Aja Reyes' impressive solo exhibition opens this weekend |  lifestyle

Aja Reyes’ impressive solo exhibition opens this weekend | lifestyle | Pro Club Bd

Local artist Aja Reyes opens her first solo exhibition, A Colorful Human Reaction, at Lees-Reyes Art Gallery this weekend, featuring works that are as rich in color and texture as they are in depth and meaning.

Reyes paints in a wide range of styles, deftly moving from postmodern clean lines and bold colors intended to evoke aerial perspective of forests and canals, to gentler, expressionist applications that explore the experience of poverty and begging.

With part of the show touching on various elements of CHamoru and Micronesian identity, as well as environmentalism, it seems there’s no area of ​​the human experience that Reyes won’t visit — though with her art, she prefers to engage people in questions and conversations inviting rather than making them uncomfortable.

“It can be a conversation starter on a topic. For example, watershed management, Red Hill, groundwater contamination in the city and county of Honolulu, gun rights, shootings, cancer, loss of knowledge – good and bad – intergenerational transmission of knowledge. … So those themes are all there, but it comes down to a much … more appealing presentation. If someone isn’t ready, we can keep it on a lighter level and maybe go deeper later,” Reyes said.

Aja Reyes with two pieces to be featured in her upcoming solo exhibition, A Colorful Human Reaction, at the Lees-Reyes Art Gallery at Tumon Sands Plaza on July 28, 2022. “Y Achun Palao’an” or “Rock Woman” on the left and “Apprentice” on the right, both of which explore elements of CHamoru culture, will be exhibited alongside her other pieces from August 6th to 30th.


Where Reyes sees “pleasing presentation,” most will see art. Her work is undeniably adept when it comes to technique, and her decision to address meaningful issues with such nuance and induction is masterful.

Shockingly, Reyes only took one formal art class — but she’s been drawing nature since she was a child. Reyes recalls growing up with plenty of inspiration from spending time in the water and hiking around Guam, which eventually led her to pursue a career in marine biology and benefited from the presence of her artist aunt and gallery owner, Dawn Lees-Reyes.

Reyes recalls that her aunt shared her materials and knowledge with her during her childhood, including old videotapes about art history and famous artists.

“Growing up in Guam, you didn’t have access to beautiful paintings. In the movies you saw things like the galleries, people go to the galleries and it’s so elegant, but it was also expensive.

I just thought, ‘Well, I’ll never be able to afford it. I should try to make it.’ And that helped open up the possibility of having access to something I thought wasn’t accessible,” Reyes said.

Aja Reyes generation knowledge

‘Apprentice’ and ‘I Nenen Biha yan i Guella-ña’ by Aja Reyes at Lees-Reyes Art Gallery on 28 July 2022. Both pieces explore the idea of ​​cross-generational knowledge transfer in CHamoru culture and will be exhibited as part of ‘ A Colorful Human Reaction,” Reye’s solo show, which runs August 6-30.


Today, despite the lack of formal training, she counts Cubist and Dadaist masters such as Paul Gauguin, Max Ernst, Henri Matisse and Marcel Duchamps among her most important influences and seeks artists from the same movements, such as Barbara Hepworth or the more contemporary Cecily Braun.

“There are so many; I’ve only just scratched the surface of learning all their names. You look at the art and you would never know their name, but their work is familiar because they have engaged with the famous male artists , but just didn’t come to the fore at the time,” Reyes said.

"Host," by Aja Reyes

“Host” by Aja Reyes at Lees-Reyes Art Gallery, July 28, 2022. “Host” explores the matrilineal elements of CHamoru society and will be on view as part of Reyes’ solo show, A Colorful Human Reaction, August 28, 2022 be 6-30.

Old photos

Some of Reyes’ most impressive works are paintings created from turn-of-the-century photographs, including those of her great-grandparents, inspired by an article published by the Pacific Daily News in the 1980s about the various branches of the family in Guam.

“It actually helped me understand my roots and I wanted to do portraits like you see in Europe or other Western countries where they’re actually very much appreciated, we don’t really have that here,” Reyes said.

"chamoru lady," and "Chamoru Gentleman" by Aja Reyes

CHamoru Lady and CHamoru Gentleman by Aja Reyes at Lees-Reyes Art Gallery on July 28, 2022. The characters are Reyes’ great-grandparents, Emeliana de Borja Leon Guerrero and Jose Camacho Blas, and will be presented as part of Reyes’ Solo exhibition “A Colorful Human Reaction” from August 6th to 30th.

This mindset led her to other photographs, including a 1996 photo by Bruce Campbell of a Yap woman, Eulelie Ranganbay, preparing for a menstrual chant.

“I was struck by her pose, her posture – and again, that women are such strong characters. But I’ve also been thinking, since I don’t see portraits of CHamoru families and celebrities – as I would in Europe – I don’t see that much at all on other Micronesian islands.

“So I really wanted to do a portrait that reflected the dignity, grace and majesty of these people,” Reyes said.

Portraits from Aja Reyes magazine

“Satawal Gentleman, circa 1890” and “Yapese Lady, 1996 (Eulelie Ranganbay)” by artist Aja Reyes at the Lees-Reyes Art Gallery on July 28, 2022. Reyes painted from photographs she encountered online and in magazines.

This approach, which celebrates the dignity, grace and majesty of the people, land and cultures around them, is pervasive in all of Reyes’ work, and the invitation to delve deeply into her subtle imagery, as in her painting, is amply rewarded “Y Achun Palao’an” or “rock woman”.

The first glance reveals a grey, geometric and feminine figure. A second look might reveal the mestiza style of her Spanish-era hair and clothing—but a longer look can reveal another layer that her shape is also that of a latte stone.

"Y Achun Palao'an (rock woman)"by Aja Reyes

“Y Achun Palao’an” or “Rock Woman” by Aja Reyes at Lees-Reyes Gallery on July 28, 2022. Exploring the silhouette of a Spanish-era CHamoru woman alongside the shape of a latte stone, the piece will be on display as part of A Colorful Human Reaction, Reye’s solo show, August 6-30.

Tell stories

Reyes joins the great CHamoru tradition of storytelling with her painting style – it may not be oral storytelling, but it will undoubtedly inspire stories and thoughts to be shared among viewers. She put it best in her description of two major backing tracks, “Until They Disappear” or “La Reducción”.

“It’s not just the importance of the Taotaomo’na tree, but also the importance of mangrove roots in coastal stabilization. I remember people getting these drawings of the person encased in the Taotaomo’na tree like you can see their head or something, that’s my version of it,” Reyes said.

“So that’s ‘Until they go,’ and it’s about having the conversation before people leave. Tell stories before we lose that information and lose that connection.”

"Until They Disappear (La Reducción)" by Aja Reyes

‘Until They Disappear’ or ‘La Reducción’ by Aja Reyes at Lees-Reyes Art Gallery on 28 July 2022. The pieces will be shown as part of Reyes’ solo exhibition ‘A Colorful Human Reaction’ from 6-30 August.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.