Internationally recognized, award-winning artist Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz livened the Lecture Center on April 26 as part of the Student Art Alliance’s Art Lecture Series.
“I make art because it helps me figure sh** out,” Raimundi-Ortiz said in the introduction to her presentation.
Raimundi-Ortiz is an interdisciplinary visual and performance artist. Her art focuses on critical race theory, race relations and anti-Blackness. She is particularly interested in these topics with regards to the Latinx community.
Raimundi-Ortiz’s artwork is a blend across genres, eras and cultures. Her influences range between 17th and 18th century European portraiture, Puerto Rican folkloric dance, comic books and sketch comedy. She draws inspiration from street murals in the Bronx and translates the medium into visual art — like comics.
In the lecture, she displayed various artworks and explained her personal story behind them. She described much of her work as “reactive” to her environment.
The first artworks she presented were her “Wepa Woman” murals. First born out of a desire to see comic book characters that looked like her, “Wepa Woman” illustrated Raimundi-Ortiz’s struggles with finding her identity as a Boricua woman. The work examined Puerto Rican pride and diasporic experience.
After showing “Wepa Woman,” she displayed portraits that ranged from the technical to the expressive. Her “Reinas” series imagined both herself and her family as queens, inspired by a rejection of racial fetishization as well as a celebration of her identity as a woman of color.
Afterwards, she presented her performance art and sculptures.
“Sometimes, drawing just isn’t fast enough,” Raimundi-Ortiz said. “I need to create this space where you feel what I feel at the same time.”
Michael Angelo’s “Pietà” inspired the most striking piece. The birth of her son and the murder of Trayvon Martin both spurred her own “Pietà” piece. It expressed the fear she feels as a mother in the wake of racist crimes, wanting to protect her son in a world that won’t protect him. In the performance, Raimundi-Ortiz held 33 people of color in her arms like Mary held Jesus for three minutes and 33 seconds. After the time was up, sirens blared and lights flashed, before she invited another person of color to come up and be held.
Her “Pietà” created an environment where people of color affected by these issues could share their feelings without the fear that they would be invalidated.
“I needed to create a space where we can reconnect with me, for a little while, and no one’s gonna tell us to get over it,” Raimundi-Ortiz said.
Her other self-portraits, sculptures and drawings explored Eurocentric beauty standards, psychology, toxic relationships and nature. Her “Ask Chuleta” video series highlights Raimundi-Ortiz’s sense of humor, where she plays Chuleta, a character from her “Wepa Woman” comics. Videos of these performance portraits can be found on Raimundi-Ortiz’s YouTube channel, wepawoman.
An audience Q&A followed her presentation. One student asked for advice on where artists wanting to make work like her should start.
“Everyone in this room is a network resource,” Raimundi-Ortiz said. “The hardest thing is to believe that someone else might want to see what you made. It takes a lot of personal conviction to be like, ‘I’m gonna show you what I did.’”
More work from Raimundi-Ortiz can be found on her website raimundiart.com.