Studio Visit with Roxana Santana

6.25.18; 11:00 AM
by Alexandra Seneca
Roxana Santana looks every bit the quintessential creative as she bounds up to 20 Cooper Square clad in an all-white outfit… well-worn pants and her friend’s inside out t-shirt. The effortlessly cool artist has an infectious personality that is sometimes lost in the cynical New York City art world.  A Brooklyn native and recent Parsons graduate, Roxana is one of only sixteen artists chosen for NYU Steinhardt’s prestigious Summer Studio Residency Program. Art is at the center of Roxana’s life- to put it simply, art quite literally is her life. Dedicated to the craft at a young age, she attended The High School of Art and Design on the Upper East Side and earned numerous awards and scholarships prior to her career at Parsons. Roxana’s accolades attest to both the quality and concept of her works, which are deeply personal but universally relatable. An Afro-Latina, much of Roxana’s art centers on her family and Dominican culture. 

I immediately gravitated toward two works from her series, Preservation Trilogy: The Search For Decolonial Love, which she began for her final thesis at Parsons. The title takes inspiration from a 2012 conversation centered on gender and race between writers Paula M.L. Moya and Junot Diaz. Roxana’s inherently tactile works are mixed media and each feature one of her parents. My inner child excited at the invitation to touch the work, move the malleable plastic and deconstruct it by removing the photograph from its plastic covering.  Roxana alters the photographs, extracting certain portions from the original prints, which she then repurposes in other areas of the work, yielding a void.

In one of the works, her father was comfortably lounging on a floral-patterned couch in the original photograph. Roxana transforms this otherwise mundane family picture by removing his body from the couch, revealing an empty space. The blank space is especially powerful as her father passed away from Muscular Dystrophy in 2009. The next step in her artistic process evolves enclosing the cut-out shape in gold trimmed clear plastic, mirroring the clear, gold lined plastic that covers the photograph. The figure of her father is then affixed to the left of that couch, his inclusion just as powerful as the void, giving a face to the vacant space. The other work in the series centers on her mother, a 9/11 survivor, gracefully draped on the edge of a chair in a bright blue dress. Here, however, the void is created from Roxana’s removal of the chair rather than the shape of her mother. The chair is then covered in gold trimmed plastic, attached to the photograph, and inserted into the covering. Thus, the plastic covered chair becomes the subject of the work, rather than her mother who is simply an object in the background.

Roxana’s studio is filled with numerous portraits of her loved ones, one of which garnered a garnered a Scholastic Art Award. The artist hopes that she can show her loved ones that they are valued through her art. Some of her more mature works deal with themes of identity and image. A powerful self-portrait depicts the artist seated, nude, executed in grayscale and holding a regal posture This contrasts with the figure’s bright yellow hair, a nod to the Barbie mentality and imposition of whiteness thrust on people of color.

Roxana’s sketchbook is a window into her creative mind, which can be serious and introspective at times, but also genuinely playful and lighthearted. In the last month of her program, she plans to execute some of her sketchbook concepts and add to these two different series. Roxana is currently gearing up for the residency’s group exhibition on July 26, 2018 from 6-8 pm. Follow the artist on Instagram @_roxanasantana.

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