In order to Paola de la Calle art has been a catalyst. The American-Colombian artist talks to me through Zoom. We talk about Caravan for children, a project that raises the voice for the rights of migrant children in the United States.
Paola de la Calle Colaborate with Race Gallery and with different organizations to march, create and demand. Through five quilts [un producto artesanal estadounidense que emula un textil amplio] the story of the liberation, reunification and healing of migrant children detained in the United States as part of migration in Latin America. Your participation in this campaign confirms your work and interest in creating an art that responds to personal questions and your own experiences. The artist American-Colombian that from the beginning of their creative process has questioned social issues, creates for Caravan for children one these quilts with an extremely intimate vision. Exclusively for Vogue, we talked with Paola de la Calle about their work and the importance of translating this conversation into tangible action.
Paola, how do you think your vision as an artist was forged?
I grew up in a very place with many very strong women in my life and they all had some kind of creative process. They were always doing things with their hands. From a very young age, I was exposed to being able to express myself creatively and also to see the ways in which one can earn a living doing creative work.
I think it’s interesting that they were mainly women because we know that women’s work is often invisible, so for me, it was something that became a natural part of my childhood and adulthood. I constantly wanted to express myself in art. And it wasn’t until college that I took an engraving class and specialized in sociology – I had this kind of socio-political education – that I started doing political posters and to focus on many topics that I felt were important. That was the beginning of my understanding that art doesn’t have to be just these paintings in a museum. There are other forms of existence for artists. There are other ways to go out into the world. There are ways to engage the public and communities like the ones I come from, who may not have as much access to these elite institutions, but they should have access to art.
How is your creative process? What do you consider most important when creating?
My art often begins with a question about the story that is being told, and if there is a story that is being told, what is the story that is not being told? So I always start with a question and for me, my perspective and my upbringing always influence my work. I grew up in a ‘mixed’ family where my parents were undocumented, my sister was undocumented, all the adults in my life were undocumented, I think it really changed my understanding of privilege and made me feel angry. For a long time, I used my anger and channeled it into my art. I also have experience as an educator and I realized that this can also be a very good teaching tool.
Tell us about Caravan for children. How was this project born?
I got involved with the project through my residency with Race Gallery with the idea of bringing art within this political movement. I believe that art sometimes does what words cannot. And the call here is to be able to get the children out and reunite them with their families. I think a step has been missed, which is the healing part. These children face a lot of trauma. Separation from their family is really difficult and I think that if we consider the fact that these children are going to carry this trauma for many years into their future, it is our responsibility. People are not migrating to this country for fun. There are many policies that the United States has historically enacted that now affect living conditions throughout Latin America and throughout Central America, more specifically. And that healing is a very important part of the conversation. This project was always very personal to me.
Artistically, what does Caravana for children represent?
The quitls that I am creating for this project include the poetry of ten Central American poets who have different perspectives on the endurance, about the home, about the release. Some of them imagine different futures, some of them imagine different gifts. For me, it was important that those voices shine through and inform the images that were created in the quitls because this is not something that one person can have a full perspective on. Is about community, it is about bringing people together and it is about working together to ask for the reunification and the healing of the kids.
What were some of the activities planned with Caravana by the children?
The May 1 we are going to present the quitls in Washington DC and march with them. The quitls they tell stories of children’s liberation, reunification and healing, both of which present the historical importance and in turn, the need to keep having these conversations but to take it beyond the conversation and really demand that something be done in the first hundred days of a presidency.
As the lead artist for this campaign it is important to also bring some historical and political narrative to the artwork and not focus so much on the trauma. I firmly believe that we don’t have to see trauma to understand pain, feel empathy, and want to do something about it. The quitls they are really a symbol of relief and it is a symbol of community.
What message do you want to share about Caravana por los Niños?
I would say that we must invest in the present to create a better future. So I think that for me, children are particularly important because we often say that children are our future, but children are also our present. What happens today and what happens now informs what happens in the future. And that has been the case throughout history. I hope readers can understand that we need to invest in lives and in the ways children are treated to see a positive, joyful future in which change can be created.