Art

Homework Gallery Takes the Viewer Back to Their “Salad Days”

Homework Gallery cofounders Aurelio Aguilo and Mayra Mejia
Homework Gallery cofounders Aurelio Aguilo and Mayra Mejia Photo courtesy of Gabriel Duque
Homework Gallery wants you to lean into your salad days, back to when stress seemed like an impossible feeling.

Its upcoming group exhibition, "Salad Days," reminisces about youth's innocence, optimism, and enthusiasm through a series of free interactive activations, educational workshops, performances, and career opportunities uplifting local creatives. The show runs from September 9-23.

The nomadic gallery, cofounded by Latinx visual artists Aurelio Aguilo and Mayra Mejia, emphasizes its commitment to strengthening democracy and accessibility for emerging artists, something they lacked while growing up in the Dominican Republic.

"Whenever I traveled with my parents, I used to always buy art books by famous painters — [Salvador] Dalí and the classics — but just those coffee-table-type books," Mejia says. "I don't remember going to galleries or anything like that."

The pair stumbled upon the Shakespearean idiom "salad days" last summer after testing positive for COVID-19. The term refers to a carefree period of naive idealism and pleasure.

"We're extremely bombarded with bad news all the time, and all of this is unprecedented," Aguilo says. "Like, Jesus, why can't we go back to those salad days when we were full of hope, when we had so much life ahead of us?"

Merely a year young, Homework never exhibits its founders' work; promoting other artists comes first. The artists on display in "Salad Days" include Thomas Bils, Beth Rhodes, Dylan Matamoros, and Muu Blanco — each exploring their own realities of naiveté and liberation through paintings, cartoons, and drawings.

Matamoros took a humorous approach to his collection about an exhausting cycle of working in order to survive — a theme he feels resonates with many, especially as a recession threatens the nation. He compared the human work-to-life ratio to a rat running aimlessly through a wheel and never reaching the sliver of cheese.

"These paintings explore how the rat race took away the purity of my salad days since early adulthood, and how it has affected my perception of myself and those closest to me," Matamoros tells New Times.

The entire collection also reflects the beauty and freedom Mejia felt as a child in the D.R.

"I spent a lot of time on the countryside of the island, just being out and happy without a worry of being held back," Mejia recalls. "I think youth on the island are very similar to here in Miami, where kids can sort of run wild without feeling held back by anything."

Aguilo and Mejia struggled to find a sense of guidance and mentorship on the island. It wasn't until the couple moved to Miami — a city they expected to ooze in art — that they noticed a lack of guidance on transitioning from independent art-making to professionally earning an equitable income through work.

"We find that a lot of art students and emerging artists don't know what to do after they graduate," Aguilo says. "We want to tap into those grassroots and show it's possible to make a living outside of these big commercial galleries."

He notes the recent spike in consumer prices, which rose by 8.5 percent in the U.S. over the past year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

"We don't want to be that white-walled, cold, reclusive gallery that only caters to collectors or the rich," Aguilo says. "We want everyone to leave with something."

In an effort to foster all communities regardless of income or class, Homework offers materials and merchandise for sale outside of the higher-priced pieces on display. Merch includes various ceramics, artist books, handcrafted candles, and prints.

"There's a community growing here, but there's a specific exhibition calendar and art fair circuit where artists have to be present in order to grow," Aguilo notes.

He's also seen a shift in the city's art scene from when he moved to Miami in 2008 to pursue a bachelor's in visual arts at Miami International University of Art and Design. In 2013, he left for New York City to attend Sotheby's Institute of Art and earn a master's in art business.

During this time, Aguilo found himself losing focus on his intended career path: painting and art direction. Instead, his professors drilled and promoted graphic design as the ideal for employment opportunities.

"At times, it can be a challenge, but we've learned we're not limited to just graphic design," Aguilo says. "I think the art community here has become a lot more commercial since then."

Homework aims to change that. The duo takes pride in its irregularly scheduled exhibits, which Aguilo and Mejia believe heighten the exclusiveness of art.

"We don't necessarily have to have a permanent physical space. It's more interesting, culturally," Aguilo emphasizes. "Why not be nomadic? Follow a different rhythm?"

"Salad Days." On view through Friday, September 23, at the Knoxon, 7411 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; homework.gallery. Admission is free with RSVP via saladdayslaunch.splashthat.com.
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