Interview with Artist Vivian Zapata

Poetry has the ability to unleash profound insights about ordinary experience and my painting investigates the mystical inner life of metaphorical language as it arises in everyday life.Vivian Zapata

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Kicking off our first artist profile of 2012 is visual artist Vivian Zapata. She describes herself as a “color contortionist and a creator of symbols unmasking reality with every step.” Vivian grew up in Skokie, IL and a few years ago won first place in the 23rd Annual Congressional Arts Competition for District 16 in Illinois and she was the 1st place winner in the National Latin Grammy Poster Contest. She even caught the attention of Latino Art Beat, a non-profit organization that awards college scholarships and was awarded a full year college tuition scholarship. Vivian currently has a B.F.A from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is working on her masters. She is part of the next generation of Latina artists that need to be cultivated and supported. Vivian is one to watch as she continues  her creative journey in the arts.

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What drives your creativity?

Stories, poetry, and nature inspire my creativity. For my latest project, I allowed the changing of leaf colors in the fall to form the basis of my inspiration. The treetops glittered with deep yellows, warm oranges, vivid greens, and corral reds. I responded to this spectacle by trying to imitate the phenomenon I was observing. I devised organic-looking structures that allowed me to represent the trees’ leafy textures and vivid colors.
In the process of making these orb-like structures by hand, they took on anthropomorphic qualities. Like the painter who can charge a line with emotion and meaning, I somehow imbued a degree of emotion in my sculptures. To show my work, I thought it might be interesting to take my models outside to see the many ways they could interact with their environment. My experiment to alter the location of my structures produced interesting results. In some locations, my work took on overt anthropomorphic qualities and functioned like people on a trip. In a different context (the forest), my sculptures functioned like anomalous entities that created psychological space. In a final context, my works acted like props that extended the commercial function of a space.

How can art impact communities?

Art can bring people together for a common purpose. Judy Baca, a feminist artist from California, brought rival teenagers together to create historically inspired murals. The effort was positive and constructive. It allowed the troubled youth to get in touch with their Latin-American heritage while forming positive relations with fellow students.

I feel like I am still growing as an artist but I hope that my art can inspire audiences by making them look at nature in different way. The beauty of art is that it can present altered perspectives, (new ways of seeing the world that would not have existed without artistic intervention). I am currently interested in associating nature (plant life) with the female corporeal body. I want my art to celebrate the beauty and power of the female force.

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What is the opportunity of being a woman / Latina artist?

My background as a woman/Latina artist gives me the opportunity to share a rich and unique perspective that filters in my work. It might be cliché to say but I do think that Latin Americans are soulful people. Our food, our music, and our colors reflect the passion that we have for life. Two Latina artists that have influenced my work are Frida Kahlo and Ana Mendieta. They projected a distinctive female voice in different ways. Kahlo did this through visual and surreal personal narratives and Mendieta did this through her performance works that brought forth ideas of ancient female powers and nature.

What mediums do you like to work with and why?

I like working with photography, digital media, and acrylic paint but I have recently dabbled with sculpture. As a grad student it is important to explore materials that can best express an idea.

Where do you see your art in the next five years?

I hope that in five years my interests as an artist will be clearly reflected in my works. I definitely have an interest in color, in nature, and in psychological space. One can never predict the future but I certainly see myself tenaciously pursuing my career as a visual artist.

Do you have three tips for women artists going to grad school? What do they need to know to?

Grad school can be fast-paced and one needs to know how to produce work quickly so the professors can see your ideas. I think the first semester may be hard for a student because it takes time to adjust to a new environment. A student should know that new methods of working will be discovered in grad school. Before applying, try to get many professional opinions on your application materials. I think its better to go to school with some experience under your belt. If possible, try to be a working artist for some years and try to talk to mentors or people you admire in the process.

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What kinds of projects are you working on in the new year?

