Fine Arts alumna Veronica Perez ’14 has received a $25,000 Ellis-Beauregard Foundation Visual Artist Fellowship. Perez is a Maine-based sculptor and educator whose work emphasizes social justice.
Since graduating from Moore, Perez has kept a busy schedule, with work endeavors such as her former position as program manager at Bomb Diggity Arts and several solo exhibitions. Perez also participated in the Ellis-Beauregard Foundation residency in 2018, after completing her graduate studies at Maine College of Art.
Perez spoke with Moore's Social Media Coordinator Destiny Anderson about her goals for her upcoming fellowship, how social change has influenced her art this year and the ways becoming a mother has affected the course of her life.
What do you hope to achieve during your fellowship with the Ellis-Beauregard Foundation?
During this time, I would like to improve and expand upon my recent practice of learning about my identity and exploring themes such as imposter syndrome and beauty through the use of kitschy and non-traditional materials. Community arts and advocacy is also at the core of my work as well and I’d like to explore working with and for a community through the use of the arts. I have also been working on a book of essays that stemmed from experiences growing up. I don’t know what any of that looks like right now, but having the funding from the EBF Fellowship makes it easier to ask those hard questions and be able to achieve the goals you set out for yourself as an artist. It is a really exciting turn of events that EBF and the jurors have given me.
What was your experience during your 2018 residency with the Ellis-Beauregard Foundation? Would you recommend more artists take part in residencies?
In 2018, I was in a very hard spot. I was really down on myself and my artwork. I had come out of my graduate program feeling battered and bruised and had no self-confidence as a woman or an artist. When I applied for the EBF residency program, I honestly didn’t think much of it and it was the first residency I ever received. I remember getting the call from (Executive Director) Donna McNeil and being utterly shocked that I had received this. The program totally invigorated me and my practice. I had time and space to parse what happened in grad school and to figure out what kind of artist I wanted to be, on my terms. I was able to have studio visits with visiting artists and curators. I had a fellowship cohort of three other artists, and we had regular critiques and visits with each other. Being accepted into that residency propelled me and my work forward and gave me the confidence to continue creating.
Residencies are a place where you can make decisions for yourself and really take a hard look at your art practice. I recommend artists do take part in residencies. They have a lot of different kinds, too—family centered ones where you can bring your kids and partner, solo residencies where it is just you and the work, group residencies where you can have conversations with different artists, residencies that take you around the world. Residencies also sometimes have the added benefit of studio critiques with visiting curators and artists. My advice is to find one that works for you, and one that you’d feel comfortable, safe, and ready to question yourself and your practice head-on.
What role does social justice advocacy play in your work?
I feel that social justice advocacy has always been in my work, I just didn’t know it. When I first began to make work at Moore, it was centered around the ideas of grief, loss and identity. I was dealing with the death of my father and was processing those feelings through my sculptural works. I also realized that others were identifying with this type of grief and the works elicited conversations. After I graduated from my MFA program, I got the chance to become a direct service provider at a community-based art program called Bomb Diggity Arts in Portland, Maine, where I was working alongside artists with disabilities. Working in that community setting became about the process of making and learning from and about each other through conversation. I was also writing for a publication called Black Girl in Maine, created by Shay Stewart-Bouley, who is also executive director of Community Change Inc. Black Girl in Maine is an online blog about POC (people of color) experiencing the world, different narratives and perspectives. Through my work in these two places, I began to see how partnering with communities began to not only lift communities up, it influenced my personal work and I was able to effect change.
Have creative mediums helped you process or express your feelings this year?
I believe so. Quarantine and COVID-19, when they hit, I was furloughed with my partner and a small baby. Before that time, making art was few and far between, but now I had all of this time to create and explore and try to keep my mind off of what was happening in the world. I still read news articles and kept up with the times, but art became a way for me to funnel those worries and fears.
When Ahmaud Arbery was killed by two white men and George Floyd was killed by police officers, a switch went off. Mourning and anger consumed my world. I was focused on justice for these men and for all of the Black folx unjustly murdered by cops. I was focused on dealing with my racist past actions and inviting others to do the same. I was still making art and had two shows, but with each show I was able to donate a portion of the sales to two POC organizations here in Maine. It felt important to stand up and continue to stand up for the Black community.
How has becoming a mother affected you, creatively or otherwise? Did it influence your goals and passions?
I love when people ask me this. It totally did! When I found out I was pregnant, I was awarded the EBF residency and was in residency throughout most of my pregnancy. During that time, I really felt like a nesting animal. I felt primal and powerful. I felt my artwork growing, just like this life inside of me was. I began thinking about the person I was and the person I was going to become after Penny was born. It made me make decisions about the work in a more decisive way.
After Penny was born, she impacted the work in a different way. I was always afraid of color and used it sometimes, but never immersed the works in it. When Penny and I make art together, the amount of colors she uses astounds me. And the works are so lively and bright. I decided to take some of that in the more recent works I’ve done by dousing them in color.
She’s also made me be more honest with myself. She’s a good little accountability holder.
How did attending Moore influence you?
Moore was such an impactful place. I remember how hard I worked to get into the program and after my first year, I was failing out. I sat down with the head of my department, and some others from student services. I was under the impression I was being reprimanded. But instead, I was asked what I needed to succeed. I was set up with tutors and received assistance from students and faculty alike, especially Rit Premnath and Jonathan Wallis. I graduated with a 4.0 GPA and won the Marian Locks Senior award. I recently looked back on this and was so grateful for Moore not only taking a chance on me, but also helping me when I clearly needed the assistance. It helped me to ask for help when I needed it and to not be afraid to say that I don’t know something.
Do you have any advice for young artists?
Be yourself. Read as many books as you can get your hands on. If something isn’t working, take a walk. Drink water. Ask for help. Stand up for yourself. Stand up for others.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Moore was the place I found my voice in a space for womxn to grow. It was such an impactful place with friends I’ve made and have to this day. Moore memories are some I’ll cherish all my life.
Connect with Veronica Perez on Instagram: @veronica_a_perez
Visit Veronica’s website to see more of her work: https://veronicaaperez.com/
Article edited for length and clarity.