Artist of the week: Rafa Diaz

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Seattle may be known for its niche cafes and quaint waterways, but locals know it’s also home to an array of people who love to create. This city is full of artists that we love to feature every week on Seattle Refined! If you have a local artist in mind that you would like to see featured, let us know at [email protected] And if you are wondering what constitutes art, this is the beauty of it; It’s yours! Discover all our artists of the past week in our dedicated section.

Seattle Refined: How long have you been creating? What mediums do you work with?
Rafa Diaz: I have been drawing since I was a child. I started drawing a lot when I was 12, working as a delivery man in Mexico City. I spent hundreds of hours using public transportation to deliver packages, and on those trips I used to tap into elements of my culture and the people in my community who traveled with me.

For most of my career as an artist, I used pens and pencils and focused on black and white drawings. However, in the last few years, I have started using markers and a digital tablet to create color works of art.

Can you tell us about your artistic process and how the different stages unfold?
I spend a lot of time thinking about the concept of my next piece of art – and I think of several pieces in parallel.

Once an idea is clear and I feel inspired, I start drawing. Once I start drawing, I can’t focus on other tasks until I’m done. Depending on the complexity of the part, it can take anywhere from a few hours (e.g. #inktober, sketching) to a few days for large original parts.

Tell us where your inspiration for your art comes from.
I identify as an Aboriginal person. I grew up in Huayacocotla, a small indigenous town in the mountains of Mexico. When I was five, my mother, who was an elementary school teacher, moved me and my three sisters to La Guerrero, one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in Mexico City. Resources were scarce and children were easy targets for violence and many other social issues such as racism and colourism.

I started my career as an artist with the aim of challenging the reality that I witnessed firsthand. As an artist, I want to use my platform to give visibility to blacks, aboriginals, people of color. My works also speak about my culture and social issues and seek to create positive conversations and foster diversity, equity and inclusion.

Do you have a specific “beat” that you like the most – nature, food, profiles, etc.? ?
Science and technology! Since my childhood, I have been passionate about science. Thanks to this passion and my community, I was able to achieve a Bachelor of Science, and today I work as a software engineer at Google.

I use my art to cross my work with technology. In particular, I created the “Latinxs in Tech”, a series of works of art that represent blacks, natives, people of color using technology.

Do you have a work of art that means more to you or is extremely special to you?
“Águila que programa” (the warrior eagle that codes). The artwork depicts an eagle warrior, a very important part of my native culture, encoding on a computer. This 2018 artwork is immensely special to me on many levels.

I consider this piece to be very powerful because it is centered on technology and my Indigenous culture. I wanted to create this intersection to assert that there are indigenous peoples creating technology. We are here! I also wanted to encourage young children who could see themselves reflected in my artwork and motivate them to continue on their career path in STEM.

Additionally, I have used my works to promote computer science education to Latinx students, as I donated the original work to omegaUp, a non-profit organization whose mission is to create a Software engineering talent pool for Latinx students. Through my donation of art, omegaUp was able to secure funds to continue serving thousands of Latinx students and hosting the Mexican Computer Science Olympiad, Central American Programming Cup, and other important programming competitions.

This is the very first track in my “Latinxs in Tech” series. After this drawing, I followed a similar pattern and gave visibility to women of color and other parts of my culture.

“Águila que programa” helped me gain confidence in my career as an artist and overcome my own impostor syndrome. I presented this piece as part of a group show during Hispanic Heritage Month 2019 at the Seattle Center. During this exhibition, presenting hundreds of works of art, “Águila que programa” won the “People’s Choice Award”, which made me extremely proud and validated.

What experiences in your life have affected your art the most?
Art has always been part of my life because it brings me joy and is a useful tool to be present. However, I want to share the story that made me start my journey as an artist and share my works with others.

In the summer of 2016, I attended a computer graphics conference in Los Angeles. I was a software engineer for Microsoft HoloLens and was interested in mixed reality and traveled with other engineers. During the conference, I was focused on learning as much as possible about graphic design, but something caught my eye: a design competition organized by a large company in the graphic design world. I was like, “I’m not going to win, but it’s really easy to participate. I just have to draw a picture.” This thought encouraged me to enter the contest, and I did a quick sketch in between lectures – a mighty eagle warrior!

Out of curiosity, I returned there on the last day of the conference to find out who had been selected as the winner. I had no expectation that my eagle warrior would win. I was like, “I’m not an artist. I just like to draw […] many digital artists and graphic designers participated. I’m not going to win. “

To my surprise, I was wrong. The judges chose my eagle warrior as the winner! I could not believe it ! This event gave me tremendous validation of my work, and it also allowed me to identify an anti-model that affects many of us: impostor syndrome. When we think that we are not enough and that we are undermining our own skills, when we have, in fact, worked hard and gained a lot of skills and experience. Today, I recognize that by now I had spent thousands of hours of my life drawing and that my drawing deserved to win.

Unfortunately, the story does not end there. There is more.

When I started to fill out the prize form, one of the organizers started to act in a very strange way towards me, and at one point they approached me and asked me, “Are you- you legal? I replied with shame and in a very sorry manner that I was working as a software engineer and could provide documentation. I was told it wasn’t mandatory, that they believed me and just wanted to make sure because the competition was only for “legal persons” – whatever that means.

I couldn’t help but think about this interaction and thought I should have handled this and many racist incidents in a different way as I think apologizing could help defuse such incidents, but at the expense of our dignity and that does not change the global status quo. I decided to start using my works to give visibility to anti-racism, diversity, equity, inclusion, education, black people, indigenous people of color and my culture. . I chose the artwork from this incident as the first artwork I would share as an artist, and named my warrior eagle “Are you legal?” “

If we want to see more of your work, where do we go to find it?
I’m on Instagram and Facebook as @ rcxr.mx. I’m also on Twitter like @rcxr, where I also post useful resources for students exploring their STEM journey.

What’s next for you? Something that you are working on right now that you are really passionate about?
During the summer of this year, I made my very first mural in downtown Burien. I took the opportunity to profile four inspiring young Latinas who participated in the European Girls’ Computing Olympiad (EGOI), the premier international programming competition for girls. I was inspired by their courage and teamwork and I hope the mural could inspire other young future Latinx programmers.

I also really enjoyed painting a mural. I learned a lot and would love to explore new opportunities to paint more murals in the Seattle area. I have lots of great ideas that I want to put on a wall!

Finally, how do you take your coffee? (We ask everyone!)
If I’m in Mexico I’d have a café de olla with a tasty concha on the side. Here in Seattle, I usually have filter coffee with whole milk and sugar.

Speaking of olla coffee with a concha, during the pandemic a friend of mine, Sussana, who is a member of the Latinx employment resource group at Google, asked if I could update the design of an android drinking coffee and replace the coffee cup with an olla coffee and add a conch on the side. We shared the result with everyone in the Latinx group around the world, and every now and then I get emails from Google employees in other countries signing their emails with my artwork. It makes me really happy to see my artwork being used by other members of Google’s Latinx community.



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