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My name is Ana Rodriguez and I’m the artist working with the Sanchez family to redesign their exterior fence. I grew up in the city of Maywood, CA. Maywood is a small city surrounded by the cities of Vernon and Commerce. You’ll find Farmer Johns, Mojave spices, Sara Lee Bakery, chemical plants, plastic recycling companies, and others factories spewing plums of smoke each day. Visually, the factories in Maywood give it an industrial look yet the other experience of Maywood is more olfactory. The foul odors spewed throughout the day and into the evening can be horrendous. In my private practice as an artist I’m interested in the idea of toxicity, the odors that are emitted, pattern and decoration, and of course food (cake in particular) Growing up in Maywood was a fascinating adventure, there were corrupt police men, corrupt politicians, and illegal building on contaminated soil. These are some elements that drive my work and continue to inspire me every day.
ABOUT WHP AND MY COLLABORATION WITH THE SANCHEZ FAMILY
I was invited by the Watts House Project to design a fence for the Sanchez family who live across from the Watts Towers. From their perspective, the artwork is located just southwest of their home and as the sun sets it crests between the two largest Towers. At that time, the beautiful mosaic decorations and motifs of the Towers are darkened by shadow. What remains are just the shapes, joints, and forms framed by the fading light. This came to mind when the Sanchez family asked me to create a design inspired by ‘papel picado,’ a tradition in Mexico that can be seen during holidays: banners strewn across streets, alleys, over front doors, and in homes. The art of papel picado is more than just perforated paper designs chiseled and cut to create beautiful shapes and images – ‘papel picado’ is a traditional art of Mexico and this was the reason Mr. Sanchez wanted a fence inspired by this art. The family wanted a fence that said something about their Mexican heritage. They wanted to show that they were proud of where they lived and they wanted to contribute to the beauty and diversity of Watts. I remember one of the conversations I had with Mr. Sanchez. We were talking about cities on both sides of the border and how poverty can destroy hope in people and decimate the landscape of communities in Mexico and in the US. Negligence and apathy of city governments to address quality of life issues are often doubled down by the complacency of people living in these communities. That’s the thing about bad behavior – it’s catchy – ‘one bad apple spoils the bunch.’ If our city leaders don’t lift a finger to show they care, then why would the residents? Mr. Sanchez told me that for change to take root, residents must lead by example. You can’t wait for someone to give you a helping hand, you have to start helping yourself first…how else is change going to happen? That’s why he agreed to work with Watts House Project. I completely understood Mr. Sanchez but growing up in Maywood I also understood how difficult it could be for struggling families to maintain and beautify their home.
I’ve never worked on a project like this before. It was one of the reasons I was somewhat uneasy about the process of collaboration. I remember Trinidad explaining the project to me and I thought, ‘Ok, I think I understand this – this is a collaboration project where a family and I inspire each other with the purpose of creating designs for a beautification project on their home. Hmm…‘ But something clicked. At the risk of sounding corny, I thought – THIS IS PRETTY AWESOME! Once the collaboration got started, I threw myself into the project. I created early designs of the fence for the family, we met to discuss details and talked logistics. I even heard some neighbors, inspired by what was happening, say that they wanted something for their home. One person said that they wanted an altar of the Virgin of Guadalupe or an image of the Virgin painted on the front of their home. The Virgin of Guadalupe is more about protection from evil and negativity and less so a decorative motif. It made me think a lot about the idea of protection and what it means to be protected. Talismans, statues, crosses, mirrors, holy water…these words conjured up images of ancient times and ancient places. I’m excited to see what’s ultimately designed for the Sanchez. As for what’s inspiring me these days, I’ve been picturing myself living inside an imagined mosque, beautifully decorated with gardens of roses and tulips, and very real Virgins de Guadalupe standing, sitting, and moving about.
Change is taking root, Mr. Sanchez. Just like you said it would.
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