Women Who Wear Crowns
Interview by Emily Jaeger, Features Editor
Ivette Cabrera is a Nicaraguan-born artist currently residing in Wynwood Miami, Florida. She migrated to the United States with her mother and siblings at the age of three to escape the Sandinista Revolution. She studied Interior Architecture and Design at the Academy of Art University and Marketing at Columbia College in Chicago. She started an art collective and artist residency in Wynwood in 2012 called Viophilia as an artistic sanctuary for artists to work intensively on their craft. She has curated numerous art shows as well as worked on various projects, including site renderings, interior renovations, and public art murals, as well as designing and constructing a house in Nicaragua. Her work has been part of numerous exhibitions, displayed at the Baker Museum in Naples, Florida, and is part of numerous private collections.
Jaeger: Your drawings appearing in this month’s issue are part of a larger series featuring portraits of women adorned with fantastical, decorative crowns. What was the impetus for this project?
Cabrera: I wanted to portray women from different cultural backgrounds embracing their own inner power and strength. Every woman is born wearing a crown because she can accomplish anything. As a society we should not only honor beauty but also welcome the powerful role that all women have. Society often has preset barriers and roles that are placed upon women, especially those from certain backgrounds. My work is an attempt to highlight and then break down those barriers so that any woman can see herself as potent and influential like the women in my art: women who wear crowns.
Jaeger: How did you choose your subjects for this series?
Cabrera: The subjects for my work are women from various cultures. My research has led me to find important women who changed the course of history, sometimes by creating rituals to glorify certain women or by breaking all cultural barriers in a society that devalued their worth. As a woman, I feel that its important to represent and tell their story. In visual art, it is both important to convey powerful messages to the viewer and to represent a beauty which entices the viewer to search deeper. The subjects of my work are beautiful women. But what makes them beautiful is how we see the power of their presence reflected back at us.
Jaeger: In this series, you use a limited palette of color and composition; each portrait contains only a single woman, from the neck up, wearing a crown. Why did you choose to limit your palette?
Cabrera: I chose to limit my palette because I felt that less was more. I wanted the viewer to focus on the details within each piece with minimal distractions.
Jaeger: Who are some of the artists who have helped inspire this series or your work at large?
Cabrera: My biggest inspirations have been the architect Zaha Hadid, along with Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Erte.
Jaeger: “Into the Light” stands out for your unique placement of the subject and the expressive gesture of her neck. Could you talk about the role of the subject’s gesture as well as her facial expression in the composition of this piece? And in the series overall?
Cabrera: “Into the Light” was inspired by the independent film Nena, directed by my friend Christi Arce. The movie follows a young girl who is molested by her father until she finally breaks free and moves on to a brighter future. My piece explores the concept of moving forward in life despite past circumstances. In the drawing, the woman faces the sun—the light. Her headdress is taller than before because she overcame the trials and tribulations of something young girls have experienced throughout the world. It was crucial to show her resilience—how resilient all women can be—so while the gesture of her head is strong, her face is gentle and at peace.
“Into the Light” is also part of another series I’ve been working on called Sacred Spring, based on the Ver Sacrum magazine (1898-1903) of the Vienna Secession, which explored new styles of art outside of academic restrictions.
Jaeger: All the portraits are fascinating meldings of realistic features with the more conceptual of the crowns. Can you talk about this, especially as you seem to have done quite a bit of purely conceptual drawings outside of this series?
Cabrera: Abstract work has a way of opening up the imagination. I wanted to incorporate this element into my drawings while also refining and showcasing my skills in portraiture. The juxtaposition of these two styles is meant to create contrast.
The abstract forms I draw in the crowns are actually very detailed: I use a magnifying glass to continually add depth to the work. I had to teach myself how to draw the more “realistic” figures outside of my architectural studies. It has been a big challenge to learn how to draw realistically, but it is essential to development of my message and how serious I am about it. I couldn’t just make everything abstract. I wanted people to value that there were more complex layers to what I was trying to achieve, so I had to prove that I could draw and have an understanding of the complexities of realism.
