Section: Arts

Visiting artist discusses inspiration from Mexican muralists

A captivated hush fell over the Gund Gallery Community Foundation Theater last Tuesday as Mesaro Visiting Artist Marela Zacarias ’00 shared her passionate enthusiasm for her work. During her visit to Kenyon on Sept. 11. Zacarias eagerly discussed how she enjoys delving into history, political science and anthropology in order to create abstract sculptures. These unique works are located across the country as well as in Mexico and Guatemala, are massive and have an undulating, almost liquid quality to them.

“For me, I am very interested in history and research and finding stories that haven’t been told before or have been forgotten,” she said, “… so when I approach a body of work or a site-specific work, I like to dig into the history of that place. I start with some preliminary research and then something jumps at me.”

Zacarias explained how she is also often inspired by the landscape of a place, like the colors of a row of houses in Detroit. She is moved by the work of muralists like Diego Rivera, but she is also inspired by things like textiles and Aztec goddesses. These influences show themselves in her work in subtle ways. For example, the shape of one sculpture resembles the contours of Brooklyn, while the colors of another piece are inspired by textiles Zacarias found striking.

She says her process is a combination of planning and improvisation, explaining how she lets the work “unveil and unravel” with her. “I feel like you have to be really open and have this interaction with the work where it’s telling you where it’s going,” she said. “The pieces all sort of fall together.”

Her artistic identity formed early on during her childhood in Mexico City. In the sixth grade, she made an art studio in her room and invited her neighbors to a viewing.

When she was studying at Kenyon, Zacarias became fascinated by the Mexican mural movement and the muralists who were able to pack a vast amount of history and politics into their work.  When she graduated, she began a career painting murals with various non-profit organizations. 

While Zacarias loved the experiences that working with nonprofits brought her, she found herself restricted by having to cater to so many people. She eventually decided to switch her focus to abstract sculpture. In abstraction, she explained,  “I just had a lot more room to tell the stories I wanted to tell.”

One project Zacarias shared was a piece she created for the American Consulate in Monterrey, Mexico. She explained the challenge of balancing her political beliefs with artistic opportunities. In this instance, she was conflicted about creating a piece for a place that causes many people a great deal of pain. She ultimately decided that it was worth it to make this piece because of the comfort and hope that she could bring to those undergoing the stressful immigration process.

As Zacarias states, “this whole month has been about coming back to where [she] started.” Her visit to Kenyon was a touching homecoming as she shared her passion and wisdom with the community that was so involved in their formation.


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