My inspiration for “Forest” came from a conversation I had with an Afro-Latina and her view on self-identity growing up. She explained to me that the representation of the Afro Latino community is small, often overlooked and she feels that she always has to pick a side when conversations about ethnicity are started. She often is asked “What are you? Or “What are you mixed with?”. She expressed her concern with this question because although she is of lighter complexion and identifies with both parts of her cultural background she finds herself feeling uncomfortable when the response back still leaves room for questioning. She wants to give power and solidarity to both sides of her backgrounds instead of having to pick a side.

Her story reminded me of my hikes through the forest. Such as the forest and animals alike; I see this tug-of-war of defining oneself comes alive. As I listened more to her speak I found myself inspired by her strength in using her battle between two parts of herself to develop a stronger understanding of self-love. Finding her own identity that isn’t held to any pre-constructed ideas or definition. Here is where I found myself drifting into my own artist mind and taking a moment to think deeply about what it means to walk in her shoes. Asking myself what can be drawn from this moment we shared and how can I turn her story into a lasting image of pose, clarity, strengthen and truth.

Like many of my work adding a special companion to accompany its portrait counterpart is very crucial in developing a full painted story. Calmly sitting at attention looking up at her in search of clarity and security. The frog; who itself is a combination of 2 backgrounds coming together as one; sits there trying to predict what the next steps are and if danger lies ahead of them. As the frog searches for guidance, the woman looks out to the audience with wide eyes filled with confidence. With a slight smirk on her face, she stands with confidence, head raised high as the light hits her cheekbones and top of her back shoulder blades; her features are full of history. She is a spinning image of her ancestors wildest dreams and her frog companion biggest supporter. Turning the stories and life experience I heard from the young afro-latina I turned them into an image of strength, power, and pride. This is who I saw when I heard her stories. No longer having to feel like her only option was to pick a side of herself. Instead, she owned both of her identities in complete self-love.

Kiarra ElliottComment