This month, ICAI celebrates and highlights visual artist Manuela Albarracin as our Artist of the Month. Manuela spoke to us about her art and about the intersection of art and identity.
Please enjoy these insights from an incredibly gifted and warm artist who is currently working as an Artist-in-Residence with the Women’s Centre Calgary.
What is your name?
Manuela Albarracin and I go by she/they pronouns.
Tell us a little about your artistic background and journey?
I am a multidisciplinary artist based here in Mohkinstsis in Treaty 7 territory. I am originally
from Colombia and I have roots in the southwestern part of the country in Nariño as well as
Bogota. My immediate family and I arrived in Calgary in early 2002 and I have been creating
art for as long as I can remember as a way to connect with myself and the world around me.
When I was younger my mom put me in an arts junior high school away from my neighbourhood
and I met a teacher there who really believed in me, shout out to Mrs. Wronska! I was part of
group exhibitions during my time there and while it was certainly not all easy, it was a great
In high school, I lived close to an art centre where I took a pottery class. It reminded me how
centring the process of creation can be. I started creating again but I didn’t feel like I was
prepared to make it a career just yet. As an immigrant, a lot of my family friends’ kids and my
friends were thinking of becoming engineers, doctors, teachers and lawyers.
In my third year of university, I walked into the Visual Studies Program at the University of Calgary in late
May, determined to be an artist. A couple weeks after the application deadline, I met with the
Head of the faculty and he was so gracious. He allowed me to send him my portfolio and I was
accepted into the program.
I was struggling really hard balancing home life and school with undiagnosed ADHD at the
time. I took a break and then I started again in early 2020 but then the pandemic hit and I
decided to take a break from school again.
Currently, I am working and making art. My practice includes discussions of living disabled,
queer, Colombian, Nariñense and femme in a white, patriarchal, cishetero-normative and
colonial society. I am thankful for school and academia for giving me the words to express my
experience but at the same time I find that these words feel a little foreign. Even everyday
language sometimes doesn’t quite match what I feel and art has been like a bridge that
connects me and helps me to understand my lived experiences.
What is your Artistic practice?
How long have you been in Canada?
About nineteen years
Have you had opportunities to showcase your works since you arrived in Calgary?
Yes, while I was an art student at U of C and when I was in the Catholic School System.
Can you tell us what inspires you to create your works?
As an artist, I am often asked this, and I feel like I give a different answer every time! There’s a
feeling that precedes creation, I can’t describe it but it’s like a drive or intuition. I find that when
I listen to it, I make the most sound decisions. Also, I’m often inspired by people and things that
feel authentic and unapologetic because it inspires to be authentic and unapologetic, too.
What are the challenges you are currently facing as an immigrant/newcomer artist?
The biggest challenge I am facing right now, is figuring out how to advocate for myself in
professional settings. I think if I had grown up in a community that claimed me as their own
and with more role models, I probably would feel more comfortable in these settings.
What would you like to share with the people of Calgary about your works?
I want the people to see my work and engage with it. It has taken me so long to feel
comfortable enough to share it! I want people to feel encouraged to take on that artistic project
that they have been putting off. There is this idea in a capitalist world, that we have to be
making money off of ALL of our talents or that we have to be extraordinary all the time. I want
people to know that art can be whatever you need it to be at any particular moment in time.
Tell us how the journey has been so far and what opportunities you are looking for?
The journey has been good! I have found a few projects that I connected with, one has led me
to the other and I am really grateful for that. I am looking to be part of projects that serve my
community and really respect the fact that we are on Indigenous land.
How do you feel being selected as the artist of the month?
Having other artists connect with my work and believe in me, has given me confidence in
sharing it. I am someone who loves to paint and express myself through visuals and being
recognized for my art is also humbling. It reminds me that as personal as my art is to me, it can
still be something that belongs in the public space for others to engage with.
How did you know about ICAI and how have we impacted your artistic growth?
I found ICAI through instagram. I had been a follower for a minute when I saw the poster
encouraging artists to apply for the residency in collaboration with the Women’s Center. I felt
like it was my time. I strive to make feminist work that talks about the intersections of
queerness, disability and immigration and I was looking for opportunities to engage with
community. When I got the residency, I couldn’t really believe it. Living in the Calgary suburbs,
the art community for me, sometimes feels far away. Having community and people believe in
your talent is the loveliest gift.
Has ICAI provided any specialized information for you? How did that help your work?
I have met with ICAI once and I felt motivated to begin making art. Motivation and confidence
are contagious energy, I felt like anything was possible.
What are the goals you are hoping to achieve in the next few months through your arts?
I am hoping to collaborate on a few workshops with ICAI and The Women’s Center as well as
dedicate myself to creating a new series, so stay tuned!
You can find Manuela on Instagram or in the community sharing her talent and advocating to make a difference.