'Arte Hispano’ on display at Historic City Hall
By Pamela Seal
Diocese of Lake Charles
LAKE CHARLES — Art, dance, music, and cuisine from the Hispanic community at St. Henry Catholic Church were on full display at the Lake Charles Historic City Hall Arts and Culture Center for the opening of “Arte Hispano” on December 9, the feast day of Saint Juan Diego. The inaugural event attracted hundreds of guests for the liveliest opening night reception on record.
The beating of drums echoed throughout downtown Lake Charles as the Guadalupe Dancers set the rhythm leading up to the ribbon-cutting by Father Joseph Caraway, parochial vicar at St. Henry. Cheers of joy erupted from spectators and featured artists eager to view the exhibit for the first time.
Featuring more than 100 pieces of art from 11 artists representing five countries — Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico — the exhibition is an opportunity for the Latino community to share its culture with Southwest Louisiana through Saturday, February 4, 2023, at Historic City Hall, 1001 Ryan Street.
Ahead of the festive entertainment, Father Matthew Cormier, pastor of St. Henry, prayed, “May we always strive to bring Christ to the world with the gifts and talents he has given us. May this exhibit be a way to show your beauty to the world, O Lord.”
Sharing God’s beauty is exactly what Ricardo Ruvalcaba, Spanish Pastoral Assistant in the Diocese of Lake Charles, had in mind when he was approached by Matt Young, director of Historic City Hall, to work on the project.
“Artists are called to be messengers just like Saint Juan Diego when he saw the Virgin of Guadalupe,” said Ruvalcaba. “Our message is more art, less cell phone; more dancing, less idleness; more singing, less complaining; more contemplation, less noise. Art is a vitamin for our peace and a strength for our soul.”
Among the works of art are paintings in acrylic, oil, and pencil; photography and multi-medium sculptures. Featured artists include Patricia Suárez (Venezuela), Gisselle González (Bolivia), Samantha Espinosa (Ecuador), Martín Garzón (Colombia), and from Mexico — Luciano Neira, Jesús Neira, Elí Vargas, Sofía Tamariz Legros, Erik Guerrero, Badiha Galeazzi, and Ricardo Ruvalcaba.
Of special note is the exceptional artwork created by four artists with disabilities, according to Ruvalcaba. One such artist is 50-year-old Patricia Suárez, who expresses with her hands what is in heart and imagination. Through her acrylic paintings, she is making it clear that her disability is not her only label.
Patricia said she has always felt a closeness to the Blessed Virgin Mary since she was a child. For the exhibit she painted the “Virgin of Chiquinquira,” representing where she lived in Venezuela.
Another of her paintings, “Virgin of Guadalupe on the Gulf of Mexico: Protector Against Hurricanes,” is based on her first experience with hurricanes in 2020 after moving to Lake Charles.
“I am very thankful and excited because I was given the opportunity to express my talent and Venezuelan culture,” Patricia said. “I am very happy to be living here in America.”
Gisselle Gonzales, an 11-year-old student at S.J. Welsh Middle School, is one in 100,000 diagnosed with Treacher Collins Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. Arts and crafts are her favorite ways of communication and expression.
“I enjoy painting and crafting. I imagine what I want to do and then I make something from my imagination and what I see,” said Gisselle. “When I painted Noah’s Ark, and the Last Supper with Jesus and his Apostles, it felt like I was there. Artwork helps put me into the stories of the bible.”
Her mother Bianca de Gonzalez said, “Gisselle is a young and creative artist whose eyes find value in everything and turns what looks like nothing into an amazing creation that only her eyes can see.”
Jesús Neira chose to showcase photographs he has taken on many of his journeys. His 15-year-old brother, Luciano, who doesn’t speak much because of a disability, transmits what he can through each of his own works of art.
“Luciano has been painting since he was 8 years old. Painting is all about his imagination,” said Jesús. “He likes painting for his family, especially for special occasions.”
When asked how he felt to see his artwork hanging on the wall with his name next to it, Luciano’s face lit up with a huge smile.
“He was very excited and emotional about people wanting to take photos with him and his paintings in the background,” said Jesús. “He was very happy, enjoying every single second. He was even dancing. He loves to dance.”
Speaking for himself, Jesús said that he will photograph anything if he likes the angle.
“I see art everywhere, in a sunset, in a building or just a tree,” he said. “I like to travel, exploring new cities, new people, some new cultures, and visiting museums around the cities.”
The only pencil sketches in the exhibit were created by Martín Garzón, one of the youngest artists featured. Now 10 years old, he said that he has been doodling since he was a little kid and started getting good at it.
“I began sketching when I was 9. I am better at drawing objects or masked people,” he remarked, and will even take requests from his friends at school. “In the afternoons we can draw, and some will ask me to draw for them. I feel like everybody really appreciates it.”
Samantha Espinosa, a first-year student at Alfred M. Barbe High School, said she has been painting as long as she can remember. From an early age she believed “if she could see it in her mind, she could create it.”
“I have always been interested in art,” she continued. “My kindergarten teacher started my art addiction, I suppose. It’s unbelievable now to be a part of this exhibit. I never thought my art would get to this point. It is really inspiring.”
For Badiha Galeazzi, her acrylic paintings are a way to express everything she loves about color and where she is from in Mexico.
“Never in my life have I had my paintings in an art exhibition,” said Badiha. “Creating works of art through my paintings is a beautiful mission. It motivates me to do good things and keep creating. If you paint, it can change your life.”
Father Caraway expressed gratitude to Ruvalcaba for all his hard work on the Hispanic art exhibit.
“God is the real creator of all beautiful things. Tonight, we were able to bring art and beauty to life and bring people together,” said Father Caraway. “We should always find ways to unite and open people’s eyes to see Christ.”
Arte Hispano will stay on display through February 4. It can be viewed between 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday on the first-floor gallery of Historic City Hall, 1001 Ryan Street. Admission is free.