As I mentioned, next semester I would like to continue investigating aspects of nature, and I would like to draw parallels between nature and the female corporeal body. The associations between a feminine power and nature have been long withstanding in the history of art. Even the most ancient archeological finds such as the Venus of Willendorf, drew associations between the generative powers of the female body and the generative powers found in nature. This semester I have looked at the work of the Pre-Raphaelites and also the work of women surrealists. I found a great website that organized flower usage in art into thematic categories such as life, death, fertility etc. I have also come across many contemporary artists whose work I admire and will continue to research. These artists include Jennifer Steinkamp, Yuyoi Kusama, and Sandy Skoglund. Their works investigate color, infinity, and or psychological space that could provide adequate inspiration for new projects that dually celebrate nature and the female body.

For more information on Vivian Zapata’s art work go to

Spheres Of Spring Time

Sculpture by Yvonne Domenge

Today I decided to take a stroll up Michigan Avenue and to my delight crews were setting up the sculptures by renowned sculptor Yvonne Domenge at Millennium Park. The sculptures were a great burst of color and steel. She is the first Mexican woman artist to have her art work displayed at Millennium Park. These lovely spheres of spring will be in the park’s South Boeing Gallery for everyone to admire.

The exhibition officially opens on April 6th and will be on view through October 2012 so there is plenty of time to check out her work.

The National Museum of Mexican Art and DePaul University will be hosting a discussion with the artist next week. Read more…

Sculpture by Yvonne Domenge

Cabeza de Barro: Conversation with Nicole Marroquin


“Clay is slow,

you can’t rush it,

you can’t tell it what to do,

it has its own clock, and you have to wait for it to choose you.” – Artist Nicole Marroquin

The first time I met Artist Nicole Marroquin was last year when she was patiently teaching volunteers how to make clay bowls for the Pros Arts Studio’s Pozolada. A year later she is part of an exhibit called Cabeza de Barro at the National Museum of Mexican Art. From across the room on opening night I see Nicole surrounded by her red clay torsos, friends and colleagues. I am intrigued by Nicole’s artwork so I decide to reach out and find out a little more about her work and what moves her to create.

When I arrive to her house for the interview I am delighted to see the front gate is full of pastel ribbons.  An artist definitely lives here, I think. The door opens and her daughter and their beautiful tiger striped greyhound Boss greet me. Nicole has been working in her art studio in back and has just made her way into the house and gives me a warm welcome.

“Our ancestors are in the clay,” she says and that’s when I notice her strong hands holding the purple teapot. “There are some days I’m covered in red clay”, she says blissfully. I ask her why she enjoys working with this material so much and she points out that, “Clay feels and looks alive when it’s wet and you can hold it in your hand. It’s also completely quiet and it smells like a rainy day or the woods and can be medicinal and suck infections out of wounds.

I ask Nicole about her first encounter with clay and she says, “ I had access to clay when I was a child and was using the wheel at an early age but after that I wasn’t around it for a long time. Later she began teaching clay at an elementary school in the Humbolt Park neighborhood and began working with it again.  Her students and “their joy of clay” were so infectious she ended up taking a clay class herself and that’s when the hard-core love affair began. “I became a cheerleader for clay,” she says.

Prior to working with clay Nicole spent many years focused on figure drawing and printmaking.  She began taking anatomy, weight and dimensions much more seriously however she says, “I never want to go back to figure drawing now that I work with clay but figure drawing does inform the work I do today.”

When I saw her work displayed at the National Museum of Mexican Art one of the things that struck me about these life size torsos was how she was able to skillfully capture facial expressions of each one of her subjects. Each mirada seems to follow you across the room. You almost expect one of the torsos to come to life and begin to move about. “When I undertake sculpture and make things to scale it takes a lot of momentum and energy and takes a few weeks of working with the clay because it demands constant physical contact or it will dry up before the work is finished”, says Nicole.

After creating a series of work Nicole is completely exhausted, “it’s like I just gave birth and don’t want to participate in any baby making activities for a while ”.  For Nicole the creativity comes in waves and she likes to give herself some space between projects to recharge.

Nicole enjoys working in schools and with people and it helps her generate ideas for her own artwork. In her most recent exhibit Cabeza de Barro her contribution was to focus on people who live in the Pilsen neighborhood. “It’s like creating an effigy of that person and bringing that person into the space where I like to show how we are relative to each another.” She views the Pilsen neighborhood as an extension of the border on a local level. When you look at her work on display you will see arms, hands, heads and torsos all floating on display, “it comes down to body in flesh and state policies and how they effect bodies,” says Nicole.

