Nurturing the Arts
in the Heart of
Leimert Park is the epicenter of Black Art in Los Angeles. It serves as a sanctuary for freedom fighters and is home to street vendors, musicians, dancers, drum circles, herbalists, writers, poets, and artists. It’s a place where Black people can exist freely, regardless of our diverse culture. It’s a neighborhood that hosts one of the largest Juneteenth festivals in the country, and where you’ll see people from all walks of life gather to laugh, debate, and sometimes cry.
Right in the middle of it all is a Black-owned art gallery founded by Aziz Diagne. It’s situated right on 43rd and Degnan, and once was a studio that belonged to the late great filmmaker John Singleton.
The world-renowned multimedia artist Aziz is famous for his mastery in contemporary glass painting. Inspired by his commitment to supporting underrepresented artists in their careers, his doors are open for emerging artists who would normally not be granted the opportunity in predominantly white galleries to showcase their work.
By doing so, he has propelled many emerging artists forward into established careers. Recently, he has created a residency program called AzizProject. It serves not only as a center for printmaking but also a fellowship where he teaches students (children and adults) proper techniques.
“After you learn the technique, you will find garbage material in a different way.” He explained that technique goes beyond an adapted skill; it starts with the mind and how a person sees an object. “It’s no longer garbage because you can utilize it. You’ll see things completely differently.”
After students have gone through training, they are tested on what they know through teaching children in neighboring schools, like 42nd Street School. Upon graduating from the residency, Aziz plans to get the students into prestigious art shows like Art Basel.
Another special treat for graduating students is a trip to Aziz’s property in Senegal. He’s an avid believer that traveling the world helps you see life better and gives you perspective. Which is not done enough in our communities. He believes that staying in the proximity of your community is a form of imprisonment.
“I’ve been here [for] 40 years. You know how you get to be institutionalized? By being just right here—you don’t have to go to jail.” While he completely had my attention, he went into further detail. “Black people—actually, half of them are in prison right here in Los Angeles. You will follow or track a couple of your friends for two days
After you learn the technique, you will find garbage material in a different way
and you can know where they will be all year. They will go to work and there is a part of the city [that] they will never go [to]. And all the resources are limited here.”
The resources in Black communities are scarce. When it comes to the arts, there is no residency program and very few Black-owned galleries. Artists need mentors just like doctors.
“Knowing how to paint doesn’t help you, you just have to learn the technique. You know what I mean? Having a nice car doesn’t make you a good driver. You have to learn.”
AzizProject is currently being funded by him and his friends. For donations, you may visit www.azizgallery.org