Agnes Chavez is a Cuban-American multi-media artist and educator. Her work and vision is at the core of Taos’ celebrated, now annual Paseo event, which will take over the streets of Taos this weekend.
The child of Cuban refugees, she was born and raised in NYC where she lived until she was 17, when her family moved to Miami. She got her Associate Degree in Art at Miami Dade Community College in 1980 before heading to California where she got her BA in Fine Art at the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1984.
She moved to Paris where she lived for a while before coming to New Mexico in 1986. She continued to travel but kept a foot in Taos.
“I felt like it was a destiny thing.” She laughs.
“Still, I’m a bit of a gypsy,” she tells me, “I’ll never stop travelling.”
She says she felt she was always searching for herself, her roots.
“Wherever I was, I never felt as if I really belonged,” she explains.
During the mid 1990s, when her son was two years old, she began to teach Spanish at his preschool as a way to supplement income from her art.
She wanted her child to be bilingual, being that he was growing up in Northern New Mexico with its deep Spanish Roots, and in the process had an idea for a possible business she could develop after seeing how many Hispanic children were assimilating into the American culture and losing their connection to their own cultural roots, most importantly their language.
She created the SUBE kit, designed to assist teachers to inspire children to learn English and Spanish interactively. Sube allows educators to use a multi-sensory approach to linguistics and is divided into different themes. The name, SUBE is a play on the Spanish verb subir, meaning “to go up”
Agnes is also the founder/creator of STEMArts, which brings science, technology, engineering and math projects to young people in schools and at workshops. STEMArts is part of Sube, inc.
In 2009, she began to work with data visualization and created the installation piece, (x)Trees which was later shown at ISEA in 2012. x)Trees uses live data taken from the internet, and projects this information as tree-like images which grow and change.
The work was a collaboration between herself and computer programmers who developed the algorithms for the trees. The data used to create the trees was taken from particular search words used in tweets and text messages. Chavez’s intention regarding the use of social media to generate the virtual trees was to illustrate how individuals are (virtually) digitally connected to one another.
Chavez does an enormous amount of research for her work. While working on the interactive installation, Projecting pARTicles, she talked with physicists at the ATLAS Experiment at CERN, learning about particle physics. She spent two weeks there earlier this year and at the end of her stay, she gave a presentation at the CERN library.
Earlier this year, Agnes was invited to show her work, Origination Point and present Projecting pARTicles at the Bienal de la Habana. Not only was it a huge honor for the artist, it was also a homecoming.
“Going to Cuba was a life altering event,” she says.
“Suddenly I knew who I was.”
“The whole country spoke and acted like my parents and I no longer felt like a stranger.”
“I had come home, found my place of origin.”
Origination Point is a multi-media installation which uses sound and vibration from the Earth, recorded by NASA along with visuals of objects resembling cells and particles.
“I’m interested in Art that is inclusive and interactive,” she says, “that engages kids and encourages them to expand their horizons.”
That’s exactly what she’ll be doing at the Paseo this week with her STEMarts LAB, engaging not only the students who’ll participate, but all of us who are lucky enough to witness the event.
I could write so much more about this extraordinary woman but this is a blog not a book, so for more information about Agnes and her timely and uber-relevant work, please visit her website linked below this post along with The Paseo website.
Photographs care of Agnes Chavez