www.ambiente.us  DECEMBER | DICIEMBRE 2008

Artist Cesar Winston Vera Brings Light Into the Darkest Places
By JC Alvarez

We've all found ourselves faced with
serious adversity; we’re certainly
living one of the most difficult times in
recent recorded history.  Life is often
riddled with curve balls and
challenges and when you least
expect it, the floor drops out from
under you.  You’re left standing and
confronted with a multitude of
choices to make.  What do I do next?  
How can I continue forward?  Who
can I trust?  None can relate more
than any one of the millions of men,
women and children living with or
affected by HIV or AIDS in America

Theirs the most serious cross to bear.  

Even in a day and age where the AIDS crisis has subsided somewhat into the background of the social
consciousness, and HIV is now most commonly diagnosed as a “treatable disease”, individuals still often find
themselves stigmatized in society.  Instantly a sense of isolation whether out of shame or fear of being judge,
especially among those individuals newly infected, creeps into the subconscious mind and threatens to take
over.  It’s just one of the prejudices still left to conquer in our culture.

It was into the very recesses of the human psyche that an artist found deep resolute and inspiration…enough
to tell stories that many had found themselves struggling to keep to themselves.

Artist Cesar Winston Vera has gone further and explored the resonance of the subconscious and brought to
light the narratives of these struggles in his artwork with a compelling collection of pieces, all part of the
exhibit: “The Undercover Cross”.

Born and raised in Westchester, the upstate New York suburb did little to curb his Latino upbringing – his
family is from Ecuador, and although Vera was born here, he’s relied on his Latino background to ground him
firmly to his faith, humor and most of all his resilience.  Vera relates to his Latin culture much the same way
that we all do – it was (and is) an ever-present aspect of his life that will always have an influence on him and
how he expresses himself.  And it may well have been what pushed Vera into this ambitious and profound
inspirational set of pieces…

JC:        Does your culture relate (itself) into your artwork?

CWV:        Absolutely!  I think it relates into practically everything I do.  The way I work, the way I live, the way I
love!  And it’s something I really can’t separate from.  Even my palette…when I paint…some people might look
at my art and say…WOW! It might be deemed tragic or dark…I don’t see it that way.  I see it as real!  But maybe
it’s just “real” to my culture; to another culture it might be too dark.

JC:        We’re so heavily influenced by our
culture; it’s music and our environments…

CWV:        Sure…when I’m going through
something, I paint.  When I paint, I listen to
music…it could be La Lupe, Siouxsie and the
Banshees…to me it’s a passion and an
eruption of emotions that have to leave me
and go onto the canvas.  And then I’m free
of it.

JC:        Did you always draw and paint and
work within this media?

CWV:        I've always been drawing…always
sketching…I got into fashion for a minute.  I
loved working with fabric…it just seemed
more pliable, more on-hands…it can be more
dimensional.  I worked for a designer, her
name was Vera Neuman – she’s a textile
designer.  She actually gave Perry Ellis his first
line; he was a buyer for her.  But I didn't like the
industry too much.  It really wasn't my thing.  
I felt more emotional.  I really wanted to do
what I feel.  I didn't feel very strategic about
my art, and that’s (fashion design) very
strategic art – you need a marketing plan.

Which is why Vera chose to pursue a project that was much closer to his heart and certainly one that was full
of emotion.  He partnered with California based artist J.S. Ingram and challenged them selves to bring to light
the stories of those individuals often relegated to living in their own solitude.  It’s one thing to live in a country
with so many conflicting ideologies and prejudices, but imagine feeling what it’s like to live with a disease as
complicated and isolating as HIV and AIDS.

Through the multi-media project “The Undercover Cross”, Vera and Ingram gave a voice to those individuals
and instead of suppressing those stories, they've brought them front and center and given them an
emotionally charged and inspiring new life.

JC:        There’s a stigma related to living with HIV/AIDS…

CWV:        I don’t know to many people living with HIV who are out at their workplace, but almost everyone I
know who has diabetes acknowledges they are a diabetic.

JC:        And using it to their advantage…

CWV:        Exactly!  While people that are positive are taking vacation and personal days – keeping things
below the radar.  So we decided to get that perspective.  We interviewed a good selection of people – people
who were positive, who were negative.  This isn’t a disease that is solely the individual’s.  When you have a
disease that you can’t share too much, the individual feels they have to carry that cross all by themselves.

Hence the title and them of the series and the documentary that accompanied the project.  “The Undercover
Cross” presented the realities of individuals of all walks of life with Vera interpreting onto the canvas the
seemingly unending palettes of the human spirit and struggles of those living with HIV/AIDS.  Vera was bent
on capturing the pure and raw emotion of the individual her was profiling, whether it is reflective, mournful or
erotic – he fearlessly approached each piece with an unparallel amount of compassion and honesty.

It is clearly evident in his choice of palette: whether fiery red, or deep, supple browns, to subtle blues – the
mixed media environments on canvas evoke an understanding and deeper thought that should be necessary
in exploring this theme.  Some would associate AIDS with tragedy, death or dying – Vera evokes introspection,
freedoms and even love with this collection.  The images are haunting and real and deliberately so.

CWV:        When it comes to art, I like for the artist to relay a message…and obviously and hopefully the
medium they are using is going to convey – or the content is going to support the message.  I don’t like art that’
s too easily read – I prefer for the artist and the viewer to come to their own conclusions.  So I try not to make it
too simple.  My perspective may be HIV/AIDS, but someone else’s may be breast cancer…any kind of cross
they may be bearing, that they felt they couldn’t share.

But mostly, Cesar Winston Vera wants his audience to feel enlightened and not fearful, especially about
something that ultimately none of us has any control over.  What Vera depicts on his canvas is everyone’s
experience – it is the human experience and at it’s core compassion is the ultimate healer.

For more on the artist goto:
www.cwvera.com also www.undercovercross.com for a more detailed look at the
exhibit and background of “The Undercover Cross”.

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