LA’s newest museum opened to an enthusiastic crowd on a recent Saturday afternoon. Located on the edge of a strip mall in Compton, 12 miles directly south of the Broad Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), the museum is an outgrowth of Color Compton, a community-based arts organization that offers programs in photography, painting, printmaking, film, and music. One of the center’s popular programs focuses on archiving. According to Lopez-Byrd, “Particularly with Compton, we don’t have spaces where young folks can learn about them. We don’t have enough complex narratives about what Compton is and what it has been, and how it continues to be a creative city,” Byrd adds. “We want people to understand its rich history.”
The museum features work by contemporary artists from the community alongside archival materials, on loan through partnerships with the California State University, Dominguez Hills and California State University, Los Angeles. The inaugural show, Sons Like Me, highlights this dual focus on history and art, with a solo presentation of painting and textile works by Anthony Lee Pittman and ephemera from the Communicative Arts Academy, a seminal Compton-based arts nonprofit that operated from 1969 to 1975.
Pittman’s works reflect his Black and Latino background, interwoven with elements from European art history, Afro-Futurism, and contemporary music. The exhibition features two industrially woven tapestries, referencing Mexican artisanal weaving, mass-produced blankets ubiquitous in many Latino homes, African-American quilting traditions, and Medieval European tapestries. Pittman’s works also confront contemporary issues, such as a portrait of Kalief Browder, who was held at Rikers Island jail for several years without trial after being accused of stealing a backpack. He spent 700 days in solitary confinement and hung himself two years after being released, his death leading to calls for prison reform.
In addition to the paintings, the exhibition features two altars: one to honor Pittman’s Mexican grandparents who passed away, and another at the entryway featuring photographs of Black artists, writers, and musicians who inspire him. The exhibition’s title, “In the life,” comes from a poem by Essex Hemphill. Pittman credits his high school art teacher Cleveland Palmer with supporting his artistic development, taking a small group of students on field trips to places like ArtCenter in Pasadena. According to Pittman, “It’s the only permanent space [in Compton] I can think of dedicated to art. We don’t have to go to Long Beach, or Downtown, or West LA to the Getty. We can see art right here, that’s curated for the community and the needs of the community.”