Art Place

Interview with Maria Umana Gomez

Maria verano

About the artist

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

I like to work by myself and mostly in silence during the art making process. However, I also love working as a team to create something larger and more complex, and that is why I love teaching, creating collective projects and participating in events and art projects.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?

Since childhood I was interested in the arts. I did painting, drawing and classical guitar. However I was also interested in nature and I thought of studying biology, which still informs my work in the use of scientific anatomy. However I use it as an excuse to talk about human experience from my personal point of view.

What are some recurring themes in your art practice?

I have worked around notions of identity and power in the body, with the use of words and anatomy. These themes keep coming back.

What are the most important influences?

The work of Valerie Hammond.

Heather Hansen‘s performance drawings “Empty Gestures”.

What is your experience in art projects engaging social practice?

I have been using art for social change since my years as a student. In 1985 I founded and participated in the artists collective Artifact, with whom we painted murals in Nicaragua and Montreal with provincial funding. Since then I have participated in numerous art mural projects in Colombia and Dominican Republic among others. As an art teacher in schools and universities in Canada and Colombia I have broadened my capacity to reach youth from diverse communities. More recently I was the operations director of the Coalition of New Canadians for Arts and Culture (CNCAC), and we organized events and designed opportunities in arts culture for new immigrants.

What did you gain from your experience?

Art Place has given me a closer look at the interests and concerns of youth today. I have seen the influence of rap and social media in the way youth communicate. This group often talk about gangs, delinquency, and physical abuse as ordinary themes.

How long have you been active in the Ottawa arts community?

Four years.

What interested you about working with the AOE Arts Council?

I have known the work of the organization for many years and have been involved in different activities such as exhibitions at Selections, Articipate, Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Ontario (CPAMO), and other events. I like what OAE Arts Council offers to artists in Ottawa.

About the project

What made you want to participate in Art Place?

During my professional artistic career I have taught art in diverse schools and universities. I have also been involved in different arts organizations that use art to empower youth. Art workshops offer underprivileged members of a community tools for creativity, ingenuity and teamwork.

What inspired you to pursue this project with this community?

Alicia and I wanted to work together in an art project that integrated music and visual arts and this was the perfect opportunity so we decided to apply.

How would you describe the project you will be working on?

Song Mural is a sequence of activities designed as 10 sessions for a group of 10 to 12 youth from 13 to 16 years old. The goal is to give participants a space where they can feel safe to share and explore ideas without judging each other in order to 1) develop a sense of belonging, 2) nurture curiosity, 3) strengthen bonds between the group of participants, and 4) create and try out new forms of expression. We will propose a variety of games and creative activities that will allow them to know each other, and build a sense of teamwork and mutual trust.

As an artist, what do you hope to get out of this process?

We hope this residency gives youth an array of tools to expose and empower themselves around difficult social issues.

What do you hope participants will gain from this process?

We hope Song Mural will offer opportunities to youth of underprivileged communities to have access to artistic expressions, healing tools, communication skills, and empowering elements to build a better future.

How do you anticipate this work will have an impact on the community?

Through artistic expression, youth will express their issues and concerns. We hope the community will have a chance to understand, assimilate and react timely to support and advocate for them. This will benefit the future of this community as a whole.

How will your project give voice or expression to the social issue(s) you will be exploring?

Song Mural will use stories, songs, and paintings as the main vehicle to express social issues.

How will you know your project is a success?

  • The attendance is great, between 10 and 15 participants per session.
  • Youth come and are eager to participate in the activities and games.
  • The resulting stories, songs, drawings and paintings will be evidence of the process.
  • The final presentation to the community will be a summary of the experience.
  • The presentation to other residency programs will be a final test and synthesis of the program.

More about Maria Gomez Umana

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