Sunday, May 31, 2015

Jumping at the Sun in South Central LA: Spotlight on Skira Martinez and CIELO Galleries/Studio

Olga Garcίa Echeverrίa

“Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at the sun.’
We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.”
–Zora Neale Hurston.
On Maple Avenue, in Historic South Central LA, there lives a breathing piece of sky, CIELO. On the surface, CIELO Galleries/Studio appears to be just another industrial complex in the neighborhood. Not everyone passing by may notice it. There aren’t any flashy signs to guide visitors into the 9,000 square foot property. When I first visited, it was night time, and I circled the block several times unable to spot the address.

From CIELO FB Page: An Inconspicuous Piece of CIELO:

Depending on the day, the time, the mood of any given event, you may have to wander a bit around CIELO, like I did, exploring several portals to see which one opens up and welcomes you in. But that is part of the charm, and definitely, once you enter, welcomed you will be.

Inside of CIELO, you’ll find a space where art, community, and conscious-raising meet. Beneath the high ceilings, there is plenty of open espacio, hanging photos, art supplies, words to ponder. There are sofas to lounge on, blooming plants, a keyboard, paper butterflies on walls, a full kitchen with a large wooden table ideal for intimate conversations and breaking bread.
It’s a multidimensional place--part home, part school, part industrial loft, part gallery, part work studio, part literary space, part sky, as in you can stretch your artistic self and reach for something beyond the ordinary here. You can 'jump at the sun' and organize, as Teka Lark Fleming and Skira Martinez did this past March, the Blk Grrrl Book Fair, or host a unique live stream broadcast of a collective reading of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Yes, the entire book! Anything can happen at CIELO.

Skira Martinez and Teka Lark Fleming: Photo from LA Weekly
CIELO’s founder and owner, Skira Martinez, shares that “one of the most important things about the space is that it is open to everyone and that it’s diverse in all ways.” Like the visionary/dreamer that she is, Skira first conjured up CIELO in her mind and heart, and then several years ago, she set out to manifest her vision in concrete ways. Aside from hosting and/or organizing art shows and literary events, Skira rents space to local artists and also has a Liberation School component, which is a free radical school that she proudly describes as “anti-fascist and anti-capitalist.”

Photography by Slobadan Dimitrov at CIELO Galleries/Studio

Liberation School exists outside the realms of institutionalized education, so do not expect rows of desks, rigid schedules, or even mapped out curricula. There have been workshops and discussions on topics such as Copwatch, gentrification in various parts of the city, and radical feminism. The birth of any given class is highly organic and very much in the spirit of Pablo Freire, where classroom subject matter stems directly from the interests and needs of the participating community. Skira explains, “If you want to teach or share something, then you come to Liberation School and you do so. If you’d like to learn something, then you put a shout out and say, ‘I want to learn more about this,’ and I try to find someone who wants to come and speak about that.”

About the Liberation School’s scheduling, Skira adds, “Basically, it runs whenever it runs, so if someone contacts me and says, ‘I wanna do a class,’ then I post it and it’s Liberation School. Sometimes we’ll go on a spurt where we’ll have classes every day for a concentrated time period, and then it peters out a bit, and then it starts up again. It’s organized but at that same time it’s not organized, or it appears not to be. There are weeks when there’s nothing and weeks when things are really active. It depends on who’s here, who feels it. Every once in a while, I call a mass meeting to get people to come and to open up the doors and get something going again, but for the most part it just sort of happens, people decide when they want to do something or learn something.”
Important to Skira is also assuring that children are an integral part of CIELO. “One of the things I like about the space, and this is part of Liberation School, is that people feel welcomed to bring their children. Even in the classes, it’s important that children not have to be off in some little room somewhere else. I really like the idea of children being in the classroom, and if we need to speak louder, then we need to speak louder. If someone needs attention, then they need attention. We work it out. What happens is that kids keep coming, and after a while they just get into the routine of things. It’s good because the children hear those classroom conversations and they stay with them in their subconscious in one way or another. They are able to be around those conversations and to connect and even participate on certain levels.”

Photo from CIELO FB Page: Children Painting at CIELO

In regards to future plans for an evolving CIELO, Skira says that she’d like to make the space a literary capitol of LA. “I really want this to be a place for people of the literary world to come and to do their thing. I feel there are so many of us artists, whether that be visual or literary or whatever, that are waiting to be accepted into some place or some circle, and I just want us to have this mind set of ‘We can do this shit ourselves.’ We can support each other and we don’t have to always go to the mainstream or have to be looking at White-approved spaces. I think the literary world is very dominated by men and it’s also very White; it’s time that we stop trying to get in that door and that we have our own spaces, and then we’ll have them come and be our audience because they will come, trust me, they will come. That’s one of the important things about the Zora Neale Hurston reading that the Blk Grrrl Show organized here. Zora had such strong convictions. She was going against the grain in many ways, and even people that loved her didn’t always support her. Zora wasn’t scared to stir the pot. She wasn’t going to play that part of ‘Hush-hush-hush. Let’s be good Black people. Let’s be respectable. Let’s be acceptable.’ I can relate to that. I respect that.”

Self Portrait: Skira Martinez

To connect with CIELO on FB:

To connect with Blk Grrrl on FB:

To see Blk Grrl in Live Stream Action:!

To learn more about Blk Grrrl Bookfair:

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