October 31st, 2022
“Dream” used as a noun is defined in two ways: The first, “a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person’s mind during sleep”; and the second, “a cherished aspiration, ambition, or ideal.” ¡Sueña!–the title of my painting featured here–is based on my experience of what it feels like to be a first- generation college student. The word ¡Sueña! is in the imperative verb form, which encourages us to dream with urgency in the now.
This painting was a gift to the California Teaching Fellows Foundation’s (CTFF) Dream Initiative for helping me plan and execute actions to accomplish my dream–which is to use literature and art to teach students how to express themselves and discover their own dreams, passions, and goals. For this painting, I was inspired by Maya Angelou’s Caged Bird and A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes–two poems that are full of visuals and feelings that I have experienced on my own journey as an artist and individual.
The intersections of race, gender, socioeconomic status, and citizenship status are all explored in this painting. ¡Sueña! has arisen from the darkness of feeling lost, inadequate, unwelcomed, fearful, doubtful and has given me the strength to share who I am as a first-generation college Latinx student living in California.
The canvas illustrates a woman of color dreaming–her eyes closed and her expression peaceful. She has different colors of hair–black, brown, reddish, and white–to acknowledge diversity within our world. Her torso is a cage that contains planet Earth and her heart. The cage is made of crumbling, ancient Greek Doric columns and has an open door; through which paper airplanes shoot out into the universe where a new star and galaxy are forming. The Doric columns symbolize the patriarchal, Eurocentric western civilization that restricts our emerging multicultural world.
The heart symbol is from the Loteria board game–a traditional game of chance for many Latinx people–and Frida Kahlo’s Las Dos Fridas, reminiscent of my Mexican-American heritage. The heart also represents feelings and emotions that keep us prisoners in our minds. There is a oneness with Planet Earth–it is part of us as we are part of it–and green leaves sprout from it just as we grow out of our own human limitations. Like the vine, it is our innate nature to grow, flourish and expand beyond the cage.
As the Dream Initiative often says, “What you focus on grows,” and I wanted to pay homage to this idea. The green sprouts are wrapping around the crumbling Doric columns, which are representative of systemic, repressive beliefs like gender inequality, racism, and machismo that limit our ability to flourish. Time and nature will prevail–eventually the marble columns will collapse and the cage will disappear.
The paper airplanes symbolize the dreams we dare to have and send out to the universe. Some might crash, burn, dry or explode as Hughes states in A Dream Deferred. But some dreams take off and carry us further than we ever imagined. I chose to use paper airplanes that represent childhood, a time when we play and are assertive about our dreams: “I want to be an architect,” “I want to be a doctor,” “I want to be an astronaut.” Dreams are the intrinsic motivation we need to help make a vision a reality. Dreams give us intellectual freedom, and my painting, “¡Sueña!”, is the vision I have when I close my eyes and dare to dream.
It is my hope that all students–first-generation, migrant, minority, undocumented, or however a student identifies–find the courage to dream awake. Every day there is a battle to be fought to help ourselves, and others, have the opportunity to realize our dreams. There is always a new beginning, always a new star being born in the galaxy.
Liliana Madrigal is a conceptual artist and educator. Her philosophy is to plant the seed of tolerance in one another. She wants to embrace cultures and diversity in our world and to allow ourselves to be unique and different. Diversity means change, change allows us to grow, and growth is a dynamic force that as individuals we need to strive for. The little figure in the bottom corner of her painting is her artistic signature. It is an abstract angel, with her initials L and M angled. It also looks like an open heart because she wants to bring love and tolerance to the world through her art.