Riverside artist's work spotlights women, hope

Part of proceeds from sales go to Chicago nonprofit

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By JACKIE PISANO

Contributing Reporter

For Alex Velazquez Brightbill, cultivating meaningful pieces of art is not just a pastime, it's how she tells the story of her life.

"I am an immigrant," she said, "and art is what helped me communicate, coming to this country as a young kid and not speaking the language. Ever since then, I've been creating my work based on my own experiences as a Mexican American."

The Riverside resident, who immigrated to the United States at the age of 10, has spent nearly 30 years perfecting her craft, intertwining elements of Hispanic culture with historical references and themes of social justice into her works, which are primarily made up of printmaking and paintings.

But while most of Brightbill's creations depict animals (cats, most often), mythological beings and nature, this past month, she chose to focus her energy on a series of prints celebrating Women's History Month and International Women's Day.

Throughout March, Brightbill decided to shine the spotlight on women, both from Latin American countries and around the globe, and the issues they face surrounding cultural norms, freedom of religion, social status, and physical security.

In deciding on how she wanted to showcase this issue, Brightbill was immediately drawn to the idea of putting a spin on the cards from the Mexican game Lotería (Spanish for "lottery").

"I wanted to bring my own take on different issues, and I thought about what I could do to contribute to my community," she said about recreating images from the game.

Initially, she started working on a series of prints based off of Lotería, which includes pictograms such as "El Soldado" (soldier), "El Pescado" (fish), "La Palma" (palm tree) and "La Sandia" (watermelon). But then, she was drawn to the card "El Mundo," which depicts a man carrying the Earth on his back.

"With 'El Mundo,' I was thinking that this is an image that a lot of Hispanic people are familiar with," she said. "Even the younger millennials are really adopting and enjoying this game, so I thought, 'What can I use that is familiar to a lot of people and that I could bring awareness to different issues?'"

Brightbill's creation, an 11-by-15-inch black and white linocut print -- shows a woman holding the globe, recreating the card in a way that depicts women and the struggles among them with different issues in the world.

As opposed to the original card, which depicts the man with his head cocked towards the ground, struggling beneath the weight of the globe, Brightbill's art features a woman with her head held high, looking forward as she confidently stands over a crack on the ground beneath her.

In Brightbill's words, her card showcases how women "hold up the world."

"No matter what our situation is, we are always holding on to the future for our lives and our families," she said. "The crack shows a message of hope, even in a broken world."

Brightbill also created the card as a way to showcase how for many women across Latin America, being a woman is truly a daily struggle. After viewing maps with data from WomanStats Project (a cross national compilation of statistics of the status of women worldwide), Brightbill decided to shade the countries shown on card based on the levels of physical security by women in those countries.

To further help fuel her passion toward helping women, Brightbill decided to earmark 20 percent of sales from the piece to go to Awakenings (awakeningsart.org), a Chicago-based nonprofit dedicated to making visible the artistic expression of survivors of sexual violence.

"They're wonderful -- very welcoming to women and immigrants from all over the world," she said. "They do a great job, and I told them I want to be able to help them."

In addition to working on her art at home in Riverside, Brightbill, who has 15 years of experience in teaching art in schools, also does printmaking at Oak Park nonprofit studio, Expressions Graphics, and leads a co-taught after-school art class for children at Ascension Lutheran Church in Riverside.

Aside from her goal of educating people on Latin American culture and women's issues, Brightbill says her line of work also teaches three simple things.

"Art heals, art connects and art educates -- that's my message."

For more information about Brightbill and to purchase her artwork, including "El Mundo," visit her Etsy shop or visit her Instagram account.

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