We had the good fortune of connecting with EMILIO APONTESIERRAPARETTI and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi EMILIO, how do you think about risk?
I think that life is a series of calculated risk and uninspected risk-taking events that everyone has to live throughout the course of their life. I know that I risk everything, every day of my live without knowing it. In the course of my life I have learned the importance of taking risks. Living my life in my native Colombia as a closeted gay man, I was risking to loss my soul. I was living in the closet because the risk of stigma, discrimination and ongoing violence that LGBT+ face daily just because we love another human being, because we express ourselves in a different way, and because LGBT+ people we risk our life just because we show our real colors. WOLA, a leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas mentioned in an article that Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex Colombians have been granted momentous protections over the past two decades, but on paper, the country has one of the strongest legal frameworks in Latin America defending the rights of LGBT+ people; however, in practice these protections are rarely enforced. After Brazil, Colombia is perhaps the most dangerous country in the Americas for LGBT+ people. So, When I moved to U.S. in 2002 seeking political asylum, I decided to take the risk to be not just a non-English Speaker Colombian immigrant seeking political asylum in Florida, but to live my life as an openly gay man who will made his way as a multidisciplinary artist. One thing that has helped me to advance in my multidisciplinary artistic career has been the risk that I take every time there is an Artist Call Notification or Open Call to Artists. I always evaluate the risks before applying to these calls, and knowing that anything can happened, I take the risk to be rejected for not being good enough for the call or to be accepted and celebrated as one of the best applicant Artist. I always follow my favorite poem which is “Traveler there is not road” by Antonio Machado. As Machado mention in this part of the poem: “Traveler there is not road, you make your own path as you walk…” I am taking the risk of build my own destiny in my own risks. I started my Art business scared of what people would think about me walking between different careers paths from Theater Actor and writer, Fishing Engineer and Environmental planner in Colombia to a Guidance Counselor and Public Health Practitioner in the field of Sexual Health and HIV prevention in U.S. Walking into a world where thousands of artist are fighting to stablish their niche, there was me as a public speaker of social and health issues of my Latinx community and showing people my own paper manipulation fine art technique. I was scared of every risks piled in my asylum path and now I am walking my path as the Husband of Dr. Robert Paretti and embracing the risks that comes with different accomplishments from risk-taking decisions such as being one of the 15 Latin hero’s from The Sun sentinel. Or the risks from being one of the 8 Hispanic Gay men featured in the Spanish version of Start Talking. Stop HIV, a national public health video production by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Also, the risks that come with being selected by the Favorite Poem Project out of 800 submissions from Florida. My paths were documented in a video by Poetry Foundation, Boston University, and Library of Congress. The Video belongs to the Favorite Poem Project which is a compiling of 50 videos documentary showcasing Americans reading and speaking personally about poetry. There is me taking my own risk and reading Machado poem. Currently I am looking to jump into the risks that I am discovering after been awarded as one of the 15 artist of the commons project: 15 artists. 15 Spaces by the COVID-19 Artist relief program of the City of West Palm Beach. COVIDA, my first ever public art piece was created and born during this risky times of COVID-19. She is a mixed media sculpture generated by the risk that I embraced when participating in a call for public art without having experience in this art field.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am an experimenter of the arts with a mixture of influences. Back in my high school times, I was so committed to my craft and my community that when I graduated high school and earned a scholarship to Magdalena University for acting, instead of majoring in the arts, I chose to major in Fishing Engineering with a specialty in environment planning. I found my art mentor, Mary Luz Giraldo Arismendiz while I was attending Magdalena University. She was the director of a private theater company called “Corporación Los Muñecos” and admired my attention to detail. I was able to perfect my craft in Paper-mâché, Sewing and Origami, with her guidance. My body of work is created using three mediums: Manipulated Photography, Ink on Canvas and Paper Manipulation, but I am more focused in the third one because I have developed my own technique of Paper Manipulation which is a mix of Origami, Paper mâché and Paper Sculpture plus fiber manipulation and fashion design techniques. My body of work created using my paper manipulation technique are two and three-dimensional sculptures and wearable art pieces created weaving together pages from colorful magazines, news publications, and aluminum foil and embellished with non-conventional material to simulated clothing, accessories and jewelry. With this technique, the energy, colors and images create a texture that I love and cannot be created in the same way using other mediums. We need to recycle existing materials, transform these used elements, and change our contaminated world into something beautiful. This is why I use recyclables in my work and COVIDA, my first public art piece is a vivid example of it. COVIDA was created by commission under the Commons Project: 15 Artists. 