Faces and flowers
This artist celebrates her heritage with joyful artworks.
With supersaturated colors and a touch of whimsy, the faces and flowers featured in Gabi Zuniga’s artwork effervesce with vibrancy. And it’s easy to see why when you meet the artist—she exudes joy and is enthusiastic about creating art, connecting with the local art community and celebrating women of color.
“I am very excited to be here,” said Zuniga, currently a resident artist at the Magnolia Art Xchange (MAX). “I’m very glad that there is this sudden art scene, and I want to put in my work to help it flourish and help it continue.”
After graduating from Lecanto High’s School of the Arts and earning a bachelor of fine arts degree in illustration from Ringling College of Art + Design in Sarasota, Zuniga returned home to Citrus County, where she discovered a thriving arts scene in nearby Ocala.
“Ten years ago, there wasn’t so much here,” said the 28-year-old, who works as a freelance graphic designer and is the Saturday gallery host for Marion Cultural Alliance. “And now there are all these young artists, there’s all this energy, there are all these art events happening. It’s been really nice to have a community of young artists to be around.”
Zuniga’s first solo art show, “Hello Again: An Artwork Garden Experience,” will feature acrylic paintings created during the first several months of her MAX residency.
“I use a lot of flowers in my artwork,” she said. “I use flowers to represent the different seasons of life. I use flowers to represent flourishing and blooming and thriving, and I also use them to represent rest and hibernation and calm. Sometimes flowers wilt, sometimes flowers dry up, sometimes buds close, and sometimes things happen in life where it’s not all sunshine and roses and happiness.”
Zuniga said MAX board member Darian Mosley Wesolokowski gave her the idea to host a flower-making workshop and enlist art enthusiasts to help her create daffodils, peonies and tulips for the paper flower garden installation that will add a three-dimensional element to her exhibition.
“I had about 10 people, and my mom was my assistant,” she said. “We worked together to teach everyone to make these kinds of flowers. It was really fun, and it was very gratifying to design a thing based on my inspiration and based off of what I’ve learned from others. I designed my own tutorials and recorded a video. It’s on YouTube, and it’s all on my website. You can customize the color, the shape of the leaves and the length and size of the flower. The best part was watching people—by the end of the four-hour workshop, they were doing their own thing, they were playing around, they were exploring. That was the coolest part.”
Zuniga said her mom is an artist who “loves pottery” and her dad “is a really good artist” who taught her to draw. She is the granddaughter of immigrants from Haiti and Chile and said her grandparents influenced her work ethic. She remembers that, as a young person, she didn’t see much art that reflected her own experience.
“I started making the artwork I wanted to see growing up in a very rural area as a woman of color, growing up as the only brown person in a room 80% of the time,” said Zuniga, who was recently named community manager for African American Graphic Designers (AAGD). “AAGD is a collective of Black creative professionals with a focus on fostering community, and it’s totally changed my career.
“There is a need to consciously put effort into experiencing diverse voices in the art world,” she continued. “I wanted my artwork to feel like if a Black woman or a woman of color came up to it, she saw herself in that painting. I didn’t see a lot of representation like that growing up, so I am putting it out there. It’s not from a place of negativity; it’s more from a place of positivity. It’s meant to be empowering, and everybody is welcome.”
The opening reception for “Hello Again: An Artwork Garden Experience” will be held Saturday, Feb. 3, at 5 p.m. at Magnolia Art Xchange, 531 NE First Ave. For more information about the artist, visit thestudiogab.com.