Dominican contemporary textile artist Uzumaki Cepeda is creating a soft world that challenges the ways in which people view people of color. BeLatina had the opportunity to speak with the former Bronx resident, now Los Angeles transplant, about her work and her experiences.
A multi-talented artist, Cepeda has a strong foundational high school education when it comes to art and continues to learn. “I went to high school at a performing and fine arts high school and learned how to develop in a dark room and sculpture. Everything else is self-taught, she shared. “[However,] when I found faux furs it’s like everything I had learned before helped create the faux fur art I was making. It combined the photo, sculpture, and building.”
Although textiles are her primary medium for creating art, Cepeda continues to create sculptures and photography.
As a young woman of color, her models and muses are naturally women of color as well. “I want younger girls of color to look at the pictures and feel like they could relate because there’s so many things that don’t… And as a child, that shit sucks. F*^k that, I only photograph people of color. That’s what I’m sticking to. And if people get offended, they get offended. Like, I don’t give a f*^k”, Cepeda declared in a 2017 interview with The Fader. Scrolling through the artist’s Instagram and official website you instantly see that she is truly unapologetic about centering people of color in all her work.
One of the first places people may have learned about Uzumaki Cepeda and her work was during Refinery29’s “29 Rooms.” Refinery29 describes 29 Rooms as their, “immersive world of cause, culture, & creativity.” Each of the 29 rooms has its own unique theme and creator.
Cepeda’s room stood out in the immersive world because of its bright color palette, softness, an ode to nostalgia and healing inner childhood wounds. Guests entered a teenage bedroom completely covered in bright, fuzzy, and furry textiles which instantly felt soft, plush, safe, and fun. Posters of cult classics like Studio Ghibili’s Spirited Away hang next to a Spice Girls poster to give you an intense 90s nostalgic vibe, while the soft surfaces almost call you to pet them, relax, and feel cozy in the bedroom you never knew you always wanted.
When she was a young girl, Cepeda was repeatedly sexually abused by an uncle that served as a babysitter. Family members and people in the community spoke about him as a “man of God and person of good moral standing.” However, he was sexually abusing Cepeda and other children for almost a decade. When she spoke up about the sexual abuse she was enduring, there was a divide in the family. Some people believed her and others didn’t.
Being abused in your home can be a jarring and traumatic experience for anyone. For Cepeda, it made her feel like even her home was not a safe space for her. Thus she created her faux fur room and furniture to provide the sense of safety and softness she needed as a child.
As with many children of immigrants, Cepeda’s family had a difficult time supporting and understanding her desire to pursue art as a career when she was younger. “Now she understands it,” Cepeda says about her mother, “but before she didn’t understand it. My family didn’t want to take [art] serious. To them school equals success and that was their mindset.” The lack of support affected the young artist and how she viewed her own art but, “I kept making shit to prove them wrong.”
Raised by a single mom in the Bronx, Cepeda is inspired by the bright colors of the Caribbean in addition to the bright fonts on bodegas and business signs of the borough. The duality of being the child of the Dominican Republic and the Bronx, craving softness in a hard world, and being a young woman of color in a very white art world inspires Cepeda to always bring her full self to her art.
In addition to being very intentional about her art bringing about a sense of healing to her and the people that interact with it, Cepeda has worked with major brands. For a young artist Cepeda has a long list of collaborations. She has worked with Reebok, Refinery29, Google, and Instagram to name a few but it was her 2016 collaboration with Nike that felt like her I made it moment. “It was interesting… and exciting. It was like, ‘Okay my face is everywhere, okay that’s lit.’”
When asked what was the furthest place her art has taken her, she replied, “Tokyo, Japan. It was somewhere I always wanted to go. Then I got the opportunity to work with Clarks’s Shibuya location and it was amazing. My boyfriend also got to perform. It was just — a great night.” Shibuya is one of the commercial capitals in Japan and home to the Harajuku district of Tokyo. An opportunity like this is a major deal for any artist of any age but is especially impactful for a young woman of color.
Cepeda proves that being intentional about healing, being an artist, and getting paid is possible. When asked how she decides which brands to work with she replied, “I work with the ones that align with what I’m talking about…” she pauses, adding with a chuckle, “and who is paying.”
Having left the East Coast for the West Coast, she is familiar with having to grind to make a living. “I dipped, I moved from the Bronx to LA. I moved because I wanted space to be an artist and make my art. That was my first time to LA. My ex-boyfriend at the time had the opportunity to crash somewhere and he invited me. We were in a packed-house of artists and it was a great opportunity. [The other artists] were into art but not doing art. Doing art to me is, I mean… if you’re doing taxes, you aren’t doing art. There are a number of different ways to ‘do art,’ creating a concept, and working with it. There is art in everything. But for me, I have to be doing art.” Cepeda left the house of artists and hasn’t looked back since.
Uncompromising in her intentions of cultural and racial diversity in her art, her dedication to her craft, and her unapologetic disposition when it comes to constantly creating art inspired by her lived experience, almost makes Cepeda seem like a superhero. However, the artist still struggles with remaining constantly motivated to create. Her message to all of the other young artist girls of color? “Keep going… but I don’t know the answer because I feel like that right now. I don’t want to make believe.”
Cepeda’s honesty, talent, and tenacity are amazing, to say the least, and definitely a source of inspiration to other young girls of color out there. We cannot wait to see what this Latina artist creates next.