Da Vinci show by immigrants includes political portraits by gay Catalan artist


Da Vinci Art Alliance’s newest exhibition showcases a gallery of work by eight immigrant artists exploring their connections to home.

“Where I Dwell; Memory, Place, and Home” includes painters, sculptors and photographers whose ethnicities represent South Philadelphia: Chinese, Iranian, Colombian, Chilean and Honduran. It is the fourth year that Da Vinci, under the direction of board president Linda Dubin Garfield, dedicates gallery space in May to an exhibition of immigrant artwork.

“South Philly is a community of immigrants and we want to reach out to them, make them feel comfortable coming in and feeling a part our group,” Garfield said.  “Plus, it’s a hot topic and it feels right that we would want to have it.”

One of the featured artists is Jordi Sabate, a gay Catalan painter, illustrator and graphic designer, whose 2017 win at an art competition at the William Way LGBT Community Center connected him with Da Vinci board vice president David Acosta and earned him a spot in the exhibition.

Sabate, who emigrated to the United States in 2006 to be with his American partner, used his submission to consider his birthplace — Catalonia, the region in northern Spain recently in the news for quashed attempts to declare independence.

Sabate’s paintings, a series of seven acrylic portraits on canvas, imagine the abuse experienced by Catalans at the hands of Spanish police, press and social-media trolls.

“It’s called Catalanophobia,” Sabate said.  “Now, the independent people [Catalans] posting on Facebook and Twitter, they get insults from Spanish nationalists.”

Sabate channeled the offense he felt as a Catalan into his project for Da Vinci, imagining the anonymous faces on the receiving end of the insults, and painting their portraits.

“Everybody from Catalonia [who saw the portraits] said, ‘You can see the sadness in their eyes.’ I was just doing it and it came from inside.”

Some of Sabate’s portraits speak to specific events. One man, a black, shirtless Catalan painted with a stoic expression, is Sabate’s response to a survey he read in a Spanish newspaper.

“The survey asked, ‘Which would be worse: to be black, homosexual, or be Catalan?” Sabate said. “And one guy responded, ‘I am black, I am Catalan and I am homosexual, how does any of that make me a bad person?”

Though Sabate is now an American citizen, he said that producing political art, even in the States, makes him nervous.

“I know that here I can do it, but maybe if I were there, it would be a problem. I was scared that people would write the gallery and say, ‘Don’t do this show, because they see us Catalans as a threat,’” Sabate said.

Sabate said, to his knowledge, Da Vinci has received no such threats. A group of nine Italian immigrants opened the gallery in the 1930s — and a flyer by the front door defines their brand as “a tolerant, safe and accepting space for artists of all orientations, creed and identity.”

Garfield said that “Where I Dwell” constitutes a response to anyone doubting the integral role immigrants play in America.

“The artists live here and they contribute to society and they’re creative and wonderful, so what are we complaining about?”

“Where I Dwell; Memory, Place and Home” runs through May 30 in Gallery 1 of Da Vinci Art Alliance, 704 Catharine St. All visits are free to the public. For more information, visit http://www.davinciartalliance.org/whereidwell/.