CMA Stories

“Children’s artwork is an unfiltered glimpse of what’s to come and what we have been” — 5 Minutes with Auction Artist Oscar Rene Cornejo

On Saturday, February 20, Club CMA Para Familias celebrates the art of Oscar Rene Cornejo, who reconciles fragments of personal and national history to highlight narratives of the Central American diaspora. During the upcoming workshop, participants will create an entirely new piece of art using household objects such as paper plates, scissors, and markers.

In addition, Cornejo is an artist contributor to CMA’s 2021 Art Auction and Fundraiser Exhibition, Now is Not the Time, which ensures the continuation of CMA’s mission to provide vital access to the arts for children of all backgrounds and abilities from around the globe. Read below to learn more about Oscar and click here to sign up for this special Spanish-language workshop.

Oscar as a child

Your work reconciles fragments of personal and national history to highlight narratives of the Central American diaspora. What drew you to incorporate these historical narratives into your artwork?

Curiosity about my community’s present conditions led me to shed light on the past and contextualize my experience as a first-generation Salvadoran American. I came to realize that I was part of a diaspora that stems from conflict and displacement. Learning the obstacles my parents overcame to avoid persecution amidst civil war is a profound reality that I see in their resilient character. For me to grow up without the violence of civil war, yet still feel its impact, awoke a passion for using art as a tool for raising awareness around the historical memory of a community. I observed post-conflict tensions between my generation and my parents’ and saw the potential of closing the gap using art as a platform for dialogue.

Research into my parent’s journey from El Salvador to the United States opened up inspiring Central American narratives of self-realization. A growing middle class attempting to reform a feudal society through democratic reform as a peasant population was inevitably becoming aware of their exploitation. Central American governments’ responded with institutionalized violence that tortured, disappeared, or executed anyone questioning the status quo. These histories intimately link to the resilience I experienced growing within a migrant community.

As a Salvadoran American, I find myself asking how one can mend a torn social fabric? How does one reconcile the violence and dissonant narrative around collective memory within the community? Through my artwork, I reflect on peer histories, family testimony, and our hopes for our culture and society. Currently, I’m interested in the nuanced relationships within a Salvadoran diaspora that overcame forced uprootedness and trauma through migration and resilience. I continue to grapple with how we carry and feel our past through physical and emotional labor and incorporate that as a metaphor to humanize a politicized diaspora.

Can you tell us about the artwork you donated to CMA’s Art Auction?

When the future was now recalls Francisco Zúñiga‘s 1956 stone sculpture, Monument to Freedom, which represents the longings of the Salvadoran people. I composed an image and juxtaposed fragility with solidity. Using fresco painting, which infuses watered pigment into fresh plaster and is one of the most permanent painting techniques in history, I created a fresco monochrome. I pounced coal on a cured fresco surface to create a fragile figurative image to speak to the duality of permanence and impermanence.

I find it disturbing the politicizing of a humanitarian crisis that has children separated from their families at the United States and Mexico border. I see my family and me in those images that come out of the detention centers. My past shares an affinity with their present, and I wonder what their future will hold. Grateful for how far my family and I’ve come, I can’t help but think about the loss of human potential and the detrimental effects of anti-immigrant policies. When the future was now presents the image of a young child holding up an enigmatic fabric in the wake of their mother’s footsteps — an homage to displaced communities, their aspirations, and a fostering of their human potential.

When the future was now, 2019

Which artworks from this year’s auction are you most excited about, and why?

The list I came up with came down to a sense of play, tactile formal abstractions, and the use of fragmented images that evoke poetry.

Nathlie Provosty, Icon, 2020

Rico Gatson, Untitled (Broken Circle), 2019

Rashid Johnson, Untitled, 2019

David Shrobe, Earthbound, 2020

Adriana Farmiga, Party, 2014

Seth Cameron, Study of a Sunset, 2020

Benjamin Butler, Untitled Tree (Purple and Green), 2018

Ryan Oakes, Individuation, 2020

Blane de St. Croix, Train Landscape Series III, 2020

William Villalongo, Embodied, 2018

Why is it important to make art accessible to all children and families?

In making art, children and families get a chance to connect through an adventure of making and thinking that cultivates and sustains a sense of wonder of the world they live in… and in doing so finding more about themselves.

If you could choose any artist to create a painting of yourself, who would it be and why?

Kathe Kollwitz or Elizabeth Catlett. Both have indescribable ease in which their eye and hand meet to embody the spirit and energy of the human condition.

Why is children’s artwork important within the context of art history?

Children’s artwork is an unfiltered glimpse of what’s to come and what we have been. The unconditioned vision of a child reminds us where we came from, and if we forget, has the ability to evoke a fresh gaze. As a child’s play grows and formalizes, it enters in a call and response with art history where iterations of the world ask us to expand on this archive that reflects a vast deep human experience.

Drawing by Oscar’s brother, Fernando

Do you have a favorite memory of making art as a child?

My earliest memory of making art was in second grade when I drew out a book on jack rabbits in Texas. I loved finding out about the world of animals and sharing my curiosities through storytelling allowed me to connect with others.

What advice would you give to young artists who wish to pursue an art practice?

Be curious. Harness your potential by finding clues within what inspires you. Meditate on your clues and ground your aspirations through a labor of love around your craft.

CMA’s 2021 Art Auction and Fundraiser Exhibition, Now is Not the Time, takes place virtually from February 25 to March 11 in partnership with Artsy. Proceeds from the fundraiser exhibition ensure the continuation of CMA’s mission to provide vital access to the arts for children of all backgrounds and abilities from around the globe.

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