Gets Real: Seattle art gallery celebrates cultures often overlooked or underrepresented

WHITE CENTER, Wash. — When you walk into the Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery, you’re greeted with vibrant colors and beautiful artwork on the walls and shelves.

It’s the only art gallery in the Seattle area that celebrates the Chicano/Chicana and Latinx cultures. Before Nepantla existed, Jake Prendez, the owner and co-director, said a place like this didn’t exist in the Pacific Northwest.

“Nepantla is an Aztec word that means the space in between, right? So for example, being Mexican American, I’m not Mexican enough for Mexico, I’m not American enough for America. I’m in that Nepantla space,” he said. “It can be with queer identity, it can be with gender norms where you don’t feel like you’re neither here nor there — you’re kind of in that middle space.”

For Prendez, the gallery is all about bringing people together and celebrating cultures that can often be overlooked or underrepresented in Washington.

“I found amazing talent, like there’s amazing talent, and Latino artists in the PNW but everyone was really kind of spread out and no one knew each, other so it was really important to create this, if anything, a glue that brought folks together, Prendez said.

Prendez and his fiancé, Judy Avitia-Gonzalez, have been part of the White Center community for years. Avitia-Gonzalez has lived in White Center since she was just 11 years old.

“Nepantla really serves as a community hub, an arts hub, a space where you won’t see art that’s being represented in traditional white spaces. We are here to highlight those artists,” Avitia-Gonzalez said.

Nepantla opened its doors in 2019 and soon after, faced many challenges to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The fact that we’re still here today is just a testament to that and we’re really proud,” Avitia-Gonzalez said.

At the gallery, they host monthly art exhibitions, book readings, and workshops. And it’s all free.

“It’s important to find a place that you resonate with that you feel embraced in, you feel seen in, but you’re also able to create in,” Prendez said. “Finding a space like Nepantla I think is important, we get so many people that will come in here and like almost cry and be like, ‘Oh my God, I finally feel at home here in Seattle.’”

The gallery gets its funding through grants and what it sells in its gift shop from local artists.

“A lot of our artisans are local here from Seattle, we’ve got Amano Seattle that makes beautiful earrings that we proudly carry. We also have a lot of artisans from Texas and California; some recently from Mexico as well,” Avitia-Gonzalez said.

Many of the pieces you’ll find at the gallery are works from Prendez himself.

“I’m taking these Rockwell images and flipping them in this contemporary lens with BIPOC folks as the subject,” he explained. “The ‘Don’t be self-conchas’ — one was one of my first paintings that went viral, so it’s just a pun with you know, the Mexican bread, and my daughter is actually the model.”

Nepantla is a space to be seen, celebrated, and represented.

“In that middle Nepantla-space is where you heal, you rejuvenate, you create, and that’s what we do here at Nepantla,” Prendez said.

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