Interview by illustrator Michael Gibbs
Andrea Arroyo immigrated to New York from Mexico in the early 1980s to study in the professional program of avant-garde choreographer Merce Cunningham. She danced professionally for several years, and then transitioned to the visual arts. Recently, former President Bill Clinton selected her to create the The Clinton Citizen Awards Project.
Those are just some of the many accomplishments achieved by this talented woman who brings attention to issues of gender justice and discrimination. We recently talked with Arroyo about her art, career, and what it was like to work with Clinton. See our Q&A below.
Michael Gibbs: You are self-taught in the visual arts, and in addition to fine art you were also a professional dancer. Tell us about how those two artistic forms are similar, and how they are different.
Andrea Arroyo: The means of expression may be different, but to me the visual and the performing arts are quite similar. When I was still a professional dancer, I became interested in the visual arts as well. I was very familiar with the form in three-dimensions and I felt very comfortable working with the human figure. As a visual artist, I worked in three-dimensions for many years, and I started painting and drawing later in my career.
I created my signature style very early in my career, in which I stylize the human figure in a way that is very much influenced by my background in contemporary dance. This particular style is evident in my work in all media (sculpture, painting, drawing, and even public art.)
For me, the main advantage when I became a visual artist was the freedom to work independently, and although I have been a full-time visual artist for many years, I feel that dance is still part of my soul.
Michael Gibbs: You say in your bio that you have long been fascinated by the female form, and that fascination spurred your quest to research women’s images and their stories. You now create work that commemorates the lives and stories of women and brings attention to issues of gender justice and discrimination, including your project Flor de Tierra-Homage to the Women of Juarez, which consists of 400 drawings in tribute to the victims of femicide there. Tell us about that project: What do you hope to accomplish, and what are some of the biggest challenges?
Andrea Arroyo: Yes, I have been interested in women’s stories and women’s issues for many years. “Flor de Tierra-Homage to the Women of Juarez” is a project in-progress that consists of 400 drawings in tribute to the victims of femicide in Juarez, Mexico, where more than 400 women have been murdered since the early 90s. Each piece is a tribute to an individual victim; the series as a whole represents the enormity of the crimes, for which no one has been held responsible.
So far I have finished around 300 drawings. When completed, the project will be exhibited in New York and I would like to create a traveling exhibition as well.
My main goal is to create a relevant work of art, and in addition, the exhibition will increase awareness about the prevalence of violence against women, and specifically about the rising rate of femicides in Latin America.
The biggest challenge is time, and to find funding for the project. The project has been awarded some grants, yet, as you can imagine, completing 400 drawings is a substantial undertaking. I would like to complete the project by early next year.
Michael Gibbs: Your other projects include studio work, public art, and commissions, which total 31 individual and more than 100 group exhibits in such prestigious collections as The Library of Congress, The Smithsonian Institution, and The National Museum of Mexican Art. What one exhibit truly amazed you, and made you know that you had become the artist you had always dreamed of being?
Andrea Arroyo: Each exhibition is significant and I really appreciate having such an active trajectory. I consider art as my job, and my goal is to become a better artist every day. Creating a new body of work for an exhibition provides an exciting opportunity to learn something new, collaborate, or experiment.
Each project has helped me become the artist that I am today, and I look forward to always growing as a professional. Currently I am thrilled to be working on a brand new body of work for my next two solo exhibits, scheduled for September 2012 and March 2013.
Michael Gibbs: Let’s talk about the project that you were selected to create for President Clinton’s Citizen Awards. How did that come to be, and what was the experience like working with President Clinton and his team?
Andrea Arroyo: I was selected by President Bill Clinton to create the award. For me it was an important opportunity to bring my work to a wider, international audience. I was honored to be part of the project because I admire the mission of the Clinton Global Initiative, which honors extraordinary individuals who have demonstrated visionary leadership in solving pressing global challenges. The process was wonderful—I was given artistic freedom and had the opportunity to create work in a new medium, and working with the CGI team was a great experience.
Michael Gibbs: Other honors of yours include the 21st Century Award, Groundbreaking Latina in the Arts Award, and being the official artist of the Latin Grammy Awards. What is left on your wish list?
Andrea Arroyo: My main wish is to continue creating and sharing my art, and to always continue growing as a professional. I also would like to create more public art, to explore bronze as a large-scale medium, and to participate in more exhibits and projects at an international level. And, I would like to place my work in more museum collections so it can be experienced by an even larger audience and by future generations.
Since I am incorporating more socially relevant themes into my work, I would like to explore the possibilities of collaborating on an art project with an organization that focuses on women’s rights in the near future.
For more information, visit andreaarroyo.com.