I asked Nicole about the social justice component that she incorporates into her artwork she says, “Art making is an outlet for my social justice desires. Working with my hands I meditate on problems and consider solutions. It’s important to be local in your efforts and bite off what you can chew.” Nicole, originally from Texas, is also obsessed with third space and homeland. She likes to explore ideas of borders, non-spaces and places in between and the impact it has on the people living there and passing through those places.

If you are an artist in Chicago you know what a luxury it is to have a space to create your work. Nicole is excited to show me her 10×20 studio filled with clay, molds and paintbrushes.  She picks up a piece of clay she has been working on and says, “being able to pick up a piece of this earth that let’s us reside on it is a powerful experience.”  Her studio has no heat but I’m sure it’s something café con piquete can cure.

You can view Nicole Marroquin’s work at the National Museum of Mexican Art now through May 15, 2011 or She is also an assistant professor of arts education at the Art Institute.

How much Pozole can you eat?

In case you have not noticed we all have daytime jobs, to–you know–pay the bills.  Although, I confess we have sometimes wondered: What if Proyecto Latina  was our full-time project?  Let us dream, we know how to keep our feet firmly planted on the ground, but who can blame us for such an active imagination, we are after all writers and/or artists and creating is like air for us.

I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by more artists in my 9 to 5 gig.   Working for Pros Arts Studio has given me the opportunity to get acquainted with other creatives and develop an even deeper appreciation  for the disciplines they work in–beginning with Giselle Mercier, who continually nudges me toward new levels of potential.  I’ve learned about the humbling nature of clay from Nicole Marroquin, had the opportunity to co-instruct the Tejer y Poder class with Thelma Uranga– an experience that expanded my horizons to the possibilities of fiber arts and I have witnessed the exceptional commitment to our youth from Delilah Salgado who uses street art to guide teens in the youth produced summer festival, We R Hip Hop.

I’m also immersed in a non-profit world in a community based setting where we have to depend heavily on community and foundation support to survive.  We offer free art classes, the kind I only dreamed about as a young person, these take place in a modest basement studio of Dvorak Park. They are out-of-school time programs that include a community clay studio and a circus arts workshop and can always benefit from one more ally.

Enter the 3rd Annual Pozolada on Saturday, March 19th, 2011, a fundraiser to support the community programs mentioned above.  The premise is simple: Each ticket purchase includes food, drinks and dessert, at the end of the night you get a one-of-a-kind bowl to take home.  Pozole is donated by community members and local restaurants, this year we are having traditional pozoles–including rojo, verde and blanco–as well as more contemporary versions that include a vegetarian pozole.   I’m particularly excited that we will be pairing this delectable offering with Latin Vintage Sounds courtesy of  (((Sonorama))).

Consider this my personal invitation to you–yes, you—to join me and the Pros Arts Studio community. My mom will be making a pot of her pozole, I know I’m biased but hers is my personal favorite.  Save room for seconds and thirds, there will also be signature pozoles from El Faro and De Colores.

3rd Annual Pozolada
Saturday, March 19, 2011
From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Held at Casa Juan Diego,
2020 S. Blue Island
Chicago, Il 60608

Advance tickets for Pozolada are $25, tickets at the door are $30, tickets for youth under 12 are $10.  You can buy your tickets online at

Proyecto Latina Recap – Ruth On The Rocks

Proyecto Latina Recap – Ruth On The Rocks

If you didn’t get a chance to come to Proyecto Latina this past Monday here is a visual snippet of a hilarious evening with our feature Ruth Guerra. She brought us everything from stories about the tooth fairy to blind dates.

We had a fabulous audience full of great chismes including this one anonymous one:

My acupuncturist says that my uterus is angry because I have not had a baby yet. I think my uterus is being a little unfair.

If you were at Proyecto Latina that evening or at other Proyecto Latina events and had a blast at our event let us know. Send us your comments or feedback at

Ruth recounting the time she ended up calling the calling the Columbia College radio station and ending up on a hilarious blind date. As I was sitting there watching Ruth do her thing I could help think, “Wow! What a wonderful storyteller Ruth is!”

Ruth Guerra is all smiles with Irasema Gonzalez (left) and myself at Cedahlia’s Café.

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