Consuelo Perez, May Artist of the Month

Artist of the Month

Introduction provided by Consuelo’s husband, Steven Thomas:
Inspired by the special needs of her daughter, Consuelo Perez, born in Peru reaches back to her indigenous roots to create art using recycled materials. Consuelo creates paintings, collages and garments using the most unexpected, unique and eco-friendly materials. She see her mission like that of Penelope, the wife of the king of Ithaca, Odysseus of Ulysses in Roman mythology.
Penelope waited twenty years for the return of her husband from battle. During which time she devised various strategies to delay re-marrying. One of which was to pretend to be weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus's elderly father claiming she would choose a suitor when finished. But every night for three years she undid part of the shroud.
Consuelo pursues her love to create original art through devotion to her daughter, Tatiana. In the serene quest for Tatiana’s healing Consuelo pours her heart into making art. While her daughter joins various doctor appointments, therapies & tutoring sessions for children with disabilities, Consuelo knits and crochets. Rather than throwing away what most people consider garbage, Consuelo transforms trash into treasure.
Interview with Consuelo by Matt Kaliner
How would you describe what you do?
It’s a mix of different media, mostly crocheting and kneading and painting.   I want to preserve what my daughters have done; preserve all the elements that they have made in their school years.  One of my daughters is special needs, and this can be very challenging.  The art gives us peace.  At the same time, I think she learns by example; I want art to be an asset for her. My art is done with passion, with love with hope, to give peace and calm for myself and my family. 
Coming from Peru, I learned to knit and sew from my grandmother.  This is part of my past.   I try to keep the skills I learned when I was home, and pass them on to my daughters.  I went to medical school in Peru, but when I arrived in Somerville I didn’t speak the language.  One of my first jobs was sewing.  It’s a good skill to fall back on. 
Are there some past projects you’d like to mention in more detail?
I make Trash-to-Art, recycling objects like bottles and cans to make new treasures.  Everything you buy in the store, it’s pre-made – we recycle that.   I’m teaching my daughter some valuable skills and how to make art with cheap or free materials.  I also want her to be conscious about her surroundings and respect our mother earth.  Each project is also a discussion.  When we made the Witch sculpture [featured in the SOS First Look Show at the Somerville Museum], we had a discussion about the history of witches.  We learned so much.  It’s like in Peru, where people connect over art and conversation.  When I showed my art in the first Somerville Trash Bash, I won the first prize!
I also participate in the Somerville Open Studios fashion show, Beyond the Pattern.  We made skirts and necklaces and dresses, and my daughter is the model.  We made a dress out of video tape.  This is very meaningful to us, because that video was a Barney educational video I bought at the Goodwill for my daughter many years ago.  I wanted to her to learn then, and now we reuse the video because they are memories.  

Is there anything new you’re working on? Or an event that’s coming up?
Outside of SOS, I am engaged in advocacy and activism. I am helping my professor Joan Arches of the College of Public and Community Service at Umass-Boston.  We’re working with students from Boston Public Schools, putting together a slide show to talk about gun violence and drug abuse. 
My main activism is for Latino community.  I am helping Latino parents who have similar struggles as me to navigate the system, especially the special needs system.  It took a lot – it was very very difficult to provide services for her.  I had to learn from scratch.  Whatever I have done, it’s not like you can do it.  It was about a lot of participation and learning myself.  I’ve been knocking heads with so many people.  
What got you involved in doing what you do? Is there someone or something that was important in getting you on your way?
My kids!  I have the skills and the imagination and the passion – and it was just waiting for me to come out.  It’s in the blood.  My cousin is a muralist. I have many family artists.  It comes naturally.  But it was my daughters who really instigated it, encouraging me to preserve what they did.  My other daughter does art too.
Why do you do what you do? What’s something you get out of it?
Peace and hope.  I’m not such a trouble maker anymore!  I used to complain to the city all the time.  I am a mother, I’m an advocate, I am a trouble maker and an activist – for workers’ rights and education, but now I am focused on special needs.  The art is an expression – I’m expressing myself. 
I want to be a role model for my own community – the Latino community.  I want to be understood that I was an immigrant, I came here with nothing, and I learned and I am observed and now I am able to help my daughters.  I worked so hard, I suffered racism and prejudice. 
Any thoughts on the local Somerville, or Boston-area creative scene?
I think there is a lot of potential.  But, personally I believe the community that is being left out is the special needs community.  People can be mean.   I hope there are more opportunities for people like my daughter to be socialized and treated fairly.  At the fashion show, one of her friends is coming to model too – maybe from there something new can be born.  This is a skill, navigating this city.