Playas de Tijuana. “I thought that the art being sold at Avenida Revolución and other places was very commercial.”
Also, when she used to visit San Diego, she would notice how Mexican artists struggled to find a place where to exhibit their work.
For years, Velazquez had the dream of opening an art gallery where Mexican artists, both from San Diego and Baja California, as well as the rest of Mexico, could bring their art to San Diego county, a place that, believe it or not, has a large number of American collectors of Mexican art.
Today, Velazquez finally has the opportunity to make her dream come true: Friday, December 17, one week before Christmas, she cut the ribbon of Expressions of Mexico, an art gallery located in the heart of Barrio Logan, where Velazquez plans to bring pride to the community.
“The purpose of Expressions of Mexico is to have an outlet where Mexican artists can show their work,” Velazquez said. “There are many art galleries in Tijuana where Mexican artists have exhibitions, but I’ve seen the struggle they have to go through once they try to promote their work in San Diego. Here there are very few opportunities to do that.”
In addition to promoting paintings, Velazquez has the goal of promoting Mexican craftsmanship.
“I’ve always felt a lot of respect for Mexican artisans, who are always paid very badly for their work,” she said.
She added that usually American collectors are the ones who are very interested in this type of art, and here in San Diego there’s a large community of collectors who are well informed and know the culture.
It was through a group of American and Mexican collectors, known as Amigos del Arte Popular (Friends of Popular Art), sponsored by the Latin American Art Committee of the Museum of Art of San Diego, that Velazquez began to notice the vast interest in Mexican art, especially craftsmanship, there is among San-dieguinos.
And although her gallery Expressions of Mexico will serve art collectors who want to expand their collections of Mexican art, Velazquez said another important goal of the gallery will be to promote a more positive image of Barrio Logan.
“Barrio Logan has a rich history. This is the Mexican barrio in San Diego. This place is full of art and culture. Even though it has had a bad reputation for many years, we need to accept the fact that Barrio Logan captures the history of Mexicans in San Diego. It is up to us to change the negative image it has and show in this barrio all the good things Mexico has to offer,” Velaz-quez said.
Among her plans is to help turn Barrio Logan into a “Little Mexico,” just like the Italians did in Little Italy, she said.
Expressions of Mexico will host different types of events, from art exhibits to lectures by some of the most important artists in Mexico today, Velazquez said. There will also be a library with art history books, she said.
The gallery opened its doors last with week with a collective of local artists, both from San Diego and Tijuana.
One of those artists is Alejandra Phelts, one of the most important young artists in Tijuana.
“I think Expressions of Mexico is a great opportunity to show our work across the border, something that up to now has been very difficult to do,” Phelts said.
Velazquez said she started the project with her own money, but she said she accepts public contributions to continue with Expressions of Mexico.
“I have a lot of enthusiasm in this project. Please help us by coming to the gallery and buying art, books, come and participate so that we can keep on bringing quality Mexican art to San Diego.”
Expressions of Mexico is located at 1122 Cesar Chavez Parkway, in Barrio Logan. The telephone number is (619) 232-1793. The gallery is open Thursdays (12 p.m. to 6 p.m.), Fridays and Saturdays (11 a.m. to 6 p.m.), and Sundays (12 p.m. to 4 p.m.).