As founder of some of the biggest street art initiatives in LA, Daniel Lahoda understands the unique territory that comes with public art.
The semi-hidden LALA Gallery in Downtown Los Angeles serves as a space for exhibiting some of Los Angeles’ best street artists but Lahoda is most known for his outdoor efforts. Through his LA Freewalls project, he finds walls for artists to create murals so that names like Dabs and Myla, How and Nosm, Lady Aiko and more can add color to Los Angeles. But he didn’t stop there, going out to execute Public Works, an extensive program that legally claimed billboard spaces as canvases for artists like Zes, Uglar and more. (Lahoda was instrumental finding the wall at Sunset and Sanborn for Corey Hagberg to paint as a lead-in to CARTWHEEL’s Pop Up weekend.)
Yet Lahoda didn’t begin his art journey with street art or even in Los Angeles for that matter. As a student, he versed himself in Latin American art, eventually working at an art gallery in Boston. He left the gallery and moved to Las Vegas, working with a company involved in art licensing. There, he created a unique collection of limited edition posters with Ron English. One thing led to another Lahoda soon found himself more involved with English and the street art scene abroad.
Lahoda came to Los Angeles after realizing the scene was alive and well here but not as unified as in Europe. After going through a few of the struggles that can sometimes come with supporting street artists — like the close watch of the Los Angeles Police Department– Lahoda now looks to create legal works that put street art more in the public eye. The billboards dotting the city break up the monotony of the urban surroundings and replace commercial visuals with something that speaks to the power of art.
There’s nothing better than going up and producing a work of art and then the next day standing there next to it and talking to people on the street about what they think about it and how they interact with it. That opened up a whole other world.
Yet despite his street art focus, Lahoda hasn’t left behind his love for Latin American art, especially rare textiles. He invited me to see his collection of Andean textiles firsthand, and we talked street art, precious textiles and the idea of leaving behind artifacts for the people of later generations. His collection of tunics, headpieces, ponchos and more hails back to a time past that makes him wonder what our current era might leave behind. He remarked:
Sometimes I think about it… well, in four hundred years when people are you know doing archaeological digs of our society, they’ll peel back the layers of the walls and see just the layers and layers of the art. They’ll also see this battle, too, between the art and the buff and the art and the grey. And that’s really — if you think about it — a lot of walls have that kind of history and a lot of artists are you know really kind of doing justice to that legacy and the evolution of the art on the walls is the evolution of humanity of so many ways.
Lahoda now sees a huge change between the manner textiles were created before and how they come to be today.
The dyeing process is now done with synthetic dyes instead of the natural dyes… now just it’s just a pigment on boiling water. It is a lot different from the process with these pieces and what the people had to go through to create these works of art.
Most of the pieces in his collection hail from the 17th century and he understands the complex processes behind each of the pieces. He indicates a particular piece and tells me about it.
This piece is woven all as one piece, so essentially to create those three little sections — we think it’s a seed bag but it’s hard to tell. It’s the only one that has ever been found and I really kind of feel like the more you kind of look at the way that these things are created the more you get into the mind of the creator and much like if you look at a Caravaggio painting or you look at one of the classic Rembrandt or something — if you really study it you can almost start to feel the emotions of the artist as they were painting it and what was going through their mind and things like that. I think that’s kind of a show-off piece that really was just created by the weaver just because they felt that they could. It’s actually created on three separate looms and then joined together onto one loom which is incredible because you have to — it’s just incredibly complex.
Most of his pieces come from a man’s family who sold a lot of pieces acquired in the 1960s and 70s. Lahoda obtained these before the UNESCO Convention for Preserving Intangible Cultural Property. Only a few individual collectors hold these piece, as they are usually found within museums.
There are very few stewards or patrons that would, you know, pay attention and take care of and appreciate these things. Because they’re ethnographic, there’s kind of a scholarly side to it as well as the aesthetics. I’m really in tune with aesthetics and that’s really what draw me to it. A lot of people don’t know but Mark Rothko is actually highly inspired by textiles.
In many ways, the communities of that time mirror that of today’s graffiti and street art worlds.
It’s interesting because these people, they were working in communities and these communities were very much marginalized and their artwork was unappreciated in the same way that graffiti writers and street artists nowadays. You know, I think in general art has always–throughout the history of man–has always kinda had a hard time. Even though its at the core of who we are, it’s something that people often kinda push to the fringe.
In the same vein, looking closely at both types of works yields small surprises. When you get close to a mural, you see the dripping and splattering of the paint, the small dashes used to accentuate certain parts and the way the patterns mesh with a brick or concrete wall. Lahoda handed me a magnifying glass so I could see the way in which the textile weavers meshed more than one color of fiber to create stunning patterns.
When they’re spun together, it gives the piece magical or protective properties. It protects against bad spirits.
He points out another piece that looks like solid black but actually includes red threads.
These pieces are very, very special. They’re best seen in natural light and the reason for that is because the face of the textile that you see are black, just purely black so you have to wonder, how is it that it has this red hue to it? As the piece changes, you can see there is a red tone. This is a mourning cloth so they would have the black on the face of it but then inside — the weft, the part that gets put through here, that is actually red, that’s dyed with cochineal, a bug, an insect they put into a stone bowl and the bugs feed on cactus so they can’t feed and they dye and they take the mortar and pestle and crush the bugs. They use the crushed, dehydrated bug guts to make the dye.
When they were worn, some of these textiles even served as a way to show off a person’s wealth, not unlike from our brand-named clothing and accessories today. The wool of the vicuña, a New World member of the camel family quickly became a sought-after material for eye-catching clothing.
It became kind of a status symbol for wealthy Spanish women, particularly in the area of Cuscp, Peru. If they had a vicuña, it’s like you’re wearing your Gucci, you know what I mean? It’s status symbol. It’s always been a status symbol from Incan times. Only royal people would wear vicuñan fabric, the common people would not. So that part of the tradition carried on into the Conquistadors and the Spaniards and developed to the point where in the early 20th century, the Peruvian government actually would require women to register their Vicuñan garment because they were so rare and this is an example of one of those Vicuñan garments and this is the only example in existence that still has the original registration on it from the Peruvian government. these women would have parties where they would go and get their Vicuñan garments registered!
As he carefully put the pieces away, Lahoda tells me that he started collecting textiles as a teenager and the act of gathering the pieces has been a lifelong process. In Los Angeles, he sets spaces up for artists to create murals, pieces that in the long run will become the clues to our civilizations creativity and hopefully inspiration for generations after, much like fabric in his collection.