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The Mass Media

Daniela Rivera speaks at the Visiting Artist Lecture Series

Daniela+Rivera+speaks+at+event.+Photo+submitted+by+Christopher+Schade+%2F+Associate+Professor+of+Art.
Daniela Rivera speaks at event. Photo submitted by Christopher Schade / Associate Professor of Art.

On March 26, internationally renowned artist Daniela Rivera visited the UMass Boston campus to deliver a talk on her recent projects. This is a part of the Visiting Artist Lecture Series put on by the Art and Art History Department and organized by Associate Professor Christopher Schade. He invites several nationally and internationally celebrated artists per semester to speak to students about their work. 

“I developed the Visiting Artist Lecture Series when I was hired to teach painting and drawing in the Art and Art History Department at UMass Boston in the fall of 2016,” said Professor Schades. “[My wife Zoe Pettijohn, friend Michael Aaron Lee, and I] began [an] earlier series in our studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn as a way of creating a community of artists where we could have a relaxed atmosphere in the studio while having rigorous conversations about our art.”

Daniela Rivera is a professor at Wellesley College, but was born in Chile. She was born under a military dictatorship, which impacts much of her art. For the first 20 years of her life, military dictatorship was normal to her. She enrolled in art school when the country was becoming more democratic, which led her to become a more active artist. 

At the beginning of her career, she was very focused on the body. She would rent out store fronts in Chile to display her art in a public place. While the beginning of her career was so focused on flesh, she began to consider space in 2002 on a plane trip to the United States. “What are the places with the most body vulnerability?” she thought to herself. She decided on the bathroom. This launched the next phase of her career.

At this time, she planned a piece focusing on Carioca Soap, an iconic Chilean soap bar. For the piece, she planned to build a wall of this soap. By appearance alone, the viewer would be unable to tell that the wall was made of soap, but the smell gave it away. 

When the piece finally came into fruition in 2019, she was forced to pick a different soap because it was inaccessible in the U.S. Instead she picked a different brand of soap, Zote, popular to the majority of Latin America. While this wasn’t exactly what she was looking for, it did the job well. The exhibition of the soap wall had been up for about three days before Rivera got a call asking her to take it down, due to the smell.

At the time the exhibition took place, the border crisis was a major focus in American politics. The wall of soap began to symbolize so much more than it was originally intended to. When Rivera took the installation down, she replaced it with photos of the wall, and a single bar of soap in an acrylic box. The bar of soap in the box also symbolized the children held in cages at the border, and it spoke to Rivera’s passion for activism. 

This is just one of Rivera’s works, but she offers so much to the artistic space. Her pieces have been featured at the Museum of Fine Arts, and she has received many awards for her work. “I consider it my responsibility,” she said to the Headland Center of the Arts, “to always challenge the construction of stereotypes or categories that discriminate, isolate and violently define other’s identities.”

Rivera has an upcoming exhibition of her work at the Mass Moca in North Adams, Mass. Visit her website for more information on her work: danielarivera.com. Students who are interested in attending the series can visit the Art Department’s Instagram page, @artdepartmentumb, or by emailing Professor Schades directly at [email protected] to be put on the mailing list to hear about upcoming events.

About the Contributor
Rena Weafer, Arts Editor