Carianna Arredondo’s mixed-media artwork, “Masa,” depicts her vivid memory of making tamales at Christmastime, a tradition carried on by many women of Mexican heritage.
But her mother was of European descent and thus Arredondo crafted tamales from sand, a little girl’s fantasy to fit in, to find an identity.
“Something that has always been a little bit difficult growing up was navigating different worlds,” the 2014 DePauw graduate said. “So, my father is very Mexican. My mom is very white. So I grew up in a multicultural household and being kind of racially ambiguous was complicated for me. And also coming from a very poor background only complicated things more. …
“There were different parts of my parents’ culture that I always wanted to participate in but didn’t necessarily get to. So I literally use materials from different aspects of my culture to create work about those memories or those processes.”
Arredondo mixed masa – corn flour – and sand with paint to produce “Masa” and other pieces in a series. She merged images from Google Earth application with photos taken by the Hubble telescope in an earlier series that likewise had its genesis in her experiences. “Growing up in a multicultural household, identity was hard for me to tackle,” she said. “So instead of zooming in on myself, I decided to zoom out. So my process was more about the idea of ephemerality in humanity and space and place and how that evolves over time.”
Still other pieces have been infused with ground aluminum, mica or New Mexican dirt, embellished with crushed pearls or rust or sand from Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York. She used glitter in a piece she created in honor of Rick Hillis, the writing professor at DePauw who “really made a huge impact on me” and died of a brain aneurysm in October 2014, just a few months after Arredondo graduated. She donated the piece to the university and it hangs in room 110 in Asbury Hall.
Arredondo, who double majored in studio art and creative writing, pairs each piece with an original poem. “Poetry,” she said, “is a concrete language to describe the abstract, intuitive process that I do with my visual art.”
Arredondo came to DePauw from San Antonio, Texas, and chose it, after visiting, over an Ivy League powerhouse and several other renowned schools, all of which accepted her. While a DePauw student, she spent a semester in the New York Arts Program, an experience “that was very crucial for me as an artist” because it exposed her to experiences and institutions she had not previously seen. She interned in the education department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and with a painter based in Brooklyn. DePauw also provided a summer research grant that enabled her to serve an art residency in San Antonio.
“The series that I created that had corn flour and sand is very much about a memory that I had, growing up in Texas, as a very young child pretending to make tamales out of sand. Usually that’s something that, during the holidays, the mother’s side of the family will facilitate. But my mother is European, so we didn’t partake in that. There were different parts of my parents’ culture that I always wanted to participate in but didn’t necessarily get to. So I literally use materials from different aspects of my culture to create work about those memories or those processes.”
She is a Gates Millenium Scholar; the program, established by Bill and Melinda Gates of Microsoft fame, covers all higher-education costs for high-achieving minority students. (Its last cohort was chosen in 2016 and, while funding will continue for those scholars, no new awards have been made.) Not only did Arredondo get a full ride to DePauw, but the Gates scholarship is paying for her to pursue a doctorate in art education at Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York City, where she is studying how an artist learns from the community and is working as the painting studio fellow, applying feng shui principles as she manages the painting and drawing room.
“I wanted to be an artist just because I couldn’t think of doing anything else,” she said. “And even if it meant struggling, working as an educator or a researcher or an administrator – which I’ve done – art is something that always remains consistent. It’s almost like riding a bike. Once you go with it, you can never really put it down and completely forget it.”