Jaeger: Previously, you studied Interior Architecture and Design at the Academy of Art University. How did you come to pursue this series, and from that background?
Cabrera: Studying at the Academy showed me how to transfer my own style into a functional structure. At first, I spent many hours and long nights drafting, trying to achieve perfection in my work. It’s a rigorous process when you are designing elements of a building. However, as I began to focus on Cultural Studies, I learned more about issues that women where dealing with around the world. Soon I felt that architecture could only supplement my artistic process. To fully embrace and raise awareness about the topics I was exploring, I needed a new medium. That led me to an exploration of drawings that blended architecture’s technical aspects with a more expressive form.
Jaeger: How has your background in architecture influenced your artistic process?
Cabrera: My background in architecture has taught me to simplify structures into lines and forms, make use of negative space, and allow the viewer to take a journey through the structure. Odd shapes are always welcomed as long as they are in harmony with the overall composition and provide balance. I tend to look at architectural sketches of buildings to see how they utilize lines, curves, and forms.
I also use a lot of the methods of drawing that I learned while drafting. For example, when I studied Interior Architecture and Design, we were taught to roll the pencil as we draw to make an absolutely perfect line and to make sure each line has a perfect start and end to it. Sometimes you also have to go over the start and end points of a line just a bit to achieve that solid look of the line. These subtle details makes the work look complete.
Jaeger: The crowns are constructed from a combination of architectural, geometric, and seemingly ecological imagery. How did you come to incorporate this third element?
Cabrera: I lived in my art studio at the edge of Wynwood, Miami for a long time. The space was a converted-concrete, derelict warehouse in a pretty bad neighborhood. When I finally moved out to a small cottage with a yard, I began gardening and experienced nature in a new light. The way that a bird builds its nest, the caterpillars on their way to transformation, and the monarch butterflies that visited the garden relate to the special cycle of life that exists all around us. We are all in a process of transformation because that’s how nature works.
My experiences with the natural world inspired a new series, Monarch, that not only relates to the transformation of the individual but also to empowerment. I incorporated my studies of historical women with the elements represented in nature such as the cocoon, chrysalis, nest, etc.
Jaeger: How might your experience drawing this series perhaps influence your work in architecture?
Cabrera: My experience in drawing Monarch has led me to explore the forms in nature that can exist as architectural structures. I feel that when we embrace the nature that exists around us, we create a harmonious relationship with it.
Enclosing structures actually creates a barrier to the environment. When I designed a house in Nicaragua, my priority was to open the house up to its surroundings. I created an interior courtyard open to the sky, allowed for wind to pass through the house, and also designed an interior garden that could be viewed from many angles within the home.
Jaeger: You also have made a foray into public art, with some quite dynamic aura works. How did this come about? In particular, the mural depicting one of these actual portraits?
Cabrera: The end goal for me has always been to express my message to as many women and people as possible. Public art is a beautiful way to expose art to many people who aren’t accustomed to going to a gallery or a museum. I remember once a whole school bus of children passed by while I was working. All of the children were screaming and shouting about how beautiful it was. A family passing by even asked about the mural. It’s essential for artists to take part in exposing art to those who cannot access it because the opportunities afforded through exposure can change the whole course of a person’s life.
Jaeger: You write, “I want women to question their own identity so the headdress art is abstract, showing that every woman wears a crown.” Could you talk more about why your choice to make the headdress art abstract causes women to question their identity?
Cabrera: If I were to depict a purely realistic crown or headdress then the viewer would only associate the crowns with those who have worn them in the past. However, if I allow the abstract forms to shine through, the viewer can use their imagination and begin to create their own associations with crowns.
I hope the viewer will imagine themselves wearing the crown and that this process will lead them to ask themselves where they come from, who they are, what brought them here, how they view themselves, where are they going, can they one day make their own crown? Once we’ve been empowered by the idea that each of us wears a royal crown or majestic headdress, the barriers of our existence cease to exist. We can accomplish anything we put our love and work into.
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