The ancient Mexican craft of papel picado is on display at the UCF Visual Arts Building Art Gallery until July 3.
The collection, "Papel Picado with a Modern Twist," is from Indianapolis artist Beatriz Vasquez.
Papel picado is a traditional Mexican folk-style craft made from perforated tissue paper.
Tradition is close to Vasquez's heart, who is Mexican-American. She was born in Texas and moved to Indianapolis when she was 21 years old.
After graduating from Herron School of Art and Design, Vasquez said she found herself questioning her purpose as an artist.
That question led her to take a trip to Mexico, where she discovered the craft of papel picado. Vasquez said she then began to immerse herself within the "indigenous communities and learned of many traditional crafts."
After immersion and extensive research of the craft and its place within Mexican culture, Vasquez said she decided she could transform the craft into a fine art that would define her as an artist.
Finally, she said she found her purpose: turning her traditions and culture into fine art.
"My work represents the intricacies and beauty of an indigenous South American traditional craft," she said.
Yulia Tikhonova, director of the art gallery, sought out Vasquez for this very reason.
"She very skillfully combines contemporary and old traditional folk imagery," Tikhonova said. "Contemporary motif and traditional paper-making techniques."
The process to book Vasquez started two years ago. Vasquez came to UCF to look at the gallery and take measurements in order to create a collection that would fit.
Vasquez said she draws inspiration from her childhood memories and the people who raised her, particularly her grandmother.
Because of this, Vasquez does not have a piece in her collection that she favors over the other.
Her creative process centers on a memory and a nostalgic sense or feeling. Focusing on the image in her mind, she then quickly tries to put it down on paper.
"My sketches are never precise because I improvise each cut where my hand leads me," Vasquez said.
Once she finishes with the initial cuts, she then fills each negative space with colorful tissue paper. This connects the sturdier paper with the traditional paper, or papel chino. Vasquez said this is where the modern and traditional aspects of her art connect.
In starting this project two years ago, she said she has learned a lot about herself, both as a person and an artist.
"In traveling to my childhood memories, I think I have finally found myself as an artist," she said.
Vasquez said she still gets amazed when she sees people looking and commenting on her work.
"I have learned that the work I create is not just for me anymore," she said. "But for all those I try to represent and honor, and finally for the greater Latino communities."
Through her art, Vasquez hopes to bring awareness, appreciation and beauty to Mexican culture, as well as social issues such as immigration and feminism.
One specific piece, "La Sirena Femenista," was inspired by a Mexican card game. The character, La Sirena, is shown as a woman with a voluptuous figure, and Vasquez said that men would make very derogatory and sexist remarks when she was pulled from the deck.
She said she grew to feel sorry for La Sirena once she realized the severity of the jokes and remarks.
"When I recreated her, I placed my face profile with an athletic body and tiny breasts, not voluptuous and sexy like the original," said Vasquez. "I box, so I put my red boxing gloves on her as she fights against the machismo that still exists in my family and within many cultures. I wrapped her upper body with the fist, a symbol of feminism and her fins with an open hand with the word 'no' right in the middle, the symbol of 'stop the violence against women and children.'"
On July 2, Vasquez will be at the gallery to give an artist talk to discuss her work.
Tikhonova said she would like to have Vasquez back on campus for another show, as well as to hold workshops on papel picado for students to attend and learn.
Amelia Truong is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @Ameliatruong or email her at AmyT@CentralFloridaFuture.com.