We had the good fortune of connecting with Xierra Itayem and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Xierra , what role has risk played in your life or career?
Art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take risks. -Mark Rothko I don’t know that you can be an artist without risk. I mean, being an artist in itself, is the embodiment of risk. I had known from a young age that I wanted to do something in the arts, and like any middle-class parents trying to make ends meet, mine were concerned. When I was about ten, I remember very vividly having a passionate conversation with my mother about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had told her that I wanted to be a painter like Monet and paint in the fields of France. She of course freaked out and tried to convince me to take a safer route with more security. Like art therapy. But I was set. I’d always been a romantic about what it meant to be an artist. It turned out to be nothing of what I thought, and more, but I do know that without the risks I have taken, I wouldn’t be where I am today in my career. Risk fuels my work. I found a passion in arts education because I took the risk and quit my safe job at FIU in order to feel more fulfilled. I’ve taken the risk several times over to travel solo, which in turn has inspired so many of my paintings. And most recently, I have taken the risk to start a travel business that focuses on bringing the art and culture of a place to my clients. A company where I can share my love of travel and teach art along the way. I believe that risk and growth go hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other. One must be willing to go beyond the comfortable in order to discover their path in this life. Its especially important for an artist. In my work I am constantly seeking how I can discover new avenues of myself or the world around me. What new questions can I try to answer? I would always like there to be some element of evolution in my work and I think that takes some level of experimentation. I’ve never found that the inspiration comes if I’m not willing to take the dive into the deep end. In my experience, I had to let the fear motivate me, rather than debilitate me. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes those fears and insecurities are so immense that its hard to look past them, but I do know that those risks are what got me to where I am today. As an artist and entrepreneur, I will always strive to have the courage to create, with risk leading the way.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I can be pretty versatile with media and subject matter when it comes to my work. My foundational background is in acrylic painting, but really I love anything that will let me play with color. Some of my favorite pieces have come from my travels. I’m an avid adventurer and whenever I travel I always come back with hundreds of photographs that then get turned into these vignette gouache paintings on fine paper. I love the intimacy of them. I feel like they capture how I feel during those moments of exploration pretty accurately. I have also have been developing a series of simplistic illustrations in gouache of every day objects that hold some kind of meaning in my life. I find them slightly humorous, and for someone who’s work tends to lean more on the serious side, this delights me immensely. I finally feel like I am comfortable enough with myself to not take myself so seriously and to begin to find the play in my work again, In the past I’ve worked on a body painting project called Breaking Mythos. The body of work centers around women who have chosen to be painted on and photographed in fantastic scenes in order to gain back the narratives of their own bodies. All of the women that have been photographed are not professional models, but women with varying body types and from various backgrounds. I collaborate with each of them on what they want communicated through the photography and the whole art direction of the shoots. I spend months developing a look. Everything from the art direction, to the body painting, to the photography is done by me. It was a life changing body of work for me, as it helped me discover parts of myself that I didn’t know existed. It challenged me to face some of my demons with body image, and became a healing project for so many women in my life. I don’t feel like the series is finished in the least, so I do plan on going back and revisiting with fresh new perspectives. However, the endeavor I am most excited about right now is my company Meraki Travel Co. I have dreamed of traveling the world for as long as I can remember and have been fortunate enough in my adult years to get to travel to quite a few amazing places. I’ve been to an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, traveled alone through France, partied in London for New Years, and camped in the Sahara desert. But I would always come back from these travels so full of inspiration, life, and creativity, that I craved more and more trips. I wanted to spend the rest of my life traveling and sharing my love for art and culture while doing it. So I started Meraki to try to do just that. Meraki Travel Company is curated, artistic group travel for those wanting to experience the art and culture of a place. My role in the company is to be my clients’ traveling artist. I curate once in a lifetime trips where you will get to meet local craftspeople and learn about their work, take cooking classes with chefs from around the world, and learn how to cook their local dishes. Experience local artwork as well as take painting classes with me “en plein air” while taking in some breathtaking natural vistas. I facilitate everything from stay to experiences while on the trip. Its a great way to meet new people with the common love for travel. Our first trip was to be to Santa Fe, unfortunately it has had to be rescheduled due to covid-19. Needless to say we are very excited to get back on track once everyone is healthy and the threat of this virus is gone. My journey has definitely not been an easy one. I have struggled a long time trying to figure out just what kind of artist I am, and what will be my impact on this world artistically. Like Miles Davis once said “Sometimes it takes a long time to be able to play like yourself”. One day at a time, one step at a time, I am discovering my art form, and just like myself, it has many different facets and evolutions. .

Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
In the ten years I’ve lived in Miami, I have definitely grown to love this city. It has a heartbeat and flavor all of its own. A little tropical island separate from the rest of the United States. But my favorite Miami is the Miami that only the locals know about. Not the Ocean Drive vibe, but the eclectic artsy Miami. Here’s a list of my favorites to do, see, and eat. Eats: -For the best pizza in the land, and a cute, casual little date spot, your place is Andiamo’s. Its this amazing little 1960s gas station turned pizzeria. The pizza is brick oven and they broadcast the games on a screen outside. Their BBQ chicken pizza is to die for! -Caja Caliente!! This place has been one of my favorites since it was only a tiny food truck on the Midtown Garden Center lot. Now they have their own lot now next door, as well as a traditional restaurant in the Gables, but that food truck in Midtown will always have my heart. Its Cuban fusion tacos are great but I can never stray away from that Pan Con Lechon with the fried egg on top! It also has the best tropical outdoor seating area that’s always playing the Spanish music we all grew up listening to on cleaning days. -If you love burgers and fries Kush is your place. Its in a great location if you want to grab some drinks afterwards as its close to Wynwood. My go to is usually the Lokal burger but the Zuni’s Employee Meal salad is crazy good too. And they support everything locall! -Ok coffee lovers, I didn’t forget about you. The Alchemist in Aventura is my favorite thing to do when I have a free morning to get some work done. The vibe is quaint and cozy, and if its not too hot out, definitely sit outside. It’s one of those places that transports you to some small village far away. The Alchemist Iced Coffee is amazing but their seasonal iced teas are great too. As for food, you can’t go wrong with the Chef’s breakfast. Its a hashbrown waffle topped with guacamole, pico, and a fried egg, I know, I’m hungry too just writing about it. Low Key Drinking: -I really can’t describe Lagniappe in any other way except magical. Its dim lighting and nightly live jazz music takes you to the alleys of Paris any night of the week. But that’s not even the best part. You walk in, pick a bottle of wine from the multitude of varieties they have, grab some cheeses and meats of your choosing from the cooler, they pop the bottle, hand over some glasses, cut your cheeses and arrange them on a platter with jams and breads, and invite you to sit wherever you like. That’s right, its a wine jazz bar! I’m looking at you 30 somethings. And outside they have a hodge podge of open seating under twinkly lights. What more could you want? -The Corner is and will always be one of my favorite bars. Magic always happens there (I saw Mumford and Sons play a live set there after their concert once!). Its a small place but its always packed mostly because its such a great chill place to meet with friends. The cocktails are inventive and they have a million different beers. And once you get tipsy and you need some food to level you out, order The Favorite. Its basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, but they do something to it to make it way better than any ham and cheese sandwich I can make. -If you’re on the beach, but don’t want to do the traditional South Beach, check out Sweet Liberty. Its got a low key vibe, and everything from the food to the drinks is great about this place. And if you call ahead enough, you can sit at the table behind the bar! Outdoorsy: -If you’re gonna go to the beach, skip all of the South Beach nonsense and head over to North Beach. Its quiet and has a much more secluded, clean beach with a bunch of great restaurants to choose from. -Go to Oleta State Park and kayak out to the sandbar! There’s nothing better on a crazy hot Miami day than packing up some beers and snacks, and kayaking through mangroves with a group of friends out to an open sandbar where tons of boats are floating around, and people are partying it up Miami style. -Fairchild Gardens is another great place to spend the day outside. A huge tropical garden with thousands of varieties of plants, this is the perfect place to bring your camera and practice your skills. Head out there during their Mango Festival and try some of their hundreds of varieties of mangoes. Artsy/Cultural: -The Frost Art Museum is a great place to get your dose of fine art. Not only does it have a great collection and some interesting rotating exhibits, the architecture is to die for, and is the perfect place to sit down and relax a little. They also throw great parties during Miami Art Week. -The Margulies Collection in Wynwood has an amazing collection, housing work by Anselm Kiefer, Willem De Kooning, and Sol Lewitt just to name a few. -Vizcaya is a great place to experience old Miami. Its the old estate of James Deering, one of Miami’s agricultural founding fathers and it has an amazing garden overlooking the bay. After exploring the grounds you can then grab something to eat in picturesque Coconut Grove.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I think my teachers and my family deserve the most credit. Without the constant support and constructive criticism from them I would be no where. Every crazy idea I’ve ever had, every performance, every stressful period of my life, my family has been behind me the entire time. And to my teachers and mentors who have imparted wisdom over the years and have shared their love of the arts. There’s nothing like someone to look up to and lean on when you are a creative soul.

Website: http://xierrai.com/
Instagram: @xierraiart
Other: https://www.merakitravelco.com/ https://www.etsy.com/shop/EmbroideredLve?ref=shop_sugg