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A Look Back: Celebrate/Demonstrate: Photographs of Global LA

Celebrate/Demonstrate: Photographs of Global LA, featuring compelling images of festivals and political rallies captured by California-based photographer Cindy Bendat, was on view at the Fowler Museum at UCLA from January 17 to May 8, 2016. Bendat, a Santa Monica resident, is a documentary artist and activist who has photographed people, places, and festivals all over the world, including protests in Los Angeles. Her award-winning images have been exhibited in galleries in the United States and abroad; published in books, magazines, and newspapers; and included in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Huntington Library, and the City of Santa Monica.

The Fowler’s exhibition Celebrate/Demonstrate: Photographs of Global LA highlighted the extraordinary cultural diversity of the greater Los Angeles area and illustrated ways in which immigrants maintain homeland traditions in the United States, and express their ethnic and cultural identities. The photographs offered an intimate view of three annual celebrations held in and around Los Angeles: a fiesta for the Guatemalan folk saint San Simón in late October; festivities for the Ethiopian Orthodox Timket (Epiphany) festivities in mid-January; and Cambodian New Year, or Chaul Chnam Thmey, in mid-April. From a Guatemalan botánica in the Pico-Union district to a Cambodian Buddhist temple in Long Beach, the images provide a stunning visual tour of LA’s urban landscape.

Praying to San Simón © Cindy Bendat 2012

The exhibition also included photographs from Bendat’s series “Legalize L.A” that documented the “Day without an Immigrant” boycott and amnesty rally in Downtown Los Angeles on May 1, 2006—one of many demonstrations held across the country that day in response to repressive legislation passed by the United States House of Representatives. The images showed the dignity, unity, and strength of collective action for inclusion and immigration reform.

Looking back at these powerful photographs today, the artist writes:

The Celebrate/Demonstrate: Photographs of Global LA exhibit celebrated the cultural diversity of the Los Angeles area as depicted in my photos of cultural celebrations in the Guatemalan, Ethiopian, and Cambodian communities as well as in my photos showcasing the fight for justice by residents seeking a path to legal citizenship. We are a country of immigrants, and Los Angeles, with people from over 140 countries, speaking 220 languages, exemplifies that reality. I find these amazing cultural and religious festivals to be both beautiful and inspiring. Parents teach their children who they are and where they came from. Parents teach their children pride. And the truth is that you don’t need to travel far to experience the world because the world is here at home in Los Angeles. I look forward to traveling near and far, as we all do, when we have responsible national leadership and an end to the pandemic. I also look forward to comprehensive immigration reform so that people—our neighbors—who contribute so much to our lives and to our economy will dream big and not live in fear any more.

Cindy Bendat

Image at Top:
Dancing with San Simón © Cindy Bendat 2009

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