In Conversation with Tatiana Arocha: Bringing Her Passion for Colombian Landscapes to the Streets of New York
Bogotá-born, New York-based, visual artist Tatiana Arocha has a passion for nature and the eco-system which she explores beautifully in her 'Tropical Birds' project in Brooklyn. The various birds in her installation, such as the Grey-Breasted Mountain Toucan, Yellow-Crowned Amazon, among others, are rare creatures specific to Colombia's rain forests, and are badges of pride for the country's vulnerable landscapes. Her passion for nature is in her DNA, while growing up she would accompany her anthropologist father on environmental expeditions all over Colombia. In addition, she is a freelance designer/ illustrator who was worked on commercial projects with JWT, Wieden & Kennedy, Viacom, etc I talk with Arocha for a deeper conversation about nature in New York, and the magical yet vulnerable landscapes of her native Colombia.
Gallery Gurls: I love the contrast in your ‘Tropical Birds’ project, a public art installation of whimsical Colombian bird species set against the industrial Brooklyn Navy Yard complex. Tell me more about this eco-conscious body of work.
Tatiana Arocha: I created work that talks about the environment. I needed to start a dialogue with people about Colombia, about the landscapes, and the beauty of Colombia. I needed to start a conversation because when I arrived to New York, people only asked me about the drugs in Colombia and if there was a risk of being kidnapped if they traveled there. The perception of Colombia was really bad, and I found it very frustrating. It’s a county that has incredible landscapes, has two rainforests, one being one of the most bio-diverse rainforests in the world. And it’s a country that is an incredible treasure for the eco-system and for the environment in the world. And keeping these landscapes alive can help the climate change at this moment. This came out of a necessity of educating people about Colombia to have a more positive perspective about the country. I started my exploration with the Chocó rainforest, which I visited right before coming to New York. I saw deforestation, and what this rainforest was suffering because of the gold mining and lumbering. I then started exploring the Amazon, and it was a place that was more accessible for people who didn’t know the Chocó rainforest or weren’t very knowledgeable about Colombia. Then slowly I started tapping into other landscapes and rainforests that are important as well. Though this exploration and further conversations is how I arrived to the birds, which was a ways of having a direct conversation with the public. Through this public art project, and just by being on the street, I encountered people from all backgrounds, who asked about the project and the birds. I used the birds to not only tell the story about the environment but also being able to tell my story about my country. Protecting these vulnerable landscapes is becoming extremely important for the balance of climate change in the world. The tropical birds were inspired by the Painted Bunting that appeared in Prospect Park in December last winter. It had diverted from its initial flight pattern. So that idea about birds losing their migration is what inspired the idea of Colombian birds on the streets of New York.
"The perception of Colombia was really bad, and I found it very frustrating. This came out of a necessity of educating people about Colombia to have a more positive perspective about the country."
I’d love to hear more about your recent solo exhibit 'Sanctuaries’ at the the Queens Botanical Garden, it seems to be this magical mix of nature, your Colombian heritage, and technology displayed on immersive murals.
So the exhibit at the Queens Botanical Garden had two components, the first component consisted of a series of printed pieces on paper and canvases, displayed in the center of the exhibition in the garden. For me the garden is a place where people come to be in touch with nature, and ‘Sanctuaries’ was an extension of this idea to help people connect with nature. The second component, I was able to install a tropical bird migration on the garden grounds. These led to fun community engagement projects like bird watching and live bird drawing workshops. What was really interesting to me was that I reaching out to a very diverse group of people from ranging from Latin America to Asia. A lot of the Latin Americans were from Colombia, and they felt very inspired, and very connected to the country they had left or parents had left a long time ago. It created this sense of belonging to what was happening in the garden, and that was very important for me.
"A lot of the Latin Americans were from Colombia, and they felt very inspired, and very connected to the country they had left or parents had left a long time ago."
How does the urban landscape in New York impact your work, since a lot of it is inspired by nature and the environment?
Since I can’t travel constantly to the rain forest and visit the landscapes in Colombia, I look for nature everywhere around me, when I’m walking down the street, etc I think you will find that nature is everywhere, the change in the greens and the moss, when in rains, or when its a hot day versus a rainy day, like the colors on the trees and the leaves, there’s a different feeling and that for me is inspiring. I also have a seven-year-old that sees the world from a different perspective, and he seems to find things that I wouldn’t even notice. I think there is nature in New York. I love that New York has botanical gardens and have incredible greenhouses that have collections of tropical plants in a very organized way. I can come photograph them and look at them very closely which serve as great material for the pieces that I work on.
Your other endeavor Kuli Kuli seems like a great intro into arts education for young children, it was also inspired by your son. Can you expand on the project?
I started Kuli Kuli because of my everyday interaction with my son Joaquin who was growing. I needed to find a way to teach him Spanish. So I started developing these illustrations to use as an educational tool that would help me with my communication with him. Since then it has grown into a series of art prints and also clothing goods for kids.
What’s next for you? What else can we expect?
So far I’ve done about 450 birds across New York City and cities in Colombia. I’m going to continue with this project, creating more bird species, and bringing it to more cities in the States and the world. I’m also working on a series of pieces that deal directly with the imminent threats of the vulnerable landscapes of Colombia which include oil extraction, coal and gold mining, armed conflict and lumbering. On the Kuli Kuli side, I’m working on a children’s book and continuing to develop more products.