The Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery presents an exhibition of comics by Chicano artists

by Ronnie Estoque

The Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery, located in White Center, is a versatile, multicultural and accessible art gallery grounded in Chicano and Latino artistic traditions. His March exhibit is titled “Ka-Pow: An Artistic Tribute to Comics.” Much of the art on display includes works by local artists, while other pieces were sent from across the country. All the money from art sales goes directly to the artists, explains Jake Prendez, owner and co-director of the Gallery.

The current exhibit “is an artistic homage to comics, and so many of us in the Chicano community are comic book fans,” Take told the emerald. “We want to focus again on marginalized communities and find the voices of those people who might not be seen in…other galleries.”

Siblings Alex (left) and Sara Vasquez (right) both featured their works in the exhibit. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

When Take returned to Seattle from East LA in 2015, he sought community through art. He had been heavily involved in the East LA Chicano art movement, and he envisioned the Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery in hopes that it would foster an environment similar to what he had experienced there.

“[Nepantla was] I really like to take my favorite places in LA, my favorite galleries, my favorite Chicano clothes from art stores and my favorite community centers and try to kind of create that space,” Take said.

Photo of Jake Take holding an artwork of Star Wars Princess Leia as Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Take hold of artwork for a gallery visitor to view. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

Judy Avitia-Gonzalez, co-director of the Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery, is also Prendez’s fiancée. They originally received offers to open their space in Beacon Hill and Columbia City, but ultimately settled on White Center, where Gonzalez has lived since moving to Seattle from East LA when she was 11.

“We’re just overwhelmed with the support we’re getting with the community embracing our dream. I wouldn’t be able to do all of this without God, and [Avitia-Gonzalez]“, said Take.

Every month they have new exhibits in the space. Prior to the pandemic, they held open mics, a youth art program and residency, and free art workshops. Previous exhibits have featured the works of Black Northwest, Indigenous, Pacific Islander, queer and women artists.

Next, the couple hope to open the Nepantla Cultural Arts Center, which would be a large community space where art rooted in Chicano and Latino artistic traditions could be created in a variety of capacities. They are currently applying for a grant. Take says the cultural center would expand the current gallery to include a black box theater, digital art space, studio rentals and creative space.

Photo depicting a bright pink wall of artwork in the Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery.
Some of Take’s art hangs on the walls along with a shelf of some retail items. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

Nepantla is a Nahuatl (Aztec language) term that describes being in the middle, or space in the middle. Take hope that their space can continue to be a welcoming environment for those who feel connected to this idea.

The term was popularized in the 1990s by Chicana scholar Gloria Anzaldúa. “I remember reading [Anzaldúa’s book Borderlands] in college and really embracing that concept,” Prendez said. “It can [describe] anyone who feels like they are in that in-between space. But in this boundless space is where we heal, we rejuvenate, we create.

Photo representing a wall of works of art whose central piece commemorates Lolita Lebron.
Artwork commemorating Puerto Rican activist Lolita Lebron by Jo Cosme on display in Nepantla. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

Gonzalez says space is also important for her three children, who are growing up at White Center.

“It’s so important for them to see the hard work [and] see culture, see diversity,” Gonzalez said. “To help make [Prendez’s] the dream becomes reality. And then see the dream blossom, then see the community embrace it and enjoy it. It’s super humiliating to me.

Take and Gonzalez look forward to future exhibitions in their space. The next show, “Soy Seattle,” will focus on different interpretations and experiences of Seattle.

Ronnie Estoque is a freelance photographer and videographer based in South Seattle. You can follow his work by visiting his website.

📸 Featured Image: Judy Avitia-Gonzalez (left) and Jake Prendez (right) in front of the Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery at White Center. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

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