ITHACA, N.Y.- The Arte de Justicia Gallery display — part of the Hispanic Heritage Month celebration — is kicking off during First Friday at the Ithaca Commons.

The exhibit shows work capturing “unjust struggles that the Latin@ community faces.”

Carolina Osorio Gil, the organizer of Latin Heritage Month, explained that the aim of the gallery is “to showcase the art of local Latinos and create a sense of artistic unity among these voices…We want to communicate that visual art can be used as a form of activism.”

Osorio Gil has organized the art portion of Latin Heritage Month activities for about three years. She said this year’s “Futuros” theme suits the politicized atmosphere, desiring to explore not only a “cultural or ethnic identity” but a politicized identity as well.

Artist Kevin Cruz will reveal a poster and a series combining art and photography that focuses on farming, urban development and gentrification, topics that have troubled him since his move from Los Angeles.

“These issues are completely erased from our news media…I feel like art is one of those ways to showcase the nuances of these political issues and show the human aspects as well as the lack of humanity in dealing with these political issues,” he states.

Cruz believes the Arte de Justicia event “becomes a space for Latino artists to embrace the fact that there is a particular Ithaca Latino community,” another avenue to explore the complexities of the Latin identity.

Photographer Damaris Vazquez

Photographer Damaris Vazquez expanded on similar themes, saying  her four photos of Latin models Belen Santana and Diane Moser in Día de Los Muertos face paint is meant to convey a message of celebration and freedom.

“To give people a window that they can go through in order to explore parts of their psyche and art mind. I like relating to people through art because I feel like it creates a third party where they can just be free.”

Specializing in capturing the intricacy of the human body through semi-nude images, Vazquez seeks to draw in not only other artists but also, “the kid and artist in people, the one that wants to stand up from the body and do something, but has been holding back. I want the freedom of the stuff I do to kind of, contagion-style, get others to do the things they want to do.”

She said “the best way to change society is to create culture,” and art allows a reciprocal relationship between individuals and an audience

“Artists are at the head of change in society,” Vazquez said.

She will later be attending the La Calaca Art Festival to continue on the Day of the Dead motif.

Cornell college sophomore Melissa Aranda also has work in the show. Her acrylic piece voices the need for change as well, a direct response to the hateful rhetoric she said is spewed by Donald Trump.

“I feel like in general, I’m trying to reach to the Latino community, not just our Mexican brothers and sisters but everyone else as well. When you hurt or direct a comment towards one of us, you direct it towards all of us. I didn’t use visual faces in my work because I wanted each person to identify with each person in the piece…having blank faces makes people think: that could be my mom, that could be me, that could be my roommate…,” she said.

“Me being a sophomore, I’ve only seen Ithaca for a year,” Aranda said. “But I see that Ithaca is very expressive and there’s a lot of art here. And having the Latino Heritage month here in Ithaca is a way for us to share our culture for people to learn about.”

A powerful social justice segment of ¡Cultura!’s Latin Heritage Month, The Arte de Justicia Gallery opens its doors to the public at 5:00 p.m. at The Commonspot, located at 126 ¾ in the Commons.

Photo by Damaris Vazquez

Featured photo by Damaris Vazquez.