Artist-in-Residence Natalia Arbelaez Revives her Colombian Roots

Lily Swain ’25, Staff Writer

Meet Natalia Arbelaez, Dickinson’s current Artist in Residence! Arbelaez is a Colombian-American sculptor here for a six to eight week residency where she’ll be creating art, meeting with students and having an exhibition of her work. 

This past Tuesday Arbelaez gave the Sylvia J. Smith “Artist in Residence lecture,” where she discussed the inspiration behind her process and the journey to her current artistic style. During the lecture, she detailed that her artistic journey began with her undergraduate degree at Florida International University and then graduate studies in art at the Ohio State University. Since then, Arbelaez has had residencies at Harvard, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, and the American Museum of Ceramic Art. Within all of these spaces she found a passion for research and honoring women ceramicists, particularly women of color.

The body of Arbelaez’s work is mostly made up of sculptures of the human form that tie back to her Colombian heritage in some way. As she described in the lecture, she found a love for clay and for the “body as storytelling” in college. In addition to the influence of Colombian culture in her work, she also is inspired by cartoons and comics. The faces on the pieces she sculpts reflect the influence of cartoons, while the forms and placement of the sculpted pieces portray a cultural significance. 

Her series “Stories of My Histories” consists of sculptures narrating her family history. For instance, there is a sculpture consisting of four separate figures wearing death masks. Each miniature sculpted person symbolizes one of her Colombian family members whose death she missed by living here in America. The gilded death masks reference the real death masks of the Muisca people, from whom she descends. 

Another specific project of Arbelaez has been creating homages to underrecognized women sculptors of color. In her research during various residencies, Arbelaez discovered the work of sculptors like Lucy Lewis, Patti Warashina and Sana Musasama. She was then inspired to craft pieces that exist as honorary portraits to those artists.

Arbelaez’s most recent project, “Passages of Absence,” are pictures and videos of her reenacting her own sculpture. The idea is that Arbelaez is reinserting herself into her family’s Colombian traditions that she has missed out on by living in America. Through this process, her art becomes a personal ritual. 

If you’d like to see Natalia Arbelaez’s work in person, her upcoming exhibition opening is on October 26 from 5:30-7 p.m. in the Goodyear Gallery. She’ll also be giving an artist talk about the show around 6 p.m. on that date.