Mestizo Gallery illustrates richness, beauty of culture

A-Mestizo-Gallery Colby Patterson
An exhibition featuring art by Sonia Pentz and Nadia Rea Morales is on display at the Mestizo Coffeehouse and Gallery. Photo by Dane Goodwin.

An exhibition featuring art by Sonia Pentz and Nadia Rea Morales is on display at the Mestizo Coffeehouse and Gallery. Photo by Dane Goodwin.

Mestizo’s Coffeehouse is filled with the rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the scent of baked bread. At first glance, the eclectic coffee shop seems like any other cafe in the city. However, when patrons walk to the building’s back room, they watch it transform from café to art space.

The vibrant exhibits currently on display at Mestizo’s Art Gallery are Sonia Pentz’s “Ithaka 12” and Nadia Rea Morales’ “Zacuanpapalotls.” Both women have strong Latina roots, which influences their artwork and allows them to explore cultural transformations in the past and present.

Pentz is an integrative artist who utilizes her work to study ways in which cultures can be combined. Born in Uruguay, she immigrated to the United States, made her way to Utah and studied at Weber State University. Despite spending several years in the U.S., Pentz still holds on to her Uruguayan heritage, which is highlighted in her art.

In “Ithaka 12,” Pentz created an elaborate altar, paying homage to the late Dominican Mirabal sisters who fought for liberation and justice during the U.S.-funded military dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. This captivating and colorful display includes portraits of the three women. In the portraits, the women have golden-brown skin and jet-black hair of varying length and styles. Below the paintings are flowers, candles, trinkets, pictures and butterflies.

Also using the image of the butterfly is “Zacuanpapalotls.” Composed entirely of butterflies, “Zacuanpapalotls” literally covers every surface of the gallery. There are butterflies on the roof, floor and walls. They are pasted in such a fashion that they will eventually fall to the ground, an action meant to represent the insects’ deaths. It is comparable to being in a room with hundreds of butterflies as they spread their wings for the first time, thrive and eventually die.

These butterflies represent monarch butterflies, which migrate between Mexico and the U.S. in search of favorable weather conditions. To Morales, the insects’ journeys symbolize her own immigration and the immigration of many other Latinos.

Among the artists, Jennyffer Morales is at the heart of Mestizo’s Art Gallery. As director of the Mestizo Art and Activism program, she visits the art space twice a week. She thinks Mestizo’s thematic idea of integrating Latino culture with American culture is important.

“There have been many generations of Latin people living in America, and seeing them incorporate their culture with the American culture to create such works of art is something that I can see myself in,” Morales said.

She also noted that the exhibits mesh well because they both integrate the symbol of the butterfly. “The butterfly is a great symbol of moving, changing and being reborn,” Morales said. “Maybe others can experience some sort of rebirth here also.”

In addition to reaching Salt Lake City’s Latino residents, the two exhibits at Mestizo’s Art gallery hit close to home with a wider audience. After experiencing the creations of “Ithaka 12” and “Zacuanpapalotls,” Atim Ayi, a Weber State student whose parents emigrated from Africa, felt a personal connection with the artists.

“I personally found it hard to find the right balance between my African culture and that of America. I respect the artists for not only holding on to their culture but also being brave enough to depict it through their own voices for the world to see,” Ayi said.

From finding personal connections with the art to grasping the importance of other cultures, Mestizo’s Art Gallery works to educate its vistors.

“Where else can you sit or stand in a room surrounded by beautiful butterflies? Where else can you so intimately experience Latin culture?” Ayi said.

e.etokidem@chronicle.utah.edu