Born and raised in Miami, Florida to parents of Caribbean descent, Reyna Noriega is a visual artist and a poet. As a visual artist, she recently debuted her art work at the Brink Lane Gallery in London, marking a giant step in the career of a visual artist.
As a poet, her most recent poetry collection In My Cocoon: Poems And Musings On The Beauty Of Isolation explores the universal growing pains and self revelation many felt were amplified during the global pandemic; experiences surrounding relationships, self doubt, and the courage to live your dreams. As a woman, as a woman of color, and as an afro Latina, Reyna creates worlds through colors and words, in hopes that her art speaks to those same communities that nurtured her.
In conversation with Mimi Mutesa, Reyna talked about her journey as an artist, the ups and downs of representation, and her hopes for the creative scene she is a part of.
MM: Mixed Mag is a publication dedicated to promoting stories of creatives of color, with a special focus on multiethnic/ multiracial folks. How does your cultural heritage show up in your work?
I think I live in, and project this colorful world in my art because that’s always been the world that I’ve lived in. My mother was born in the Bahamas, her mom is Jamaican, so she’s Jamaican Bahamian. And then my dad is from Cuba, along with his whole family. I’m a melting point; a mix, a result of that mix. Both cultures thrive off of music and the arts and lots of color and vibrancy. My father was also an artist and a graphic designer. I watched him balance his two passions which were art, and the professional baseball he played. Once he retired, he leaned on his art and his graphic design career. As a kid, I was always trying to draw on his sketchbooks. Any reading books my parents got, whether it’s like a Disney book or not, I would add my own the illustrations to the book.
Coupled with having grown up in a place like Miami, I think it’s only natural that that’s what I kind of gravitate towards, seeing more of the art world.
MM: You’ve made a name for yourself in the digital art space, but have also recently debuted two art pieces of yours at the Brink Lane Gallery in London. What an achievement! What do you hope the lasting impact of your art is?
I want my art to reach my people first, the communities I grew up in, especially as a Black woman and an Afro Latina. I was reading the other day about how in art spaces like museums and galleries, there’s a very small percentage of women in those collections. I think it’s under 10%. And when you size that down and say, Black people, or Black women, or people in the Latinx or Hispanic community, that percentage goes way down to the single digits.
I love going to museums and galleries when I travel. I just love being there, I feel so good and fulfilled. But as I started looking around, it became evident that none of the art or the artists looked like me, or had names like mine in the descriptions. You feel excluded, almost like you’re not welcome. I want to chip away at that, and change that in any way that I can.
When the opportunity arose to showcase my art in the Brink Lane Gallery, I was scared. I’d gotten kind of comfortable in my digital art role, but fine art is the dream beyond that, right? I want to have collectors and I want to be in museums, and there’s always that question of like, how do you get there? How do you get there in a way that doesn’t alienate the people you want to see? But it was fun once I got past the nerves! It was one step closer to the ultimate dream.
MM: You’ve broken ceilings in the digital art space as well. What did it mean to you to see your art on the cover of the New Yorker, as well as on a historic cover for Science Magazine?
RN: It’s been surreal, I wish someone could have secretly recorded my reaction when I found out about the Science Magazine offer. It would be funny to see, I’m sure my mouth was open in shock. To begin with, Science Magazine has done very few illustrated covers in its 142 year history. Maybe once a year, max. (For context: the magazine publishes weekly.) Illustrations by a Black woman? I can say for certain there’s none. To take it a step further, that was the first time Science Magazine took a racial advocacy perspective. They studied levels of aggression in police officers when interacting with different races, and there was scientific proof that brown and Black folk got treated much more harshly and things escalated at a much higher percentage.
So for that to be the first story they’ve ever done related to race and for it to be an illustrated cover was incredible.
MM: How does your success in these other arenas of art make you feel about the influence that social media and algorithms have on the creation of art? Has it affected your creative process?
RN: I think I have been very lucky in the sense that I wish for something or want something, and the universe provides opportunities for me to ease into it. But I will say this – it is hard and it is not sustainable. But I’ve tried to focus on finding the balance. I think that because of the way that Instagram has progressed, how hard it is to get your work seen without being consistent, and constantly bombarding people, it has challenged me to show more of myself, to speak more, to share more of my life. Previously, when I was able to get the algorithm to favor my work, it was because I was posting one illustration a day. I didn’t have to talk to anyone, I didn’t have to show my face, I just had to post an illustration every day with a caption, and people would see it, like it, and share it. The algorithm would do the rest. That’s no longer the case. And as I dive deeper into my creative process, it’s not sustainable to pump out work for an algorithm that’s going to like something and forget about it almost instantly. I think the balance is to use it as fuel, as a way to work on your discipline or your consistency. It’s been important for me to realize and remember that no masterpiece can be made by trying to satisfy a greedy algorithm. You can’t pour yourself into a project and do the deep research and exploration that many of the most amazing projects take, if your mentality is ‘okay, I want to start this painting today and finish it today, so that I can make a reel and post it tomorrow.’ That’s not how great art is made.
MM: Talk to us about In My Cocoon: Poems And Musings On The Beauty Of Isolation. It is your third and most recent poetry collection that was published almost exactly a year ago, during the pandemic. It explores introspection, isolation, and stepping out of your comfort zone. Did anything about the journey for this collection come as a surprise?
