‘It Is Very Intuitive’: Watch Artist Marela Zacarías Build a 58-Foot-Long Sculpture Inspired by Mexican Textiles

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The Mexican-born, Brooklyn-based artist Marela Zacarías has spent decades creating colorful murals and sculptures for exhibitions and commissions around the world. Informed by her childhood in Mexico City, the artist created her most ambitious work, in 2014 for the United States Consulate in Monterrey, Mexico.

In an exclusive interview with Art21 as part of the  series, Zacarías is seen at work on the monumental sculpture, measuring 58 feet long and 11 feet high, which she completed over the course of nine months with the help of eight studio assistants. The work, which features a dynamic pattern of 67 colors inspired by textiles from Chiapas and Oaxaca, is comprised of 20 handmade sections created in a paint-by-numbers method.

Part of it is very intuitive, the way that I’m choosing colors, but then I have to put down a record of those decisions,” Zacarías said, adding that the organizational component of the process doesn’t come naturally, “it’s something that I’ve had to learn.” 

The rippling surface of the sculpture mimics the undulations of the fabric that inspired the colors, which the artist’s mother helped to find while doing research as an anthropologist. “These ancient cultures used their clothing as a way to show their relationship to their universe, to the earth, to their community.”

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Marela Zacarías Goes Big & Goes Home." © Art21, Inc. 2014.

Production still from the Art21 “New York Close Up” film, “Marela Zacarías Goes Big & Goes Home.” © Art21, Inc. 2014.

Installing a permanent sculpture at the consulate building in Mexico, where people come to get a visa or a green card, represents a thoroughfare for change, and a portal to a new life. “You’re changing when you’re going through,” Zacarías says.

It was the first piece the artist made in her home country, and she constructed it in her adopted home of New York. “It was like really meeting myself in the middle of it,” she said. “I want to connect to the people that are going through this change.”

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series New York Close Up, below. “Marela Zacarías: Storytelling” is on view through July 7, 2023 at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of news-making artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series, like New York Close Up and Extended Play, and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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