15 Spaces, a project founded by the City of west Palm Beach, FL as an COVID-19 relief program for artist living in Palm Beach County. I choose to portrait a woman because them are my heroes and I believe that women, with the power to brings life to the world, and with their resilience, they are the energy that could change the world for better. COVIDA honors women, a fashionable woman in a black haute couture dress, who is in mourning because she lost her relatives to COVID-19. She was created using my paper manipulation technique, but instead of using paper I replaced it for weather resistant materials and others recycled elements such as poultry net (plastic and metallic), fiber glass, plastic black privacy screen, aluminum foil, PVC pipes, UV resistant clear paint, fishing line, marine rope, and many other weather resistant materials. There is not paint in the art piece and all colors within the art piece are coming from the color of the original materials and elements used. The way I use and choose colors within my art pieces is other characteristic of the uniqueness of my technique. I did get to where I am today professionally because the lessons learned from the people that I grow around and who I experienced powerful events with. Lessons learned from my teachers and colleagues from the different theater companies where I practiced acting, poetry, image, physical expression, dance, color and space management are the skeleton of my body of work. During my time in Magdalena University I was expose to national and international Theater festivals and I met people from different backgrounds and styles, I was able to immerse myself into scene production, design and elaboration of costumes and it was when I discovered the fascinating world of style and high couture fashion. The inspiration behind my art also comes from the vibrancy of my country’s music, the colors in the fashion world and by the lack of awareness for environmental protection. I bring to mind movement and rhythm, color and the diversity within the ecosystem in my art. The use of recyclables in my body of work have the roots back in my days as a part of the team of environment planners at Fundación Pro-Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. We worked for the Conservation and Sustainable Development of this mountain, which is the world’s highest coastal mountain. I learned spiritual lessons that matured my soul. I agree with the belief system of the native people from Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, who look to the earth as the mother and a God. In their “Stories” every action surges from a natural force that comes from those ancient beings that are present in each element. My art is an action from my soul.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I am original from the Caribbean Coast of Colombia, I live in Palm Beach Gardens and work around Fort Lauderdale y Miami. So, if someone is coming to visit the area where I live work and play, definitely South Florida is all in! Alert: I don’t drink, so I can’t talk about liqueur because probably I will recommend Kombucha as the best French wine! As a Colombian Caribbean native, fish and seafood is my favorite food. For, dinner time, Juno Beach Fish House in Juno Beach, FL will be the choice to bring my visitors. This restaurant with a Florida flair feature fresh and local seafood menu. My visitors have to try the bread with olive oil, it is to “Live” for! Lobsters are fantastic but my favorite dish is shrimp of the angels! I will ask for Rick Padilla, The General Manager because I know that he will go extra miles to make sure my visitor will get a memorable experience. For us Latin, carbs are important in our diet, but having an Italian cuisine lover as my husband is, an Italian restaurant have to be selected for lunch, and rice will be replaced by pizza. For sure a stop will be made in one of the Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza Near Palm Beach Gardens, Fort Lauderdale or Miami. The Jumbo Coal Fired Wings and caramelized onions served with focaccia bread is my favorite dish while my husband eat one of his favorite well done pizza or the meat balls with ricotta cheese or a delicious eggplant-parmesan. It is good to walk around to exercise our body and soul while taking some pictures for Instagram and the travelers book that Facebook is for many of us. So, I will make sure that visitor will have the opportunity to do it while enjoying any of the beautiful beaches of the Palm Beaches like beautiful Delray Beach with upscale resorts and restaurants, art galleries, museums and annual festivals or to visit Naturals parks such as the Gumbo Limbo Boardwalk located on a barrier island in Boca Raton surrounded by a rare remnant of tropical hardwood hammock or if the enjoyment have to be naturists Haulover, the pearl of Florida’s nude beaches may be the best choice. It is family friendly and centrally located between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, and is ranked regularly among the Top 10 nude beaches in the world. Every traveler keeps souvenirs from the places that they visit right? Well, museums are fantastic to visit and to get something from its shops. Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami’s Biscayne Bay is an oasis of silence and green, miraculously preserved just south of Miami’s modern skyline. Also we will have a mandatory stop in Miami after Vizcaya at Wynwood Walls, a unique outdoor destination featuring huge, colorful street murals by artists from around the globe with restaurants and nearby places to drink and have a lot of fun taking pictures with Big feathers or butterfly wings. Other great area to visit definitely is FAT Village in Fort Lauderdale, a warehouse district with a monthly art walk featuring open galleries, artisan goods, food & music. I will invite to meet Rosalia-Cenigma Art at her home-gallery for a “Cafecito”, spoken words, and conversation about FAT Village and MASS District: a district of creatives and businesses that want community and economic development of Fort Lauderdale through the arts. Visitors have to find a Florida