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Snite hosts Day of the Dead

| Sunday, November 2, 2014

As part of the celebration events for Día de los Muertos, organized through the Center for Arts & Culture, visiting artist Sandra Fernández of the University of Texas at Austin gave a talk about her artwork Friday in the Snite Museum of Art.

Fernández said her artwork documents the various journeys and experiences of her life and allows her to express her opinions, political, social and otherwise.

“Migratory paths have dominated my existence and are the ones that have defined who I am and what my art is about,” she said. “My life is a story of migrating and immigrating.”

Born in Queens, New York to Ecuadorian immigrants, Fernández said she moved to Ecuador with her mother when she was one year old. She said she left Ecuador for political reasons and returned to the United States in 1987.

In art, Fernández said she discovered a means of coping with her new and unfamiliar environment.

“Trying to understand a different culture, I turned to art to handle the conflicted feelings and emotions that I was experiencing,” she said.  “Some of [my] works at this time also talk about the necessity to find familiar connections in a new culture where I felt completely alone and uprooted.”

Originally, Fernández said she turned to photography to orient herself in alien surroundings. From photography, Fernández segued to bookmaking, which she said was a way for her to tell the story of her past and communicate her heritage to her children.

“By this time, it was evident that for many years to come my home would be in the USA,” she said. “For this reason, I wanted to leave a legacy for my children, to teach them where they came from, about their roots, make them feel proud of who they are by knowing their origins.”

Fernández said she continued to draw from the memories of her childhood in subsequent collections, including one which featured skirts in every piece. She said these works discussed gender and the social role of women, and they reflected various techniques she learned in Ecuador, such as sewing and embroidery.

Fernández said her art has become more politically oriented recently. Although many of her early pieces incorporated political themes in response to her persecution in Ecuador, Fernández said only in the last several years has her art regained its political voice.

Fernández said most of her political art today focuses on issues regarding immigration and undocumented residents. She said she sympathizes with those she terms “the dreamers” or the “undocumented students that have gone through the educational system.”

“I came to admire these kids so much,” she said. “They kind of reminded me of when I was young, when I was at their age, when I was fighting for all these things that I wanted to change.”

Looking back on her career, Fernández said she believes her art sustained her through the years and allowed her to shed light on the problems she sees in the world today.

“When I started making art, I was confronting my own experiences, and it took me a long time to be able to get out of my shell,” she said. “Now after 22-plus years of making art, I’m trying to bring awareness of other people’s plights.”

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