The first time I ever held a conversation with Maite Nazario, 16, she was brimming with knowledge as she spoke about her passion of creating art. Maite, a senior at Chattahoochee High School, is a self-taught artist who uses acrylic and watercolor as well as mixed media to tell the story of immigration in the U.S.
This summer, Maite worked as a member of the Teen Team at the High Museum. “Can I take your photo,” she asked me one day after a workshop about how to make ‘zines. She took photos of at least 15 of us and then created drawings from them for her own ‘zine.
We bonded over the picture of Frida Kahlo on the back of her phone case, and then we connected on Instagram. When I saw Maite’s art, I saw the similarities, the influence. I’d never seen anyone’s acrylic painting make something look so realistic. I know from Frida’s work there are a million messages about her life in it and she poured herself into her art — and that’s what Maite does. She makes art for herself and the things she stands for. We don’t get much exposure to artists when they’re young, but seeing talented teens and hearing their stories is inspiring.
“I moved here three years ago from Puerto Rico. I was originally born in Guatemala and after living there for about nine years, it got a bit dangerous for us to keep living there. My family and I then moved to Puerto Rico because my dad is Puerto Rican. Then we moved to America and I had to not only learn English but also adjust myself to the culture.
“I identify myself as a Latina woman, but I am not purely Guatemalan and Puerto Rican. I have grown up around both and I love them both equally. For me to be able to be an outsider has influenced me a lot. Moving to the United States has changed me in multiple ways. Being able to experience the culture of another place has also played a role in my art.
On why she started painting
“My biggest inspiration is Frida Kahlo because of her mentality and the way that she lived her life. She did not care much for other people’s opinion, and she was passionate about everything that she did. She paints because she feels it. She is a pure spirit.
“If I could bring any artist back to life, it would be the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz. She was a black and Hispanic woman who was already seen as one of the most oppressed people in the general society. Everything that she does is in your face, and she does not care. I love people [who] do not care and live their lives as purely as possible.
Telling the story of the immigrant perspective
“In general, if you are looking for a common motif in my work, you would see that a lot of it reflects on my culture. The colors that I have been around for my entire life, such as nature, is in a lot of my paintings.
“I am also doing a series based around my culture on the topic of immigration. Through my work, I want to tell the story of the immigrant’s perspective, because a lot of times you only hear about how the people living within a certain country feel towards immigrants. The series will show why people immigrate, the struggles that come along with moving, and what positive outcomes can come from it.
“I use a lot of acrylic paint because I think it is the best paint ever. I have a really hard time using oil. I also do a lot of mixed-media work, such as collages and tiny installations inside of boxes.
The High Museum Teen Team effect
“Being on the Teen Team has honestly made me a better artist because I am constantly surrounded by other artists. The professionals [people who work at the High Museum and teens who have been involved in the past] who come in for workshops have all instructed us on what art truly means. They have helped me to dismiss the common sayings when people want to pursue art, such as: ‘You won’t make any money’ and other statements that make you question yourself. The Teen Team has given me so much exposure to people who are also passionate about art. It has made me a more confident artist.”
Sharah, 18, pictures their ideal night out as a walk on the beach to the bottom of the ocean.
All images of Maite’s art in this story are provided courtesy of the artist. See more of Maite’s work at her website.
You can see Maite and other members of the Teen Team at the High Museum’s Teen Night, Saturday, Aug. 13.