Colombian exhibit pairs the beauty of nature with the chaos of war

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"Vuelos Estridentes," or "Loud Flights," is one of the paintings in Rojas' "Freedom Without Borders" exhibit.

Vibrant colors, bold brush strokes and glossy texture — Colombian artist Andrea Rojas holds nothing back in her latest collection, “Freedom Without Borders.”

Rojas’ exhibition of abstract paintings opened Friday at the Latino Arts Gallery on the campus of the United Community Center, 1028 S. 9th St.

The UCC was only a small-scale cultural center when Zulay Oszkay, artistic director of Latino Arts, Inc., began working there in 1993. Now, the center serves the community needs of more than 18,000 Hispanic and south side Milwaukee residents.

Oszkay said the arts have always been an important part of the center, and Latino Arts is always trying to bring in international artists to share their work.

That’s how Andrea Rojas came into the picture.

“We finally get to represent Colombia,” Oszkay said. “It’s been a hard one with programming logistics with that country.”

Oszkay said the South American nation of Colombia has been in a period of violent civil conflict for decades. Because of this strained political climate, international programming for Colombian artists has been difficult.

“Freedom Without Borders” is a collection of abstract expressionist paintings, a style that allows Rojas creative and emotional liberation.

A native of Colombia, Rojas uses her art to illustrate the troubling paradox that embodies her country — Colombia is among the most biodiverse nations on the planet, and is home to beautiful jungles, yet there is destructive violence constantly raging around it.

“You should not quickly glance at my art,” Rojas said. “The purpose of it is for you to stop and look at it with care. I want you to experience it.”

Rojas said she feels deeply connected to nature. She paints her interpretations of the nature she observes and leaves it up to the viewer to interpret the meaning.

“Vuelos Estridentes” (Loud Flights) is one of Rojas’ many expressions of nature in this collection. It is a striking piece, with warm orange and yellow background colors and winged creatures painted in various shades of blues and greens. The notion of flight is apparent, and the piece conveys the energy of the jungle that Rojas looks to for inspiration.

Another painting, “Espiritu De Carnaval” (Spirit of the Carnival), strays from nature but still illustrates the culture of Colombia. This painting is Rojas’ illustration of the many celebrations and traditions of her home country.

“In my country, the folklore and amount of carnivals there is countless,” Rojas said. “It seems that even though there are hardships, we as Colombians move forward.”

Oszkay said Rojas’ message about the violence in Colombia is evident in her work. However, Rojas has not trapped the viewer in negativity because of all the beauty her art embodies.

“I think, in the end, you do walk away with a sense of hope,” Oszkay said. “The beauty is very powerful and nature is forgiving. She kind of reminds you to take care of it.”

Amy Denner, a freshman in the College of Nursing, visited the Latino Arts Gallery for her Spanish class.

Denner said she had only gone to the exhibit because she was required to for class, but that she ended up taking away more than she thought.

“If you look at them at first, you don’t really notice anything,” Denner said. “But when you take a step back, you can see that the paintings are actually of something, not just random colors.”

In addition to her artwork, Rojas began a foundation in Bogotá in 2007 to work with high-risk youth in Columbia. Her goal is to teach them to develop their creativity as a way to cope with the violence, corruption and fear surrounding them.

“The function of art is to get in touch with our sensibility as human beings,” Rojas said. “It really is freedom without borders.”

If you want to learn more about Andrea Rojas or view her collection of paintings, check out “Freedom Without Borders” at the Latino Arts Gallery, on display until April 16.

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