April 29, 2024

Senior Spotlight: Jesenia Avila-Ugalde

Next week, our three seniors' final artwork will be up in our gallery for our Senior Thesis Exhibition. Assistant Professor of English Dr. Bailey Moorhead sat down with each of them to get to know their work and creative process a little bit better. Last up-

Jesenia Avila-Ugalde

Artist and designer

Born in Mexico City, raised in Louisville, KY

BM: How would you describe your art subject in a nutshell?

JAU: My art is about my culture as a Latinx and Mexican person. It’s about narratives, sharing stories, but primarily focused on celebration. It’s taking those things and putting them into a local sense. Talking about immigration, putting it into a more positive light, and thinking about resistance.


BM: What are your main medium(s)/materials?

JAU: Materiality isn’t as important as the designs or the narratives that inform the designs. I like new technology and machine work, but I also enjoy analog work like painting, building, and working with people in the community— literally building community. It’s a multifaceted thing.

I also focus on certain colors, like CMYK vs RGB. I also work with fluorescents, which reflect more light than they absorb.I love that concept because I think as people we should reflect more light/positivity than we absorb.


BM: What inspires you? Why is this subject important to you?

JAU: My culture inspires me the most: learning not just the cultural aspect but also the place: Mexico as a land, what that means in regards to my identity here in the U.S. and the current political scene. 

In terms of the aesthetic and visual aspect, embroidery and papel picado have been major inspirations for the materiality of my work.

Labor also inspires me, in a sense of what that does for me in my practice but also what that does for my community and the contributions that my people have made, not just building something physical, but also the food industry, food culture, and agriculture.

My family are also a huge inspiration for me. My mom and my dad work hard but they also play hard, which is part of the inspiration for the “celebration” aspect of my work.

Innovation is important to me, too. The way technology is advancing is a weird inspiration because it’s kind of alarming, but it’s amazing how much it can do.


BM: Who do you see as your audience? What do you hope they take away from your work?

JAU: My audience is two-fold:

  1. The first is the Latinx community; not just Mexicans but anybody. There are a lot of things we share in our food, culture, and connections to the land. I’m trying to get everybody to continue seeing the beauty that makes up our communities. In my senior thesis exhibition, I highlight three components: Community, Family, and Faith.
  2. The second is non-Latinx Americans. To see us in this light and appreciate the weight that our existence really holds not just here but our own country and     cultural history and background. It’s really hard for us to exist in these kinds of gallery spaces and say what we want to say.

So there’s room for beautiful conversations to happen between these two groups, or at least to have respect.


BM: What kind of research has informed your work?

JAU: Oral histories in my community and family have been helpful. A lot of my research is based in community work, reading about identity theory, and traveling to other “Little Mexico” communities across the country.

I also look at politics: how they affect people, not just in displacement or movement but also mentally— how they influence a sense of pride.


BM: What are you most proud of in your work?

JAU: Just doing it— it’s something I’ve never done. I’ve never done anything to this scale or detail, and I’ve never done it with so many people involved. Including professors, techs, students, family, alumni, my community… it’s been a huge project. I’m proud of all of us, not just myself.


BM: How has your art developed since you came to KyCAD?

JAU: I never expected any of this at all. I first came here to improve graphic design skills, but KyCAD opened up a whole road that I never knew existed. It’s been crazy, in the best way. It’s been the biggest beginning of something. I see more purpose in my work now. The developments have been too good to be true. When I look back, I realize how much it’s already been in the works without me knowing. Everything I’ve done from my activism work, to my documentation and my family’s documentation, my family history back in Mexico, it’s all led to this moment.

Dr. Bailey Moorhead
Assistant Professor of English