In his latest series, Immigrant Mentality, artist Sean 9 Lugo hopes to honour his past, connect with fellow immigrant families, and teach others about the distinct culture and mindset that comes with "leaving your life behind and starting over somewhere new".
Currently on show at the Paradigm Gallery in Philadelphia, the body of work hopes to give us a broad perspective on the culture, community, and values of immigrant families, emphasising particularly the experience of Hispanic and Latinx immigrants across the pond.
With his distinctive teddy bear take, there are 14 new paintings featured, many of which are based on a trip Lugo took to the Dominican Republic in 2015, including a few directly modelled on photographs the artist took himself. Lugo was inspired by the warmth and selflessness of the people he met living in poverty there. The work, El Rey, is made on a canvas created entirely of cigar boxes from the Caribbean. On top of the boxes, Lugo painted a Dominican man holding two kittens in his lap; he manifests the man as a king, living his fullest life, relaxing in his own kingdom after years of struggle, finally satisfied.
Immigrant Mentality also honours Lugo's mother, Lulu, who came from Cuba to the United States and worked as a house cleaner to provide a better life for her family; Lulu embodied the drive, work ethic, and generosity that Lugo sees as representative of the "immigrant mindset".
Blue (Lulu's favourite colour) is prominent in the works and represents her presence throughout the exhibition. While the artist's earlier art reflected the unique circumstances of his life on the streets, this new work is intended to resonate with anyone who has lived as an immigrant or was raised by immigrant parents anywhere in the world.
Alongside the paintings on display is a tribute to New Jersey and its local neighbourhood 'bodegas', known as 'Papi stores' in Philadelphia. The installation features a soda machine, chip rack, toilet paper, and even a wooden bodega cat. "Lugo sees the bodega as family – the owners knew him, saw him grow up, and took care of him," explains the Gallery. "By bringing the bodega into the space, the artist acknowledges the central and familial role that the space and people have played in his life."
To stay true to the bodega experience, all of the pieces in the installation are accessibly priced, including $20 stickers and snack packs to $200 comic books with original art covers. The comic books' delicate illustrations feature Lugo's signature style, which playfully reimagines iconic, original comic book figures and covers.
Immigrant Mentality by Sean 9 Lugo is on display at Paradigm Gallery in Philadelphia until 22 August 2021. To find out more, visit www.sean9lugo.com.