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The incredible life and art of Uzumaki Cepeda

May. 12, 2017
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“I’m growing out my hair. I used to have really long hair and then I shaved the sides,” Uzumaki tells me. We in the sunlight-bathed living area of her top floor loft. The large industrial windows are open and uncovered, displaying a postcard-worthy view of the Downtown Los Angeles skyline. 21-year-old visual and textile artist Uzumaki Cepeda left her home on the east coast about a year ago to move to Los Angeles; the daughter of Dominican immigrants, Uzumaki originally grew up in the Bronx, New York. 

“In Dominican Republic, there’s a lot of pressure to straighten your hair,” Uzumaki says, explaining that she’s been eating right and practicing self-care to help her hair grow faster. In her younger days, she dyed her hair a multitude of colors--much to her mother’s dismay: “My mom was not with it,” she laughs.

Uzumaki Cepeda has a busy summer ahead, as she will be spending the next few months showing her work and developing new pieces. She hopes to have her work displayed in Los Angeles and New York for a series of dates in the summer, but her plans are sort of up in the air. She’s young and thriving in the bustling city of Los Angeles, surrounded by unlimited opportunity and inspiration. For a young artist, Uzumaki Cepeda holds boundless potential. She is absolutely glowing, with an almost-visible vibrant amber energy about her, and her very presence seems to  cause creativity to flourish. Speaking with her and observing her mannerisms, I couldn’t help feeling like I was watching crystals grow in a timelapse; It’s almost like her essence is manifesting before your eyes with each passing second. She’s at once eloquent yet unrefined: no matter who you are, she speaks and regards you like you’ve been her friend forever. 

via: Instagram | Uzumaki Cepeda

Uzumaki Cepeda has been painting her whole life. She dabbled in many forms of visual art throughout her early career as an artist, including watercolor, graffiti and photography. She prides herself in her ability to shoot and develop her own film in a darkroom. “Sometimes, if I am not in my own installation, I will photograph it myself,” she says, gesturing to a small stack of polaroid photos atop her dining room table. At this point, it becomes impossible to ignore the fact that the dining room table is entirely covered in neon orange fur. So are the chairs. Two additional furry chairs, one white and one black, face a furry wall that meets a furry floor--all bright neon colors. A furry blue toilet with a white cloud pattern sits to the far side of the living-room furniture, displayed in front of a massive furry canvas painting. It’s like something out of a dream and a childhood imagination at the same time. Even the globe, all of whose surfaces are painted white, is trimmed with long white fur. It’s disorienting, but it shouldn’t be--at least not to anyone familiar with her work: Uzumaki’s textile art is intended to bring people back to the feeling of security found in their childhood, to comfort people and give childlike wonder and imagination to everyday objects. Her most recent projects, in particular, have focused on the use of texture and visible textiles in the form of an abundance of brightly-colored faux furs. “I think it makes people feel comfortable,” she says as she runs her fingers through the fur on the tabletop. 

We are seated facing each other at the furry orange table; between us sit the globe and a pile of books that range in topic from social justice manifestos to a book on herbalism. “Stay woke, you know?” Like many young people, Uzumaki is motivated in no small measure by the disenchantment and disgust she feels about the current state of the world--especially in the months since the November 8 election. “This is an evil thing that sprouted from a terrible seed that’s been sitting forever, for a long, long time,” says Uzumaki. “This is a manifestation of something old and evil. I feel like there is so much bad karma, so much bad blood.” Uzumaki is no stranger to the kinds of harmful anti-immigrant policies propagated by the current administration: when she was about one year old, her father was deported back to the Dominican Republic. Uzumaki’s entire family on both sides is Dominican-born; she is a first-generation American and native Spanish-speaker. As a result of her father’s deportation, Uzumaki’s mother was forced to raise her three children as a single mother in the United States with little to no outside support. “Me and my dad have a rocky relationship, and it is partially because of that distance,” she says. “I just spoke with him on the phone, but I don’t talk to him every day.” 

Like most of her peers--women, people of color, young adults, artists--Uzumaki isn’t impressed by the Trump administration’s efforts to bully the American people into submission. As a woman of color, an artist and the daughter of immigrants, Uzumaki Cepeda is using her talents to speak out and resist Trump’s oppressive agenda. “As much as we hate him and as much as he sucks, we still have to resist. We have to prevail, stay positive, stay strong, stay united… we just have to stay active!” she says, and her enthusiasm for the hard work of resistance is contagious. “Ask: ‘What can I do? How can I play my part? How do i support the members within the community who are making a change? How do I support people who are doing the parts that aren’t for me to do?’”

Uzumaki’s art is her way of resisting the fear and hatred she sees around her. Through her art, she communicates a message of human vulnerability, seeking comfort in times of turmoil and appreciation for the unparallelled beauty around us. “It’s all about finding what you can do and doing your job, your part. I feel like making art is a part of what I can do,” she explains.