Lowriding is not just about the lovingly and extravagantly painted and restored cars that cruise slowly down the boulevards of Los Angeles. It’s a way of life in Southern California and around the country. That culture is the focus of “The Politics of Low and Slow,” an art show featured now in California State University’s Northridge’s University Library Exhibit Gallery through July 31, 2023.
The cases in the second-floor exhibit area are filled with items. Paintings depicting cars and the lowriding culture line the walls of the Gohstand Reading Room that adjoins the gallery. CSUN Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies Denise Sandoval, Ph.D., is the exhibit’s guest curator. She estimates there are around 200 pieces to see– magazines, flyers from car clubs, clothing, photographs, artwork and car parts. Sandoval has displayed her personal copies of “Lowrider” magazine. She also reached out to borrow items from people who have taken part in lowriding culture for generations.
“I would go to their houses and look at what they had,” she said. “A lot of the old timers and people that are really deep in the culture, they keep everything.”
Sandoval says, as it is with most cultures, there are many layers to lowriding, and the exhibit seeks to show what people use to build community and express identity.
“From the day-to-day running of car clubs, to the competition at the show, to aspects of cruising, to the other side of looking at art and how artists have also re-imagined the car and the culture,” she said. “It was important for me to document those stories because they reveal a lot about the negotiation of culture and how people use culture to express their identities.”
Sandoval says lowriding has gained a new popularity, largely because of the restrictions that came about from COVID-19. She says there are car shows around Los Angeles now almost every weekend.
“Definitely the pandemic gave it a new shot in the arm because people were looking for things to do and cruising was something safe,” she said.
Sandoval has designed three lowrider exhibits for the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. She also curated a lowrider motorcycle show for CAM, the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is currently working on a national exhibition of photos of lowrider culture for the Smithsonian that will tour the United States.
Her study of lowriding culture began when she was an undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley and continued through her master’s program at CSUN and doctorate studies at Claremont Graduate University.
“It’s still something I’m very passionate about and I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to tell the story and educate others about this culture that I think is so important to American history,” she said.
Sandoval says this particular exhibit has sparked more ideas and plans for the future. “It would be great to create a digital archive of lowrider artifacts,” she said. She is also hoping this exhibit will generate momentum for a lowrider festival at CSUN next spring.
The University Library sits in the heart of the CSUN campus, located at 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge.