Episode 176 – Fabian Debora

Renowned artist Fabian Debora reflects on his rocky path to success
By LA Stories Staff Arts District
PUBLISHED 5:00 AM PT Mar. 18, 2024

At just 12 years old, Fabian Debora felt he had no choice but to join a gang. Growing up in the Aliso Village housing projects, his often absent and abusive father became addicted to drugs when he started selling them to make ends meet. His mother did the best she could, but feeling he had no support, Debora turned to gang life in order to find a sense of belonging. He fell into a cycle filled with drugs and incarceration. His one refuge from violence was art.

“I would pick up my notebook, and I would begin to create my own worlds to escape my reality,” he said.

In the latest episode of “LA Stories,” Debora shares with host Giselle Fernandez about how he tried to take his own life several times, but on his final attempt, he had an encounter with God that changed everything for him. He came away from that experience with a new lease on life, ready to become a dedicated husband and father to his wife and kids. He became clean and sober and found help from Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries.

“Once I got clean, I recognized where the pain was coming from, and it was that of my father,” he said. “I forgave him and came to Homeboy Industries.”

Boyle encouraged Debora to continue his art, and soon, he started creating paintings and murals that have been featured in galleries around the world. He said his work captures the often untold stories of life growing up on the streets of Los Angeles.

“It is me communicating and embodying the voices of those who go unseen or unheard — of the voiceless,” he said. “And in this case, the image of the gang member is central in my art as well as children.”

Debora went on to found the Homeboy Art Academy. He also teaches art to incarcerated youth with hopes of inspiring young people to stay off the streets and find something that inspires them, the way art has inspired him. His latest work, “Cara de Vago,” was featured in the Forest Lawn Museum in early March.

Most recently, Debora has been chosen as a 2024 NEA National Heritage Fellow. For him, honors like this remind him he is finally on the right path and that his work has inspired so many people around the world.

“I would say these images will anchor the conversations and the dialogue that this world needs, so we can finally find peace amongst all of us,” he said. “My legacy would be to just make sure that I don’t go unforgotten, but at least to let the next generations know that there is a path, there is a way.”

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