Interview with Candida Gonzalez
I AM (Artist in Motion) is an interview series meant to spotlight indigenous artists and artists of color in the Twin Cities. I had the privilege of working at the Loft as the fall 2019 marketing and communications intern, and when they gave me the chance to work on a project of my choosing, I AM is the first thing I thought of.
The artists in this series were people I found truly inspiring. They incorporate art into their lives in many different ways and expressions, finding time whenever or wherever they can. They show how art can be a form of healing, understanding, and moving forward. I hope you take in their words and feel that for yourself.
A queer Puerto Rican native of South Minneapolis, Candida Gonzalez studied Latin American art and history at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and went on to get their MEd at the University of Minnesota in 2003. In their 15 years of arts education work in Minneapolis, most recently as arts coordinator at Roosevelt High School, they worked on building art programs that focused on equitable arts opportunities, inclusivity of underserved populations, and deeper, culturally relevant arts experiences for youth and communities of color. Through their work they have also focused on providing opportunities and development for emerging artists of color. They approach their work by centering at the intersection of art, activism, healing, and personal/community empowerment. They are deeply invested in the concept of using art and community design as tools to wage love and healing. Gonzalez facilitates nationwide the Making it Public workshop series for Forecast Public Art and creates jewelry under the name Las Ranas Jewelry. Their jewelry embodies the tropical energy of the Caribbean and aims to bring empowerment, strength, magic, and healing to the gente who wear it.
Who are you and what modes or mode of storytelling do you use?
My name is Candida Gonzalez. I was born in South Minneapolis. I am mixed Puerto Rican and Russian Jew. I am queer. I use she/her, they/them pronouns. When we are talking about art, I identify as a public artist and art consultant. I also make jewelry, which I feel almost straddles this world of a traditional studio artist and a public artist, because of the way I put my work out into the world.
In my role as a public artist, I have been involved in a lot of public art installations, specifically community engaged public art. I was most recently put onto a team that won the Creative City Challenge for Minneapolis. We installed radical playgrounds in the Commons in downtown Minneapolis. That project was really about honoring who we are as indigenous and people of color in the Twin Cities, bringing in pieces of our culture and making them visible, proclaiming that we are here. I use those ideas a lot, using art to validate and to proclaim people’s experiences in the world, to use art as a form of healing.
That is a big part of the jewelry that I make. My jewelry is made under the name Las Ranas. Las Ranas means the frogs. I’m a big frog fan. I create jewelry that’s really designed to make femme people feel like they can be their biggest, loudest, and baddest self despite all the patriarchy, capitalism, masculinity, all the toxic systems that are constantly barraging us, telling us how to be and how to live. I feel like my jewelry is wearable art that helps people fight against that and helps us be our truest self.
How are these art forms a unique way of telling a story?
I don’t think we usually think of jewelry as a way of telling a story, but I’m fascinated by all of the things that we choose every single day to put on our bodies, to adorn our bodies with, to tell our unique stories with. We cut our hair, we get tattoos, we put clothes on, we put jewelry on, we paint our faces, and it’s all an expression of our unique individuality in telling the world who we are. It’s interesting to me that every pair of earrings that I create has a very specific story, feeling, or emotion behind it. Watching people choose different pairs of earrings really based on where they are in their life, what they want to shout out to the world, or what energy they want to embody, it’s amazing.
I’m really into crystals and their healing properties. I made a piece that had citrine, pyrite, and fluorite, and this woman chose that pair of earrings. I was telling her about them and basically how it’s calling an abundance and carries strong boss energy. She was like, "Oh my god, this is exactly what I need. I’ve been thinking about how do I live bigger in my workplace." It’s just interesting, over and over again, seeing people choose the earrings that correspond to the stories they want to tell about themselves, or the stories they want to create for themselves.
What is your process in creating and portraying your art?
I’m really inspired by color. I’m super inspired by astrology. I do a lot of work based on the astrological season that we’re in and what colors and crystals correspond to it. I’m also super inspired by badass femme people that are going out there doing amazing things to really grow and share their authentic voice and stories, not being afraid to break out of the status quo, not being afraid to be different. I also do a lot of work with music, just trying to translate it into a feeling.
How does your art connect to your identity? How does it help you connect to your community?
Going back to Radical Playgrounds, one of the elements was this opening in Northern Spark in June 2019. There was the installation, but we divined a dance party that was going to happen around the installation for two nights. It sounds really simple. It’s just a dance party, but it has to do with one of my frustrations with Minnesota. Thinking about my Puerto Rican culture and identity, you go to Puerto Rico or Puerto Rican events, and there’s always music and dancing. Life is always lived out loud and outside. Here in Minnesota, we have so many sound ordinances, and music is just thought of as a thing for a special event, not necessarily an integral part of your life.
What was really important for me with Radical Playgrounds was to create a space where music was being played out loud in a public space, where people were really encouraged to just come and move their bodies. Dance is so important to me and I would say culturally important to being Puerto Rican so that was a big thing. Also this idea of healing through movement, using your body to heal through radical joy and play. The DJ’s Indigo Crew were playing mostly Reggaeton, which is a type of music that was partially created in Puerto Rico. It’s hugely popular on the island. It’s not something that I hear enough here in Minnesota. I was just thrilled to have a two-night Reggaeton dance party in downtown Minneapolis in the Commons, which, I would argue, is a super white traditional space.
That’s one example of bringing in identity and culture to the work that I do. Speaking about my jewelry, I think a lot of my jewelry has big tropical vibes. It’s very colorful. I find a lot of inspiration from the ocean, so there’s a lot of that color flow heat movement in it.
Why do you do what you do?
I’ve grown up with art always being part of my life. I would argue that at least for me, there is no life without art. Music has always been a huge part of my life. I don’t know that I can remember a day when my dad wasn’t playing music. Dancing was a huge part of my life growing up. We were always at home, at parties, listening to music, moving our bodies. I grew up going to one of the first art elementaries in Minneapolis, which started out as Longfellow Elementary, then turned into Ramsey Fine Arts, and is now Folwell Arts Magnet. I was in the first graduating class. In those days, the art was such a big part of our daily curriculum. It’s interesting. There’s so many people that I went through that program with who are now doing art in Minneapolis. I think that art education is super important.
I do what I do because I cannot imagine my life without art. It’s such a big part of me. I think it’s important for everyone to have a creative outlet. I think it’s important for everyone to have art in their life, community engaged art specifically. I think it’s important for us to be able to communicate our stories and see our stories on an everyday basis. For example, one of the projects that I did with Greta McClain was the big mural that’s up on Green Central School in South Minneapolis. That project really brought out that a lot of people in the neighborhood who still had unhealed trauma surrounding the destruction of Central High School and then the rebuilding of the new Green Central Elementary. Going through that project and doing a big community engaged-listening process, storytelling process, and then helping that community build that mural, I heard from multiple residents that it was healing for them. When they walk by that mural, they see themselves every single day. I am so proud and happy that I am able to use my skills to help people heal through these processes. Art can be healing. I love seeing it happen every single time.
On jewelry, I think what we put onto our bodies holds so much power. To be intentional about that, to give people art pieces to wear on their bodies that helps them to embody a certain energy that they want to grow in themselves, is thrilling and amazing to me. I want to help people be their baddest self, to live out loud. It just drives me to keep doing what I’m doing and just keep creating. It’s also me telling my story. Showing the world the colors that I see. Translate these crazy colors and shapes and ideas that I have in my mind into these wearable pieces of art. It’s just something that drives me every single day.
You can find Candida's jewelry on Instagram (@lasranasjewelry) and read more about their story as a jewelry maker here.