IPRAC Opens Exhibit of Catherine Matos Olivo
In commemoration of International Women's Day
Healing Breast Cancer with Art: An Interview with Puerto Rican Catherine Matos Olivo
By Juanita García
On March 8, 2012, the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture (IPRAC) presented the most recent work of Puerto Rican artist, Catherine Matos Olivo. Catherine is a professor of art at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in San Juan, Puerto Rico. This exhibition was presented as part of IPRAC's annual celebration of International Women's Day. The exhibition features Matos Olivo's artwork from the book Galactic Vision: The Sketchbook Project of My Cancer Year.
IPRAC and Mount Sinai Urban Health Institute hosted the opening reception. The book, published by Colección Maravilla, is an extraordinary example and portrayal of personal strength and resilience based on a series of illustrations that recover Catherine's journey with breast cancer for a period of one year.
International Women's Day, March 8th, is celebrated in many countries across the world. The Puerto Rican community in Humboldt Park celebrated March 8th with the opening of an exhibit titled Galactic Visions by Catherine Matos Olivo. Catherine's life took an unexpected turn when at the tender age of 31, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her exhibit Galactic Visions speaks to an unexpected life challenge that not only changed her life but helped her heal throughout her battle with breast cancer. During the installation of Galactic Visions, I had the privilege of interviewing Catherine about her work, her experience and her exhibit.
Galactic Visions will be featured throughout the month of March at the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture (IPRAC) in the theater room. IPRAC is open Tuesday - Saturday from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. and is located at 3015 W. Division.
La Voz: How has your art changed after your bout with breast cancer?
CMO: I have never been an artist with a particular title. I believe an artist should not maintain a line of work. An artist must cover the necessity of the idea they have even if it's outside their discipline. I teach design at Escuela de Artes Plásticas but don't use that medium. However, while undergoing treatment, I spent a lot of time in bed. I began to use Photoshop and Illustrator. I began to develop a new phase of work; I designed the book Galactic Visions: The Sketchbook Project of My Cancer Year. I chose the typography, text, format, designed drawings and illustrations.
La Voz: What kind of lessons or interpretations would you like this community to get out of your art?
CMO: I want to expose the crude reality of the disease. The commercialization of the pink ribbon bothers me. It has become more of a fashion statement. It's not really pink; it doesn't speak to the process of the disease. What is being projected by mainstream media about breast cancer is not real. I would like my audience to leave knowing that breast cancer is not only a physical change but an emotional and lifestyle change, and that is in every aspect of life. Friends will change, the food one consumes changes. Doctors, hospitals and treatments become part of your life. The oncological hospital at the Centro Médico in Puerto Rico, Hospital Oncologico Dr. Isaac González Martínez has become a second home to me.I go to the hospital every week. The change is traumatic.
La Voz: What is the significance for you displaying your art here at IPRAC and in this community?
CMO: I'm really excited. The treatment since I have arrived has been incredible. I think it is important to not only show my work as a survivor's journal because it relates to lots of forms of cancer. Galactic Visions is beyond art therapy. It communicates and connects culturally but it also speaks to all women, regardless of their background. The fact that is can be understood by everybody is extremely important to me.
La Voz: Do you have anything to say to our readers of La Voz?
CMO: One of the most important life lessons I have learned is to live life sin prisa. Often times, we find ourselves trying to conquer more and more professionally and materialistically. Those things are not important. Live the moment. Share not only with fellow human beings but with nature, animals and yourself.
Catherine Matos Olivo is a 33-year-old artist who resides in her homeland of Puerto Rico. She received her Bachelor's at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in San Juan, Puerto Rico and her Master's degree from Donau University Krems in Austria. Currently, she works as a professor of arts at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas and Universidad Sagrado Corazón. She has given many private art lessons to individuals, displayed her artwork throughout several municipalities in Puerto Rico and has even worked for the Ferrer Family, owners of El Nuevo Día, a daily periodical in Puerto Rico.