Pre-eminent Chicana artist and activist Margaret Garcia has come home. Her retrospective exhibit, “Arte para la gente, The Collected Works of Margaret Garcia,” is her first hometown solo exhibition.

“This is the first time I’ve been able to put a body of work together that is definitively my own,” Garcia said. “I’m just grateful that I’ve finally been able to show the strength of my work and the vision that it gives.”

The show runs through Sunday, June 11, at the Mexican American cultural center and museum La Plaza de Cultura y Artes.

The curation includes pieces created during the last 37 years of Garcia’s career, featuring 105 brightly colored landscapes and portraits and contrasting black and white prints from her “Stamp Project.”

In 2010 Garcia started the Stamp Project: Creating Cultural Currency, a program dedicated to empowering women and Chicana artists. The project’s goal is to help artists sustain themselves through their art.

Multiple artists pool their resources to create prints on large sheets of silk screening split into segments reminiscent of postage stamps. The cost to produce these prints is minimal, so the return is high, allowing artists to create revenue and a body of work to exhibit.

“You’re sort of printing your own money. That’s why it’s called Creating Cultural Currency, but you’re using your culture to do that. … There is an economic value to art if people would just recognize it and know how to use it.” Garcia explained. 

“I would always say to people, tell me what you’re about. Don’t tell me what you’re against. I get that you’re against the war. You have to be in favor of peace. What do you contribute in terms of your culture? What is it that you’re contributing as an artist and as a member of this culture, and that’s what the stamps were about?” 

The exhibit also features an interactive portion, where patrons are encouraged to design stamps inspired by the prompt, “What do you contribute to your community?” Those who choose to can take their designs home or leave them to be displayed at the museum.

“It’s a hands-on interactive so people can think about what they contribute and how important it is that one person can make a difference in a person’s community,” said Karen Crews Hendon, director of exhibitions and senior curator at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes. 

“We wanted to open up this print project where anyone can come in and be a part of it because that is the nature of her activist work as an artist, as a woman, as a Chicana, and as someone who continues the dialogue about what it means to survive as a female artist or what it means to give back to a community and create opportunities for others who maybe did not realize that it was on the table. She has mentored so many artists, specifically female artists.”

Garcia, who is 71 years old and a sixth-generation Angeleno, has been deeply entrenched in the Chicano community since birth, and her work reflects that. Not one for gimmicks, Garcia’s goal is simple — authentically relay her experience and that of her community.

“People always say, ‘How do you define Chicano art?’ I always say, ‘By creating it.’ My brief that I personalize is to be authentic,” Garcia said. “You have to be able to reveal something about yourself and permit yourself to be vulnerable to say something authentic about your experience as a human being.”

The subjects of her paintings span from the iconic neighborhoods and landscapes of LA to portraits of people in her community, from family and friends to street vendors. 

“People recognize themselves in her work; they recognize the places. She creates heroes,” Hendon said. “Wherever she goes, she is always thinking about her community. That’s why the exhibition is called ‘Arte para la gente.’ It’s art for the people and art of the people.”

Garcia’s calling card is her rich use of color, and the bright indigos and rich vermilions throughout her body of work are integral to her story and community. 

“I feel that color is part of my inheritance as Chicana because I use high-key color pigment, which is part of not only my aesthetic and the things that I like, but it’s part of my history,” Garcia said. “I am a person of pigment. … It is our inheritance. It’s part of our language. It’s part of the way I see the world and the way that I speak. And I speak through my images.”

As a known mentor in the community, it was important for La Plaza de Cultura y Artes to provide a platform for Garcia to exhibit her work. 

“Her artwork is activist in nature because she is creating images that historically have never existed in art history. She purposely paints black and brown faces and portraits because, typically, those folks have not been the subject of portraiture, especially in European communities,” Hendon said. “Her work represents that you can change the community by being a part of it, but you can change the community by giving back to it. She’s a renegade and someone who never believed that you had to stay in your box. She’s broken a lot of boundaries as a female artist.”

“Arte para la gente, The Collected Works of Margaret Garcia”

WHEN: Noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, until Sunday, June 11

WHERE: La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, 501 N. Main Street, Los Angeles

COST: See website for details