Artist Diana Urazán was born in San Diego, CA and raised in Colombia. After graduating from high school in the town of Armenia, Diana moved to Bogotá to pursue an art degree from the University of the Andes. There, she became involved with infant pedagogy and the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy, and started working towards becoming an arts educator. Through these studies, Urazan immersed herself in the aesthetics of childhood, which is a source of inspiration for much of her work. Diana received her BFA in 2012, and since 2011 resides in Cali, where she leads an Arts Workshop in English at a kindergarten institution, El Taller de Anik (Anik's Workshop).
In this interview with visual arts editor Catalina Piedrahita, Diana talks about working with children, about the importance of an arts education, and about dragons, eggs and rainbows.
Catalina Piedrahita: “An Exemplary Life” seems to tell the story of a group of characters. Are these inspired by real people? If so, who are they and why did you pick them?
Diana Urazán: An Exemplary Life is a way of telling the story of my life. All the characters in the series are people that have had a strong influence on the person I am today.
CP: Can you tell us some more about the symbolism in the illustrations of “An Exemplary Life”? Your aesthetic is very particular — evoking humor and parody — and there are certain elements that keep showing up throughout the series. What’s the symbolism behind the rainbows, the dragons, the eggs? What do they represent?
DU: I use rainbows not only as a symbol — though they are that too — but also for their purely aesthetic value, simply for the colors. When I draw I feel a strong urge to use color. Rainbows are also there as a result of the influence of the children I work with. This influence always keeps my inner child near the surface, and it’s the source of the playfulness in my work. But there is also symbolism behind the rainbows. In the bible, rainbows represent a pact, a promise. In “An Exemplary Life” they stand for the promise of a perfect life.
As far as dragons, they’re often used as symbols of greed, as in The Hobbit or Beowulf. In this case I draw influence from Game of Thrones and the character of Daenerys Targaryen (as well as the film How To Train Your Dragon), in the sense that the presence of dragons in An Exemplary Life is a reflexion on power. The eggs represent potential and the process of gestation
CP: When the economy of a given country or city is doing poorly, often one of the first things to be cut from public budgets is spending on the arts and culture. As an educator, you have had the experience of teaching children through the arts from a very early age. In your opinion, what's the importance of an arts education?
DU: The importance of art in childhood is the same as that of art for humanity in general. Art has always been a vehicle for transformation, expression, solace, evolution. A way to surmount adversity. Taking art away from someone, child or adult, is denying that person what they need to overcome their context, what they need to live out the deepest levels of existence.
CP: What have you learned as a children’s educator? Is there something about the experience that has led you to grow as a person and as an artist?
DU: When people asked me what I was up to after graduating from college and I told them I worked at a kindergarten, earning a pittance, some of my artist colleagues looked down on me with disapproval. My high school friends made fun of me for having studied at [the University of] Los Andes only to end up as a babysitter, changing diapers and wiping snot off kids’ faces. It was rough at first, but it gave me discipline. Eventually I was able to engage in a creative dialogue and explore the meaning of art with the kids, at a time when I felt like I had nobody to ask about these things. I learned how to be organized and neat, not only in my work but also in every other aspect of my life. I was able to start teaching them these things, and they responded in ways that surprised me. It all made rethink my behavior and strive to elevate myself so that I could be a good example, starting from the simplest details, the smallest gestures. For instance, establishing the routine of cleaning up the classroom with them to the point that they do it on their own now. Or waiting for a kid’s tantrum to pass, or not bending to their whims. They might tell me they’re tired of drawing, and I’ll say: “No, you have to keep going, you still have more to give.” I’ve seen a distraught child -- suffering through the divorce of his parents -- cheer up after I stopped to show him the beauty of what he’d just made with his own hands.
All of these things have broadened my way of relating to art, of approaching it, enjoying it and exploring it. What's interesting is I always find this in the smallest things, the ones that are easily overlooked, in the mundane and the simple.
CP: What projects are your working on right now?
DU: “An Exemplary Life” is an ongoing project that I’ll be exhibiting in December of 2014. I’m also working on an off-shoot of that project, entitled “An Exemplary Egg”, which consists of a large format engraving that will be printed with a steamroller in an urban space. The idea is to make engraving accessible to all, not just to connoisseurs. At the moment I’m also in charge of the children’s art exhibit at the kindergarten where I work — El Taller de Anik — which is celebrating its 35th anniversary.