Creative Fusion: Connecting Memories to Futures with Art House and Ana Quiroz

Creative Fusion resident artist Ana Quiroz, of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

On a Wednesday in July, Anna Quiroz was in her second week with students of Thomas Jefferson Newcomers Academy. The room was filled with the chatter of about 25 middle schoolers, mostly speaking Spanish, but several other languages too. Quiroz had them working on memory atlases, collaging their own drawings with paper mache casts made on plasticine forms, and other ephemera. Their drawings were of houses, flags, trees, and other features of the landscapes they call home. There were flags from Puerto Rico, Honduras, Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Afghanistan, and other countries. A girl from Honduras drew her house there, but also the houses of her aunt and grandmother, and school—all of which she left behind. A boy from Congo was drawing a tiger.

Quiroz, of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, was in residency for the summer of 2021, hosted in Cleveland by ArtHouse (living in Brooklyn Center, getting around the neighborhood by bicycle) as a part of the Cleveland Foundation’s Creative Fusion program. Residency Facilitator Erica Raby has been showing her around town, including the art scene, which she says “seems very buoyant.” She adds, “I am very impressed with the city—the nature, the architecture, the abandoned places. There is a melancholy about the abandoned places. And I like the green, because where I am from everything is yellow.”

In the classroom at Thomas Jefferson, Nashalie Diaz Rosa, who works for Esperanza helping newcomers learn English, says the art program shows the students from different nations how much they have in common.

Initially planned for 2020, the residency was delayed a year by COVID-19. Quiroz arrived in Cleveland in June, and in addition to working with the students at Thomas Jefferson Newcomers Academy was developing other projects, meeting staff at Building Hope in the City, US Together, Immigration Ohio, and Global Cleveland. She returned to Mexico at the end of August.

Quiroz divides her life into two practices: her own art uses glass, resin, bones, plastic, and thorns. She explores the meaning she finds in transparent and translucent materials, and in mosaic—a traditional medium in Mexico.

“I like transparency because it gives you all these reflections,” she says. “I like recycling because there is a lot of waste. I have used a lot of plastic. I prefer glass. I am not a glass blower, [but] I love the alchemy, the transparency, the other worlds, the in-between worlds where you can see something that is gone.”

Her own work has been recognized internationally. She won first prize in the Biennale of Glass in Monterrey, and in 2010 first prize at the Tijuana International Banner Biennial. She has had artist residencies in France, Argentina, and the United States.

Working with students is her other practice, and is at the heart of her residency at ArtHouse. In Mexico, in addition to university students in bachelor of fine art programs in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, her community-engaged practice has included working with women who are alone with their children because the men of their community have gone north to the United States to find work.

“For the last three years I have been working with an indigenous community in Puebla,” she says. “We made memory atlases, a commemorative map of the town using last names in Nahuatl language. People don’t know what they mean. We did a pre-Hispanic codex with images. Half of the population of this community is here in the state. I also am teaching them English. I like to teach something they can use as a tool.”

It’s similar to the work she is doing with the students at Thomas Jefferson: creating projects that help refugees who have left culture and language behind connect or reconnect with their heritage, and to help new friends get to know them better: giving them ways to connect memory to the future.