Fa’al Ali in his new street-art haven, ILA Gallery. – Denver Westword
Ali originally came to Denver for the snowboarding but stayed when he started hanging out with this crew of artists. When he was younger, his friends called him a “toy” — a term for someone who vandalizes with unskilled tags, a wannabe graffiti artist. His first connection to the scene was with Jolt, a notorious street artist who heads up the Guerilla Garden crew in Denver. The two immediately hit it off, forming a friendship that helped Ali find acceptance within the often territorial street-art scene.
An entrepreneur to his core, Ali put his passion for videography to use for the artists he was starting to hang out with. He replaced the spray paint and markers of his youth with cameras and editing software, creating everything from full-length documentaries for the Urban Arts Fund to recap videos for the street-art festival Crush Walls to small clips for personal social-media accounts.
As the years went by, Ali started talking to his friends more about their needs as artists. “’We need to get paid’ — that’s what they were saying,” says Ali. “And so that became my goal this year: Get the homies paid.”
With that, ILA (pronounced “eela”) Gallery was born. The name is Ali’s last name backward, but it also stands for “I Love Art” and “I Live Authentic.”
“Mostly, it’s about authenticity,” explains Ali. “I would go to art shows all the time, and I would see my culture for sale, but I wouldn’t see us represented in the room. I felt that kinda made it corny or lack authenticity. … I want people of my culture — black people, brown people, anybody who gets a passport to the culture — to come and have a place that represents that. And I want them to make money off of it.”
Even though Ali just signed a four-year lease for the small gallery on January 6, the schedule of monthly exhibitions already stretches into April 2021. The main curator behind that jam-packed timeline is Lorenzo Talcott, a local arts advocate known for organizing shows at Dateline Gallery in the RiNo Art District.
“I’m trying to empower my community. Being a black minority in Denver, I just want to empower everybody that I can but keep where I come from in the forefront of my mind and my business,” says Ali. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to teach people to appreciate art and use art as an investment and as assets. That’s what people with money do, and so we’re focusing on educating our community about that side of art.”
The first exhibition at ILA is all about black identity. “Fa’al wanted a black artist for Black History Month, to represent,” Talcott explains. So the curator invited Hiero Veiga — a Massachusetts-born, Miami-based artist who started his career painting graffiti in alleys — for a two-week solo show, from February 22 to March 6.
Called “Uppity” Live in Color, the exhibit includes pieces that represent different people of color who have pushed the boundaries of their genres. Veiga’s skill with portraiture — although displayed worldwide on enormous buildings — transfers to smaller canvases beautifully. And “Uppity” Live in Color will allow fans of Veiga’s murals to buy something of his to take home.
“I want to have a place that’s safe for graffiti or street artists, but a lot of these guys are transitioning when they aren’t painting the streets,” Ali says. “But they get looped into that genre where it’s only graffiti, when they are so much more and have different ways of expressing themselves.”