LOS ANGELES — Guadalupe Rosales wasn’t expecting to create a wildly popular viral sensation when she began her Instagram account Veteranas & Rucas in 2015. The artist and archivist who grew up on Los Angeles’s Eastside had moved to New York 15 years earlier, with hopes of reinvention, distancing herself from her friends and family. By the mid-2000s, however, she was looking to reconnect with her roots in Southern California. What she found was a dearth of material online that reflected her experience.
“There wasn’t much out there,” she told an audience last month who had assembled for a discussion and book signing at the Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM). Of course, Los Angeles is well represented in popular media, but it is an overwhelmingly white, sun-dappled poolside Hollywood vision. The Latinx experience — especially her Latinx experience, as a female heavily involved in the rave scene — were nowhere to be seen.
“It inspired me to start an Instagram with my personal archives, and then asking people for submissions,” she said. From this humble origin, Veteranas & Rucas was born, followed a year later by her second account Map Pointz. “Veteranas & Rucas is from a female perspective, going back to the 1900s, talking about Chicano culture, the party scene, lowrider scene, women socializing in different ways, families,” she explained. “Map Pointz is specific to the ’90s party crew and rave scene in SoCal but focused on brown bodies.”
The two accounts, which boast 185,000 and 33,000 followers respectively, feature predominantly user-submitted photos along with selections from Rosales’s archives, including party flyers and baggy raver clothes, to create a composite portrait of underrepresented communities. The text and comments are almost as important as the images, as people put their own photos into context, share stories, and reconnect with long-lost friends. Although the accounts are her brainchild, she views them as collaborative, trying to include as much information from sources as they are comfortable sharing. Decades before the selfie, these portrait studio glamor photos and more candid snaps show people reclaiming their images, portraying themselves as they want to be represented.
Rosales’s online archival projects form the basis of the IRL exhibition Echoes of a Collective Memory at VPAM. Instead of simply reproducing digital images in an analog space, the exhibition, which focuses primarily on Map Pointz, creates an immersive space of ephemera, light, and sound. Outside the gallery, visitors can pick up a pay phone to hear a woman giving the details to a party that night. Pre-internet, this was how parties were organized, via flyer, pay phone, and beeper, as “map points” led ravers on an underground scavenger hunt.
Upon entering the gallery, the first thing visitors see is a wall covered in collaged images of women, striking poses in bedrooms or in front of cars. On opening night, Rosales noted, “a lot of women were taking pictures of themselves in front of it,” excitedly sharing their previous lives with their daughters.
The intimate gallery is bathed in a blue light, as the low throb of house music provides a soundtrack. A two-channel video slide show anchors the space, scrolling through images of Latinas with arched eyebrows and teased hair, posing proudly with their crews in staged photos. Next to the projection, three baseball hats repping the names of different party crews — including Rosales’s, called Aztek Nation — sit on a plexiglas shelf, which casts a colored shadow on the wall, recalling a Don Judd sculpture. Two plexiglas go-go boxes glowing a deep orange serve as display cases for various show flyers, wallet-sized photos, and other ephemera related to the rave scene. Alongside them are issues of La Quebradita magazine featuring banda groups on their covers.
“Banda magazines, that’s another subculture that hasn’t been talked about,” Rosales told Hyperallergic after her talk, describing a scene similar to the rave community, but focused on Spanish-language rancheras, corridos, and boleros. “They had backyard parties with DJs playing quebradita music. I thought it was important to have it in there. It was all happening at the same time.”
Issues of Voz Fronteriza magazine hang on the wall, lending a political edge to the party vision. “All Power to the People!” exclaims one with an image of Emiliano Zapata next to Black Panther leader Huey Newton, while another declares then governor Pete Wilson “Raza Enemy #1.”
Despite the jubilant atmosphere, the exhibition strikes a somber note with the inclusion of an altar dedicated to Rosales’s cousin Ever Sánchez, who was stabbed to death at a party in 1996. “It is part of the story,” Rosales told the LA Times‘ Carolina Miranda last fall. “It just is. Just like we talk about the fun times and friendships, we can also talk about the traumas and the violence.”
An accompanying catalogue published by Little Big Man translates the story back to the printed page, beginning with images from Rosales’s life and expanding to include contributions from others. It loosely follows the structure of a week in the life, beginning with Rosales and her friends ditching school to party, then the weekend raves, the cruising, and lowrider culture on Sunday. Although the catalogue draws on many sources, it’s still a deeply personal narrative, “it’s still a young girl telling a story,” she says. “It’s me and my sister, my writings, my old house, my party crew.”
For Rosales, her project is important not just to archive a moment in time, but to present an image of Latinx communities that has been excluded from both popular and artistic media.
“I did a talk at a college recently and an art student came up to me and said, ‘I never thought I could see myself in the art world or in magazines,’” Rosales told the crowd at VPAM. “This is why the work that I do is so important, because there’s so much out there that we didn’t put out, but has been put out by other people who are appropriating it, but who didn’t live the lifestyle.”
Although Rosales has already garnered attention and accolades, including a recent solo show at New York’s Aperture Gallery, her work isn’t close to done.
“When I started the Instagram, I would get a lot of messages from people outside the US saying, ‘we didn’t know you listened to house music and techno.’ I tried to explain as much as I could,” she recalled, “but this is going to take years.”
Echoes of a Collective Memory continues at the Vincent Price Art Museum (1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez, Monterey Par) through January 19.