Artist speaks to students about her journey of art and the stories behind them

By Daniella Molina

Colombian-American artist Natalia Arbelaez talked to ELAC students of the propounding motivation that inspired her concepts of art and about who inspired the work she does.
Arbelaez spoke to the students of the ELAC Art Department during an artist lecture via Zoom.
Arbelaez creates pieces that tell the stories of her parents’ immigration struggles and the historical details of her almost-forgotten heritage.
Arbelaez was born and raised in Miami, Florida. However, when she was about 2 years old, her mother decided that they would move back to Colombia, Medellin for a few years.
Upon their return to the states, when Arbelaez was four years old, she remembers learning English and forgetting Spanish within a month.
She was quickly losing touch with her Colombian roots and culture. The reality of the issue was brought to light even more when they moved from Connecticut back to Miami when she was 10 years old.
She can recall struggling to understand Spanish and having small flashbacks of her life in Colombia. It was about this time when her quest of wonder of her pre-Columbian history began.
Arbelaez received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Florida International University and a Master of Arts degree from Ohio State University.
While she was there, she began researching social issues such as women’s suffrage and Latin history. She began to unknowingly document her parent’s life story through pieces of clay.
She produced intriguing figurines that she contributes to her memories of Saturday morning cartoons and her perspective of things. She was mushing together what she knew with parts of herself that she thought had forgotten.
Arbelaez said “With creating work, I could fill that loss and I have been able to reconnect with my heritage. My work serves as a bridge to research my history and culture while aiming to preserve. I look to the history of Latin American and the Amerindian people; I work with how these identities are lost through conquest, migration, and time, gained through family, culture, exploration, and passed down through tradition and genetic memory.”
“I use these influences to contribute to a contemporary dialogue while simultaneously continuing the work of my ancestors. There has been so much loss and stigma of these communities that it is important to me that my work celebrates and honors them,” said Arbelaez.
Most of Arbelaez’s work is based on human figurines. Including a mold of her own head that she transformed into several ceramics heads to form an outstanding masterpiece.
One of her first pieces was a small pregnant figurine, which represents her mother’s journey while pregnant with Arbelaez. Another notable piece was one of her father.
A small man lying lifeless on an island represented when her father was left to die in the Bahamas.
He was on a journey to America with a man who had promised to get him to the United States, but was instead left stranded at sea. Fortunately, he survived, made it back to Columbia and was able to tell Arbelaez his story.
In 2016 Arbelaez was awarded the Inaugural Fellowship that funded a residency to the Watershed Center for the Ceramics Arts. Her pieces have been placed in national exhibits, in several galleries, art museums, and also included in various collections.

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