Artist Spotlight: Gabriela Molina’s unique take on cultural heritage

Courtesy of Gabriela Molina

Gabriela Molina, a fourth-year majoring in studio art and education, represents the ties she holds to both her family and culture within her art. Molina developed an interest in art at a young age, but it wasn’t until she was enrolled in Bell Arts Factory, a non-profit community art center, that her interest in art grew. When describing her nine-year experience at Bell Arts, Molina appreciated how “culturally relevant the projects were, such as Dia De Los Muertos or any Hispanic holiday that took place.” During her time in high school, Molina described how “eurocentric the art curriculum was” and how the absence of BIOPIC artists influenced her to explore her cultural identity through art. 

Not only did her interest in art grow, but she also came to love the aspect of education and how one day she aspires to become an art educator. She said, “I’d love to work in a non-profit community art center or a high school, and see how we could adopt a more culturally relevant curriculum where students feel both represented and encouraged to explore their culture and identities.”  

Molina’s art primarily stretches across the themes of family and cultural artifacts, such as family heirlooms, that she uses as sources of inspiration. She explained that her work can be seen as a research-based approach when looking at her family history and culture as a source of knowledge. She said, “These themes help with unraveling my identity in relation to the connection between my ancestry, culture and family both here in the U.S. and in Mexico.” Molina’s past series consisted of three portraits: two of her parents at the age of 21 and a self-portrait. Although her parents were from Mexico, their lives differed greatly in the cities that they grew up in which she expresses in their respective portraits. They are meant to showcase their story and what her parents were like when they were her age. 

Her most recent work consists of using fabrics that serve as portraits to refer to both her grandfather and father. She stated, “They envision a certain memory, such as when they are completing any landscaping jobs and their shirts are covered in blades of grass and dust. I’m currently trying to put those memories together to create something more tangible and physical.” The effect of this particular piece on her family has been strong. Molina mentioned how therapeutic it was for her and her family to look at the painting of her grandfather’s shirt after his recent passing. “We didn’t need to discuss the matter openly. We just looked at the painting in the present moment and it was a great way to grow closer with each other,” Molina explained. 

Molina’s art extends to various mediums, such as colored pencils, paint and sculpture, that she enjoys experimenting with. One of her sculptural pieces is that of a paletero or ice-cream cart with Marvel characters as her paletas or popsicles. “My stuff is influenced a lot by Marvel and mainly by Spider-Man. This sculpture reminded me of my childhood whenever the paletero man would come down the street and we’d be screaming to announce his arrival in the house. It not only expresses my interest in Marvel but also those nostalgic childhood moments I shared with my sister and the neighborhood kids around us,” explained Molina. 

Molina says, “Art-making can sometimes feel like a solitary thing, but presenting my work and creating it in a space with others is something I enjoy the most. It welcomes conversation, various interpretations and good feedback.” Her openness to sharing her art is also attributed to when she was given her own studio space at the Bell Arts Factory before graduating high school. “I would open it to the public on the first Friday of every month. It was open to public viewing, and if people felt inclined to do so, they would also purchase some of my pieces. It gave me the chance and freedom to see what curating my own studio space would be like.”

Molina has been grateful for her experiences here at UCR, stating that she’s been given many avenues to share her work with peers. She is often a vendor for Teatro Quinto Sol’s Poesia Peligrosa, an organization at UCR that strives to use art, theater and mediums for the means of self-expression. She has also exhibited her work at ASPB’S Art Walk and has hosted various art sessions while working in Residential Life. Molina explained, “I wasn’t sure what to anticipate as an art student in college that is known for being a research-based institution, but I was surprised to not just see the art community on campus, but also in the Riverside area in general.” She hopes that the art community at UCR continues to thrive and see the value that art can bring to people.

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