Artist Interview: Natalie Sacramento

What was your process like in selecting the found objects that make up your work?
As a “non-artist” entering the A Place of Her Own Residency in the Fall of 2014, the thought of making art was a daunting one. With the support of Trinity Ordona, Cynthia Tom, our art instructors, and the community of A Place of Her Own residents, however, I was able to explore many aspects of my community, my family patterns, and how that shapes me. This cathardic experience gave me the strength to be able to reflect inward and work on painful memories and thoughts.

In terms of the found objects that I collected, my family home is a place of treasures…my family never throws anything away, so I did a lot of scavanging at home. There was a piece in particular that I wanted to work with and got permission from my mother. It was an intricate hanging ornament made of shells from the Philippines.  I remember bringing it to the studio and sat there for hours staring at it until I finally got a pair of scissors and started cutting it…strands of shells falling off the ornament. That was a turning point for me. I hesitated on altering it because to do so felt like destroying a part of my heritage, but instead it freed me. That first action of cutting was about symbolically giving myself permission to deconstruct and find ways to transform…to take all the cultural expectations, traditions and family history and not letting it define me.

Though I didn’t end up making the piece I originally planned or using the ornament, it did make me realize that I needed to acknowledge my own identity before looking more deeply into my culture and familial history. That’s where the mirrors came in.

The mirrors in your exhibition all represent something different. How has your personal experience informed the meaning of the “Three Mirrors to Self-Awakening”?
One simple activity that we did in A Place of Her Own Residency was to look at ourselves in the mirror for a few minutes.  It was a painful exercise to do. I couldn’t look at myself without feeling pain, shame, and disgust. When we had to think of aspirations, I wondered what it would be like to be able to look at myself in the mirror and not feel that way.

I’ve been feeling pain, shame, and disgust for a long time now. Five years ago, that belief about myself finally overwhelmed me. I took a children and adolescent health class about risk and protective factors that they may experience and how it can affect health outcomes into adulthood. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was being triggered by the things that we were learning and discussing in the class. Because I grew up with a lot of the negative risk factors we were learning about in class, I felt like an “other”. It was isolating and came with a lot of other strong emotions. I didn’t understand or know what to do with those emotions. I tried to bury them deep down inside and it got heavier and heavier that I couldn’t hold it anymore. A Place of Her Own is helping me with my healing process.  With the support of Trinity Ordona, Cynthia Tom, our art instructors, and the community of A Place of Her Own residents and the safe space that was cultivated, I was able to explore and talk about my experiences. The three mirrors are literal reminders of the process I went through in A Place and still need to continue doing to take care of myself. While looking in the mirror is sometimes still hard to do, seeing my reflection in Three Mirrors to Self-Awakening, I can take that moment to accept things as they are (Self-acceptance Mirror), dream and take action (Self-Prescribed Mirror), and remember my resiliency (Self-Healing Mirror).

If you wanted people to take away only one idea from this exhibit what would it be?
In order to be able to do great things within our community, self-care is essential… I like the quote below by Alice Walker. It is my goal for myself and my goal for my community.

“In my work and in myself I reflect black people, women and men, as I reflect others. One day even the most self-protective ones will look into the mirror I provide and not be afraid.”

Natalie Sacramento is a “non-artist” transformed to “artist” through participation in A Place of Her Own Residency in Fall 2014. Natalie feels privileged to have been part of the Residency and looks forward to doing artwork, self-discovery, and healing with the A Place of Her Own community. When Natalie is not working on her art, she works in community settings, doing public health work in HIV/AIDS and worker health. Her aspirations include working on programs and interventions that improve the health outcomes of People of Color and immigrant populations.

About the Interviewer
Carolina Quintanilla serves as Interim Gallery Creative Partnerships Manager for SOMArts Cultural Center. She has a B.A. in Asian American Studies and is an Ethnic Studies MA candidate at San Francisco State University.

The exhibition:  A Place of Her Own opens November 19, with a free reception 6–9pm, and is on view from November 19–December 11, 2015.

Images from top to bottom: “Three Mirrors to Self-Awakening“, installation, 2015; image courtesy of Natalie Sacramento