New Art Exhibit Explores Racial and Social Boundaries, Opens Today

Oct. 20, 2014 By Jeff Rau

LA MIRADA, CALIF. — Today, the art exhibit I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me featuring new work by Los Angeles artist Nery Gabriel Lemus opens at The Earl & Virginia Green Art Gallery at Biola University. Recalling these famous words of Christ, I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me challenges us to consider how simple gestures of generosity that bridge across social, economic, and racial boundaries, can help to break down barriers and offer hope to others in the midst of continued institutional opposition.

In contrast to most of today’s polarized political debates about race and immigration — where shrill voices compete for sensational media headlines — Lemus focuses his attention on his own family narrative as a means to explore the subtle complexity of real human experience. This new project draws on his mother's experience of assimilation to call attention to how issues of racism and stereotyping have shaped his own family story, revealing a nuanced narrative of varied acceptance and rejection, hopeful faith and perseverance.

“Nery Gabriel Lemus uses his own family experience to shift the debate from a macro scale down to a singular narrative. To avoid being drawn into a divisive debate, Lemus asserts this work as one family’s story, but this is not to say there are not wider implications,” said Biola University art gallery curator, Jeff Rau. “Beyond garnering empathy, [Lemus] highlights how simple acts of generosity — in opening one’s home — had a profound impact on his own experience; challenging us to reconsider the words of Christ quoted from the Gospel of Matthew, and look again at the ways in which we all have opportunities to ‘welcome’ those who are marginalized by society.”

In the video I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me (from which the exhibition receives its name), the artist interviews both his mother and her employer in what he describes as an effort “to document their work relationship and their friendship.”

“As a son, I have always admired my mother’s perseverance, faith and joy despite her circumstances,” said Lemus. “For over 37 years, my mother has worked for the same woman as a housekeeper. In contrast to many hierarchical working relationships, my mother was accepted as one of the family and worked in an environment that felt more like home. As children we went to work with her and played with the other grandchildren who visited.”

Other works in the exhibition continue the exploration of this relationship and its direct impact on the artist’s own childhood experience, mining family archives for images that reference the continued proximity of the two families and revisiting specific locations with children from the next generation. With these and other strategies Lemus builds on his previous oeuvre with new investigations of how these issues impact his own family story as they have sought acceptance in a foreign environment.

The exhibition is part of a larger series of art shows and events hosted by Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts.

The opening reception for the exhibit will be held on Friday, October 24 from 5-8 p.m. Refreshments will be served. The gallery will be open from October 20 to Nov. 20, 2014 at  The Earl & Virginia Green Art Gallery at Biola University. The gallery is open Monday through Friday, from 9:00am to 10:00pm. Admission is free for all visitors.

The Green Art Gallery is located on the Biola campus, near the bell tower and adjacent to Mayers Auditorium. See campus maps at


The Earl & Virginia Green Art Gallery presents a program of rotating contemporary art exhibitions on the campus of Biola University. Located in the greater Los Angeles area, the Green Art Gallery is well positioned to represent a vital Christian worldview within the critical dialogue of contemporary visual art and to produce engaging exhibitions that grapple with issues concerning the intersection of faith with art and culture. The Green Art Gallery also provides professional development opportunities for Biola art students through gallery exhibitions and internships.

The Earl & Virginia Green Art Gallery was renovated and dedicated in September 2013. The gallery is named in memory of Earl and Virginia Green - the parents of philanthropist Roberta Ahmanson - whose lives exemplified faith and commitment to their family, church, and community, and who inspired their daughter's love of the arts as a person of faith.


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