souvenir to take home and it no have to be just from my home art gallery in Palm Beach Gardens where a paper sculpture by Apontesierra can be purchased, but it can be from Cenigma-Art or from the Box Gallery in West Palm Beach. Getting an art piece from any of the talented artist featured by the Box Gallery and curated by its owner Rolando Chang Barrero can be an amazing experience. He is a fabulous character and painter, filmmaker, performance artist, activist, and arts advocate who will treat you as part of his family. Also other souvenir from Florida can be an art piece where pen and ink, pastels, watercolor and color pencil are the medium that brings to life animals, mermaids or whimsical landscapes. Visitors will find it at the art-shop of Anthony Burks, Sr, a native Floridian who is a conceptual fine and commercial artist. As I previous said, I don’t drink but a dance lover like myself knows where to enjoy music along with friends who drink. I think that Guanabanas Island Restaurant and Bar in Jupiter could be the place. The lush, tropical setting, great cuisine, cocktails, and live music from both national acts and the hottest names in South Florida are some reasons why Ganabanas become an institution in northern Palm Beach County. But, if my visitor hasn’t been to a gay bar, then I have to make sure to stop them missing it out. Gay bars they don’t play music to please a certain crowd; they play music that encourages a fun time. Fort Lauderdale is out, loud and fabulously proud and any night of the week is better in the vibrant gayborhood of Wilton Manors. My visitor has to have at least one-night touring around gay night clubs starting it at Rosie’s. It is the perfect spot to start the night, get a few burgers and cocktails, before heading over to somewhere like Georgie’s. Georgie’s is the biggest gay bar in the Wilton Manor gay area with a large outdoor terrace with a small bar, which has a sort of street party feel to it. Then inside, it’s massive. On the one side, it has a large bar area with The Alii stage for shows. On the other side, it’s “The Monkey Bar Lounge”, where they have the drag shows and feature Latino music. Georgie’s also has a restaurant attached to it. Once my visitors finished up their Long Islands at Georgie’s we can head over to Hunters to dance. We definitely will ask for Mark, one of the owners who is a great ballroom dancer and a supporter of the gay community. He has been a great support for Latinos en Accion, the Latin Advisory group of the Broward County HIV Prevention Planning Council. I remember having so much fun at Hunter while I was the MC of the Diversity Night where one of my couture dresses made from more of 1600 expired male condoms was in the runway of the fashion show of Translatina Coalition/Arianna Center. Hunters is an institution in Wilton Manors, much like Georgie’s and The Pub. The Pub will be also a stop during this gay night fun. It is also famous for hosting one of the best drag shows in Fort Lauderdale. Who is not out for the queens? The night cannot be complete if we miss the sophistication that comes with the gay stereotype, well people say that I am sophisticated! The Infinity Lounge is one of the most sophisticated gay bars of Wilton Manors and my visitors should experience sparkling chandeliers and lots of flashes. This is more the sort of place to bring a date rather than come for a wild night out with your squirrel friends however we can squirt around for nuts too! Finally, the last but not least and after a night of drinks, Latin cuisine and Colombian food have to be in this itinerary. “Las Orquideas” Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale have the best “Changua” and “Caldo de costilla” for the hangover. The owner, Fernando Gill will make sure that everyone gets the best service and a home cooked meals.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My story can be read today because in my past, present and future always someone was, is and will be doing something for me. My shoutout is dedicated to all of them especially my husband who has always been the center of the development of my artistic career. Robert is the light that allows me to see in the dark and he is the support during the long walk of my dreams as I build my destiny and our future. Jonathan Livingston Seagull, written by Richard Bach is a book that has taught me that we can all be much more than we think, or we are made to believe. The same way Antonio Machado in his poem “Traveler there is no road”, Richard Bach showed me that we can all accomplish anything if we are willing to abandon our own self-limiting story and to direction our life into a higher goal. A third book that influenced my personality and make my philosophy of life a little different that those children from my neighborhood is the Little Prince of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Machado, Bach and Saint-Exupéry showed me that we all have the option of living our lives beyond a group bound by chains of fearful limitations. That we can all build our destiny and that love allows us to see the beauty of all things. There are many people who deserve credit in my story as in my paths many have supported me and encouraged to keep walking. My mother Amanda who without pressure always made me understand that I was able to build my destiny without having to be supervised by her, my sister Luz Marina who always showed her love by taking care of us when my parents weren’t at home. Nora Parra, my teacher at “Colegio Nacional Loperena” who introduced me to the art world, my mentor Mari luz Giraldo from “Corporation los Munecos” who believed in my talent and insisted that the detail and finish of my art pieces were what set me apart from the other artists, my colleagues from “Fundacion Pro-Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta” especially Vivian who believed in my professional abilities and motivated me to be better. Thank you to all of them: you all deserve a lot of credit and recognition in my story.
Erick Astorga Emilio Apontesierra-Paretti