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Paola De La Cruz BFA’20 nurtures community and encourages joy with art

by Melanie Moyer,

Paola De La Cruz BFA‘20

Mariposa, Paola De La Cruz’s BFA’20 first solo exhibition, is one of the many exciting projects De La Cruz has completed since she graduated from PNCA’s fine arts program.

After receiving a grant from the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, De La Cruz and collaborator Lillyanne Pham worked tirelessly on painting a mural for the organization’s office building in southeast Portland. “Their location is in a residential building that houses low-income and immigrant families,” she says. “They're going to see the work every day. So, I thought, what do they want to see, and how can they be best represented?”

This experience bolstered De La Cruz’s understanding of creating public art that isn't intrusive. Next, the De La Cruz and Pham are completing a canopy installation project for the newly renovated Midland Library, which is scheduled to be reopened in the summer of 2024. “Again, with this project, we faced questions about creating public art that speaks to the people who will be there daily.”

Along with public art, De La Cruz has succeeded as a digital artist. Through networking during her senior year, she won an internship with Willamette Week. Then, through her thesis advisor Kristin Rogers Brown, she connected with her first client after graduation, Imagine Black. Making connections in these positions led to jobs with other organizations, such as Portland Playhouse.

With color palettes inspired by her early life in the Dominican Republic and advocacy reminiscent of her sister’s Latinx activist work in Boston, De La Cruz’s work takes inspiration from the places she calls home. Like many others, her work shifted during the pandemic to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement. Shocked by mass desensitization to the murder of Black people s, De La Cruz explores themes of comfort and joy.

“Before, my work was bold and involved a lot of the activist work I did before,” she shares. “I’m still doing that, but I'm approaching it in a new way that does not feed into this trauma porn on the internet. The more images we see of Black and Brown people finding peace and healing helps it become the new normal for us.”

Mariposa opened on April 27, at Portland State University’s Littman Gallery and will remain open through June 30. Among themes of healing, the exhibition will feature an interactive piece, guaranteeing each visit is a unique experience.

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