Wanda Luna is a Winnipegger with Chilean roots who lives and breathes art. When she’s not making art, she’s posting or tweeting about art on social media—and she’s not afraid to engage in political debates.
A community-minded artist, Wanda founded The Dream Room Project (La Sala De Los Sueños Inc.) in 2009 with the mandate of transforming kids’ bedrooms into hope-filled spaces with her murals. She works with both children and teens who have experienced trauma and creates murals based on their requests.
Wanda met with me at Café D’Amour on Osborne Street to discuss her art, Winnipeg and her aspirations.
When did you know you were an artist?
As far back as I can remember, I have been decorating or making art. As a child, I’d draw on paper or I’d decorate myself with Christmas lights or whatever medium was around. Even though art has always been important to me, I didn’t start calling myself an artist until 2002. Up until then, I drew all the time, but around 2002 I started to work in particular themes and do research. I also started putting in regular hours at the studio. It became more structured and disciplined.
My first series focused on fat, smoking women. It seems today there’s more tolerance for all shapes and sizes. In 2002, things were different and being fat and smoking were both seen as very vulgar. I thought, “Why? Who cares?” I did large-scale paintings and the women would be lying around with a cigarette and chocolate cake. It was a decadent series and people bought them. One of the paintings ended up in Italy.
You are a proud of your Chilean roots. How does your background influence your art?
It was really important to connect the relationship Canada has with Chile. I thought it was great to create that space for an ongoing dialogue. Next year, Canada and Chile will celebrate their 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations. There are more than 40,000 people of Chilean original living in Canada and Chile and Canada are important trade partners. Canada imports precious metals like gold and silver, fruits, seafood and wine.
I am indigenous to Chile. I’m always exploring indigenous themes in my art. As with Canada, Chile has volatile relationships with indigenous people. In Chile, you were looked on more favourably if you appeared Spanish. In Winnipeg, I have connected with Aboriginal communities and recently gave a talk about making art at Neechi Niche.
Has Winnipeg been good to you?
I wouldn’t have the same opportunity back home. For one, the visual arts aren’t given a lot of regard. They really appreciate their poets and novelists. The poet Pablo Neruda is revered as is the fiction writer Isabel Allende.
We’re seen as pests. My artist friends are busking their art in the streets. It’s a hard living. I have a voice here. That’s what I love about Winnipeg. I can talk about these issues that in Chile I would never be able to address.
What are you currently working on?
I am doing a series on coffee. I am looking at the relationship Canada has with South America. People don’t want to know where their coffee is from. So we don’t really give it a lot of thought. A lot of coffee comes from farms in South America and the people who pick the beans are underpaid and exploited. They’ve probably never had a cup of coffee.
I am creating images that depict what a Chilean farmer looks like. The series features a 12-year-old farmer and the medium is paper collage over disposable paper cups. On top of the human exploitation, the industry is destroying the Andes, which is where I am from. I want the series to get people thinking about where their coffee comes from and generate awareness about fair-trade coffee.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
I would really like to be able to keeping doing what I’m doing. I want to continue to generate interest in Latin America and pay homage to my heritage. I will continue sharing the old stories that my grandfather told me. Many of the pieces I have done featuring indigenous cellos are based on his stories.