RN: Funny enough, the first creative career that I thought I would have was an author. I loved writing, I wrote a couple of manuscripts before I even graduated high school, but I never took them anywhere. I spent a long time wanting to call myself a writer, then dealing with the stigma and self-doubt that came from not being published. But poetry had always been a way for me to self-reflect, a way to dive deeper into what I was feeling and what I was growing through in certain periods in my life. I wanted it to serve as a comfort to other people who are going through similar anxieties, people who felt like they were alone, or that their struggle was taking them farther away from their dreams, rather than pushing them towards their dreams. That’s how I approached this collection, and it resonated with people in ways that surprised even myself. The poem I wrote about my job, related to someone’s relationship, and the poems I wrote about my romantic relationships, turned out to resonate with people’s friendship for family conflict. It was amazing to see how words could touch people’s lives in different ways.
MM: What seasons in life inspired you in the writing of this collection?
RN: I see it all you know, everything is a season, so getting comfortable or like finding a sense of self love, apart from your relationships is so important. That was one for me, dealing with isolation, dealing with learning how to set boundaries, how to really take care of yourself, how to advocate for yourself, how to keep promises to yourself, were all things that I’ve had to learn. It allowed me the perspective to say, ‘okay, this is setting me up for who I want to be.’ Without those trials, I would not have been able to sustain the level of success that my higher self was hoping for, because she had to deal with impostor syndrome, insecurity, and being overly reliant on emotional attachments and relationships. As I approach an evolution, I’ve noticed that things will come at me that force me to sit with myself and question the way I think about something or the way I approach life.
MM: Was it a scary process, revealing yourself to the world in this way?
RN: I’ve learned to be vulnerable. I’ve learned to not put too much emphasis on what people think and the opinions that they form, because I recognize that, first and foremost, I need to be honest with myself. So even when I was just writing blogs, I was sharing very personal things that I was going through, and a few people in my life from an older generation, like my mom, would say, ‘why would you want people to know that, people are gonna judge you.’ And I’ve always thought, ‘hey, they can judge me, as long as I don’t allow their judgments to affect me.’ I chose to focus on the fact that by being vulnerable and by sharing these aspects of my life, others can learn that what they’re going through is normal. I think we hide ourselves as humans because we’re afraid of judgment, we’re afraid of people using information against us. But I think everything I’ve shared, I can live with being judged for.
MM: Is there a particular poem for the collection that resonates the most across the board?
RN: ‘Self-Betrayal’ is definitely one of those poems.
RN: When I wrote “Self Betrayal”, I had been asking myself what keeps us from extending more grace to people? Why are we so quick to crucify people for their mistakes or things they’ve done to us, when on a day to day basis, we make promises to ourselves that we don’t keep? We promise ourselves, that we’ll read more, study other languages more, exercise and drink more water, yet we don’t reliably keep those promises to ourselves. But if somebody else says, ‘Hey, I’m gonna call you so we can hang out this week,’ and they don’t call, suddenly this person doesn’t love me, they don’t respect me. I think accountability is important, and boundaries are important, but my focus has always been inward first. How can I be a better friend to myself first before expecting other people to treat me in ways that I don’t even treat myself? “Self Betrayal” says, ‘you see how you keep score of their sins all those years, and not of all the times you didn’t protect you, or the times you didn’t honor yourself, keep your promises you made to yourself. Let’s explore that.’ I think we could use a little bit more of that in this day and age.
MM: That’s powerful, I love that. I think the flip side of that coin is also realizing that if only we had more grace and love and forgiveness for ourselves and our shortcomings, it would be easier to extend it to others. In following your work I’ve often heard you say that love is your superpower, that you can change the world. In what specific ways do you hope your craft shapes the people that come in contact with it?
RN: I think art, often up for personal interpretation, is something that communities can bond over. There are no language barriers with art; art is not reserved for certain people over others. If used the right way, and with the right intentions, it has the power to unify people. I work to provide joyful positive representations of groups that are often overlooked, in essence normalizing and humanizing and advocating for the communities represented in my work. All of those things matter to me, and I try to put love and joy at the forefront. I think the world could do with more love, more joy, more unity. Peace, love and joy are like my three pillars. In order to live a life where you can feel joy and peace and love, you have to feel worthy of love, you have to feel worthy of peace. And many communities who are on the receiving end of the world constantly telling them they don’t matter, they don’t belong, they don’t fit in, makes accessing those pillars feel impossible. Peace, love, and joy come from being valued, feeling like one belongs. That’s what I hope my craft is able to bring to people: a sense of belonging.
Reyna Noriega is a 29 year old Visual Artist and Author, born, raised and working in Miami, FL. Having seen the power of introspection, self reflection and healing, Reyna’s work centers that aspect of our journeys as we seek to rise and be our best, most authentic selves so that people may experience sustainable peace and happiness.
In her creative work, she has centered women of color. As an Afro-Caribbean Latina she has seen firsthand how damaging it can be to not see positive representation. She aims to fill the world with vibrant, joyful depictions of marginalized peoples.
Her work has graced covers such as Science Magazine and The New Yorker and thousands of people collect and showcase her art in their homes around the world.