Mal Bicho Collective: San Diego’s Latinx Art Community
Driving into Barrio Logan, San Diego’s epicenter of Chicano culture is a surreal experience. Nestled next to interstate 5 and the foothills of the serpentine Coronado Bridge, the entrance to the neighborhood, Chicano Park, is framed by the freeways’ arched cement supports. Over the years, various local artists have covered the grey posts with vibrant murals depicting Chicano history. Stylized depictions of Aztec gods share wall space with memorial portraits of historical figures and victims of violence at the hands of the US Border Patrol.
The idea of the “contemporary” likely conjures up images of sleek, white cube galleries in cosmopolitan cities like London, Paris, and New York. Barrio Logan and its decorated overpass archways likely not. The jarring juxtaposition of urban industrialism and contemporary art gives way to a classic residential San Diego neighborhood as you go further into the heart of Barrio Logan. Historic homes share block space with restaurants, art galleries, gift shops, and bars. But every Saturday, the normally quiet streets are transformed to give its residents a cultural and artistic experience.
It’s an unusually cold day for the sunny, seaside city of San Diego—the temperature hovering just around 56 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite this, however, Logan Avenue, Barrio Logan’s artistic heart, is bustling with visitors, as it is every Saturday. Bundled up in coats and scarves, San Diegans brave the cold and flit between tents selling margaritas in clay cantaritos, and small storefronts selling mugs, stickers, prints, and photographs produced by local artists.
Maricela Murillo speaks to Micaela, an artists at Mal Bicho’s collective, to discuss the collective's origin, present and future.
Q: When did the collective begin, and who were the founding member(s)?
A: The store opened in mid December 2020. The owners and operators are Joni Nunez of La Chica Arte and Micaela Barragan of Azul Oscuro Design. Prior to this location, Joni was co-owner of Golondrina just down the street for the past four and half years. Micaela was a resident artist periodically in the store and would do pop-ups in the neighborhood. Since the pandemic started both Joni and Micaela began posting outside the store and an opportunity presented itself to get a larger space so we moved and became Mal Bicho Collective in December.
Q: How do artists or artisans become a part of the collective?
A: We are a curated collective of artists so we are by invite-only for the time being.
Q: What kind of space do you want Mal Bichos collective to be? Both physically and conceptually, if that makes sense.
A: This is a collaborative space for our artists. The Latino artists and makers we have in our space have been working side by side with us for a number of years in various events throughout Southern California. Since we have no more events we hoped this would be a space that could re-spark each artist to create again. To have a home again in the time of Covid so we can all survive together, not be forgotten and move forward as we find inspiration within ourselves and in our fellow artists. Our collective is made up of amazing artists that have had thriving businesses in their own right, we banded together as an outlet for our creativity and products.
Q: What is your relationship like with other stores and galleries on Logan Avenue?
A: Since August when Walk the block began, we've all worked together to promote walk the block and have it become the unifying beacon to signify that not only was this neighborhood not lost, but still open. Joni has been at Golondrina for the past years and in the past has organized art shows at Border X and fundraisers for the neighborhood. Micaela has sold in various stores and pop-ups on the block as well. So we all know each other pretty well, even before other owners had storefronts. A lot of us have grown from being vendors at events to being able to have storefronts, which is nice to have that history with other stores on the block, we go way back.
Q: What kind of art or products do you have in the collective currently?
A: At Mal Bicho Collective you can find things from Art Prints, Original art pieces, greeting cards, drinkware, t-shirts, wood panels, to artisan jewelry, stickers, enamel pins, bath and body products, and even handmade dolls. Our artists are Chicanos and Latinos that offer art and products from their own experiences and inspirations. We offer a variety of price points for everyone to enjoy and collect. We are also always changing things in the store from displays to products as each artist brings in new items.
Q: What has been your experience with the community so far, i.e. how are the art crawls, walk the blocks etc.?
A: We love our community here. We are so lucky to have a community that rallies behind so many businesses here. We are a very unique area where we've been able to set up and provide a safe shopping experience for visitors. Everyone follows safety rules, everyone helps promote Walk the Block, it's been great to see how we've been able to hold fast and even grown in these circumstances. We are grateful for every customer that comes to visit.
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Maricela Murillo is an aspiring art historian that focuses on late 19th century France. She completed her BA at Tulane University before moving across the pond to complete her MA in art history at University College London. She currently resides in San Diego, where she spends her free time cruising around the city’s many cultural hubs.