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Pencas del Corazón: Heart of the Cactus

    Welcome to Pencas del Corazón, a community exhibition curated by Artists-in-Residence Yesenia Molina and Irene Juárez O’Connell. This residency and exhibit center around a community-created art series with the theme of nopales (prickly pear cactus), a cultural symbol that has been historically embraced by Mexican, Latinx, and Chicanx communities. Not only are nopales traditional sources of sustenance and nutrition, they are a representation of struggle, survival, and majestic beauty. They thrive and even bear fruit in harsh climates. When a penca, or pad of a nopal, falls off or gets cut off, it doesn’t die. Instead, it gives new life. It re-roots itself to mother earth and continues to grow, even in the roughest of conditions. That is how we see our people, la raza, living in the United States.

    Art is an important vehicle for social change and resistance, especially in the face of nation-wide attacks on people of color, children, families and entire cultures. Survival and resilience have always been our natural response. Artists, cultural groups, and community members from Watsonville are building on the momentum that has been growing as a response to external social pressures and a collective internal yearning for the right to be fully valued as a culturally rich community. This project is part of a larger movement of, by, and for the people of Watsonville to support, uplift, and unify the community around the arts and eventually building a physical space for the arts right here in Watsonville!

    Pencas del Corazón features five Watsonville-based artists: Gabriel Medina, Mayra Ruiz-Valtierra, Salvador Lua, Guillermo Aranda, and Janet Johns. Each artist led a virtual pop-up art session over the past year. At each session, pop-up participants learned about the artist’s process and were guided to create their own artwork. Art mediums include acrylic paint, pen & ink, digital art, metal work, and dance. We also facilitated conversations around community needs and developed some shared visions for a Watsonville community arts hub. A video produced by Alex Santana Jr. will not only highlight the art created throughout the year-long residency, but also capture the community’s connection with the theme of nopales threading it all together.
    We would like to extend our gratitude to the Rydell Visual Arts Fund at Community Foundation Santa Cruz County. Our Pencas del Corazón project was awarded one of the first ever Rydell Visual Arts Partnerships. This exhibit celebrates the culmination of a year-long project between lead artists, Yesenia Molina and Irene Juárez O’Connell, the Watsonville community, and Arts Council Santa Cruz County. We are grateful for the partnership with Pajaro Valley Arts.
    Finally we would like to extend a special thank you from the bottom of our hearts to all of the community members who participated in each pop-up and have contributed work to the show. It would not be possible without you all!

    —Curators: Yesenia Molina and Irene Juárez O’Connell

    yesenia molina and irene juarez o'connell, curators, posed against a backdrop of bougainvillea flowers