A report by Arlene Edmonds for the Philadelphia Tribune.
For Michelle Angela Ortiz having her family story on canvas was a spiritual catharsis. Ortiz, who was baptized Catholic in her native North Philadelphia, now looks at her faith through a more pluralistic lens. So, when she put together the pieces for her “Zuizas Manana” exhibit it included what she called “visual artifacts” of her family and faith journey.
Ortiz, who has a global reputation for doing murals as far away as South America, said that having a display in her old neighborhood contributed to her spiritual healing after the death of her grandmother in 2015 as well as her father’s earlier transition. She is of African Colombian heritage on her maternal side, her father was Puerto Rican, and her husband is Nigerian. So, the exhibit, that closes at Taller Puertorriqueno, 2600 N. 5th St. on June 3, is a blending of all of who she is.
“I am the first generation of my family born in the United States,” Ortiz said. My mother’s family is from the Caribbean. She came from Mompos, Colombia on the Caribbean coast that has strong indigenous and Yoruba roots. My father came to Philadelphia from Pilates.
“The passing of my grandmother was difficult for me. She was the spiritual [center] of my family. So, this became this exhibit showed the first piece since my grandmother has been gone. I did not just want to make it mournful, because my grandmother was full of life,” Ortiz.
Ortiz’s grandmother’s wing chair is part of her exhibit. Then there are four light boxes that tell her spiritual journey. The one that stands out for her is her own self-portrait of her pregnant with her now two-year old son. She said she prayed to have a child, and the small painting is one of the few pictures of her pregnant.
“The main portrait showing my son and my father has special meaning for me,” Ortiz said. “I made sure it was not melancholy. I wanted to show that even after my father is gone there is a new chance, a new opportunity for his dreams and love to survive. The flower is from Puerto Rico and it opens and closes just like life, so you never fully die.”
Ortiz was on hand for the “Look, Draw, Write Workshops” at Taller Puertorriqueño where a multigenerational audience did creative exercises around her work. Some were posted to the Artblog website. Among those who enjoyed that event were 11-year old twins, Jiselle and Jordan Aldrich of Wyncote, acolytes and praise dancers the James United Methodist Church of Germantown.
“I like the way the grandfather and grandson are back to back,” Jordan Aldrich said. “I thought it was like the grandfather went to heaven and the grandson was still here. But, that the grandfather’s spirit is still with the grandson. So, he can feel safe because his grandfather is watching over him.”
Jordan Aldrich was mesmerized by the grandmother’s floating chair. “It kind of makes you think she is in heaven sitting in her chair, but you just cannot see her. I think she’s praying on the chair,” she said.
On the eve of her display closing, Ortiz will join Roxana J. Perez-Mendez and Robert Fallon for an Artblog panel discussion on community, place, and expression. Among the topics Ortiz will discuss is the spiritual journey that led to the art that has been on display this spring. This will be held at Taller Puertorriqueno on June 2 from 6 to 8 p.m. followed by an African Colombian style dance part from 8 to 10 p.m.