BIPOC FEATURED ARTIST: TANIA ESPINOZA BONILLA
Juan Miguel Martinez
“There are some different strings that are hard to pull together. Your hands get calloused, sort of a superficial burn”, Tania Espinoza Bonilla tells me. “Is that why you wear band-aids on your fingers in your videos?” I ask. “Yes, this has been a proven method to prevent my fingers from getting stiff”, she laughs. Behind Tania sit textile shapes that hang from wooden rods, creating mesmeric patterns. This is her art form, weaving and tying together ropes that convey a spiritual vision.
“Basic sewing is something that was taught to me as a child, but it was in college where I discovered knotting and fiber work and embroidery. It has been a journey of self-discovery rather than something that was passed down to me”, she says. She worked as a middle school teacher for one year, a tutor for five years and as a museum educator for the last year. “Art teachers in schools are spread very thin, but museum education is a little more informal”, she states. Planning her own lessons is something integral for her, and in museum education, she has had to tailor those plans according to what was being exhibited in the museum at the time. Nevertheless, she was still able to blend cultural teachings in with the methods.
“Embroidery is a very important and fun one to teach because it is a basic life skill but can be very artistic. Historically, fibrous work has been categorized as “Women’s work” or “Household work”. Because of this, boys were never taught to do this kind of work and they are the ones that took to this kind of work more readily”, she says. Truly, this is a lesson that can be used in dismantling patriarchal attitudes. “It wasn’t something I taught, but it was important to note amongst them”, she says.
“What I do is definitely meditative. There is a real peace in repetition, and here is something where you have to maintain focus but can still get lost in the process”, she informs me. Afrolatinidad is a blend of many deep, rich cultures and it is something that was on display in Tania’s home growing up. “A creative, meditative element is something that was always present in everything I do. Macrame is the method of knotting, which is the main one she employs. Mandala is the shape, which is usually in a circle. Coiling is the other method, which is wrapping thread around each other.
Her projects are made on commission and they more complex. The biggest project she has undertaken has been a 55-inch wall hanging. Plant hangers are also made and she classifies it as “Usable art”. Macrame grocery bags are projects in this same category.
Tania hopes to keep creating, weaving her impeccable brand of textiles. For the sake of the environment, let’s hope her grocery bags soon replace the plastic ones.
Connect with Tania at linktr.ee/tfortextile
BIPOC FEATURED ARTIST: GRILLED CHEESE GRANT ARTISTS
Juan Miguel Martinez
Artist grants are a beautiful way to embed art into the consciousness of the human drama. Rachel Hausmann-Schall is someone that understands this fully. The Grilled Cheese Grant (GCG) had its nexus in 2016 when it was created by the former artist collective After School Special, who shared a studio space above Company Brewing in Milwaukee’s Riverwest Neighborhood. The collective was founded by recent MIAD graduates who wanted to find a way to continue to support local art students financially and to help them reach their artistic goals beyond graduation. The mission was to help recent MIAD graduates get their vision completed, which was a feeling the group knew to be a difficult task. “We founded it after a model that was happening in Chicago called “Sunday Soup” where people would basically put money in a pot at a gallery and at the end of the night, the money would go to whoever was most deserving of it. So we thought of something equally as Midwest, which goes with soup, which was grilled cheese. It was an affordable meal we could sell and people would want to buy.” she says. This year, there are five finalists who have received the grant.
Helena Baka – “A lot of my art is me confronting my Albanian and American identities. There is a real feeling of isolation in my art because I never really had an Albanian American woman artist to look up to. Being a finalist means a lot more visibility for the community I was born into.”
Anna Siemsen – “I think it is important for me to share my story as a Chinese-American woman and adoptee. Most of my work is about the struggles I have faced throughout my life regarding cultural identity. I make my work to highlight the Chinese-American experience from my perspective, and it is also a way to become more connected to my heritage.”
August-Lain Weickert – “The Grilled Cheese Grant means community support and access towards making your piece real. I see my art as a translation. It allows me to understand things and it makes things real in a way that I can handle. I learned a lot from my time growing up in Rockford, IL. It sparked my interest in people.”
Rylee Krumrei – “The message I am trying to convey within my work is how we can live more sustainably so as to reduce the damaging effects our consumption and waste has on the environment. The Grilled Cheese Grant means a great opportunity to showcase that outside of MIAD”.
Emma Bittner – “I was so appreciative of the opportunity to be recognized next to the other really amazing artists. I hope that my projects create conversations around the issues or proposals I am presenting. That is why I like to work in drawing, photography, modeling, video, and collage because if the work can stretch across multiple disciplines hopefully it can resonate in some way with someone and provoke thoughts, emotions or conversations that can further the project and form solutions.”
BIPOC FEATURED ARTIST: LAS R.A.R.A.S.
Juan Miguel Martinez
In rainy atmospheres that warn of storms, there are forces at work. They are lights, brief pauses in the energy that sometimes find each other and create something larger that weathers the rumblings and destruction to provide respite and times of reflection. That is what happened when Raices Revolucionaras was created, R.A.R.A.S., a collective of Mujerxs made up of Andrea Lira-Landa, Jeannette Arellano, Xela Garcia, and Ceci Tejeda whose mission is to preserve their culturas and dismantle racial inequities to unify & empower their barrios.
R.A.R.A.S. believe in a shared-power structure which shows up in their art making processes, decision making and how projects and partnerships are selected. “Before the collective came to be, we were all friends and shared mutual respect for each other—as people and artists—and the community work in which each of us are involved,” Andrea says knowingly. “We are bilingual and bicultural artists that were tired of spaces and groups that didn’t fully understand or embrace who we are and the multiple intersections in which we stand. This is our safe space”, adds Xela.
The collective uses their platform to build community as social justice values are embedded in their art. R.A.R.A.S. draw from a rich history of women-led movements globally. “It is important that we create with intention for our barrios. There are artists Xingonas that came before us with that same idea and we want to keep that spirit alive”, Jeannette states passionately. Community building is something that works seamlessly between their collective hands, as their art can be seen throughout Milwaukee. R.A.R.A.S. have supported various social and labor movement efforts locally and nationally with their art. They have sewn thousands of masks for essential workers, painted dozens of banners for protests and marches, launched a Las Vidas Negras Importan campaign, and were commissioned to create a 13-foot paper-mache effigy of Ron Johnson by a local union. “It’s important to create with purpose”, says Ceci. “Art is used as a form to elevate community work, and that is part of our mission”, she adds.
Each group member brings their unique style of art with one important thing in common – they all work with youth. “Working with youth helps us grow. Teaching is about listening, and through our collaborations with youth, we learn and are taught so many lessons”, they tell me.
To be passionate about growth and preserving the history and beauty of our barrios is a lifelong endeavor. It relies on seeds being planted, and to be properly nourished so the fruits can push skyward, like outstretched fingers reaching for the sun. There are nutrients needed, positive reinforcement that is embedded in the foundation, Community groups like Las R.A.R.A.S. are those nutrients, seeping into the soil after having pattered down from the aforementioned storm clouds. It is not only necessary they remain active, but for all of us to truly flourish, it is essential.
About Juan Miguel Martinez
Juan Miguel Martinez is a Chicano writer from the south and north side of Milwaukee. He is a union organizer and considers himself a professional appreciator of all culture.