A portrait of Malaquias Montoya by Rudy Cuellar

Strange Hope, an exhibition that opened Friday at Galería de la Raza, illustrates the dual realities of Obama—raised expectations and an economy in freefall.

“A dark cloud was lifted,” said Carolina Ponce de León, executive director of the gallery, referring to President Barack Obama’s election. “I wondered, ‘How do we join in the celebration?’”

Mission Loc@l would have chosen to go home with an archival inkjet photograph cut titled “Detroit Dreaming” by Andy Díaz Hope. The piece shows an old-fashioned pickup truck in a field of burnt grass. The backdrop is a cut-out of a skyline through which the viewer can see a photo of clouds.

At first glance, it’s hard to see the hope in this piece. But what first seems like a depiction of the dying car industry asks for a closer look. In front of the broken truck, wild grass is growing and soft yellow blooms are coming out. This detail leaves the viewer with a feeling that there’s still life—and hope.

For Rudy Cuellar, inspiration came in the form of a linoleum block print of Malaquías Montoya, his silkscreen teacher.

“I’ve always wanted to do a tribute to him. He’s one of those people who still has faith in life,” Cuellar said.

When asked what he thought about the 8.5-by-8.5-inch dimensions artists had to stick to, he laughed.

“I didn’t pay attention so they had to cut off part of the bottom and the top. That’s good because I had misspelled the name of the artist.”

Another piece that stands out is John Leaños’s “Pues Obámanos.”  A bright red digital print, it seems straight out of a cartoon strip, and for good reason. Leaños works at the gallery’s youth program and used the last print from a cartoon strip he’d been working on.

The pigeons are talking amongst themselves about Obama and what’s going to happen now that he’s president, Leaños explained.

“I’m not saying that people who voted for Obama are pigeons,” Leaños laughed, “but even the pigeons don’t know what to expect. They’re considering what to do.”

Unlike most exhibitions at Galería de la Raza, Strange Hope includes non-Latino artists.

A portrait of Malaquias Montoya by Rudy Cuellar.

“There are a lot of non-Latino artists that have always supported us. It was my way of thanking them,” Ponce de León said.

The director said she also wanted to take this opportunity to provide an example of a gift economy, so she organized an art lottery on opening night. Each artist received another artist’s piece from the show.

While artists liked the idea of swapping their pieces, some people in the audience felt cheated.

“There’s a barrier. If you like it you can’t buy it,” Mariella Krause said. “I hope the person who gets it likes it.”

Our advice: Follow the pigeons to Galería de la Raza and enjoy the show.

Strange Hope runs until April 2.

Galería de la Raza, 2857 24th St. 415.826.8009. www.galeriadelaraza.org

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I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. Like many local news outlets, The Tribune no longer exists. I left daily newspapers after working at The New York Times for the business, foreign and city desks. Lucky for all of us, it is still there.

As an old friend once pointed out, local has long been in my bones. My Master’s Project at Columbia, later published in New York Magazine, was on New York City’s experiment in community boards.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how you make that long-held interest in local news sustainable. The answer continues to elude me.

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