An Ocala artist uses sculpture to start conversations about our collective strength as a community.
The sculptures she creates are crafted from cold, hard steel. But they’re not all straight edges, angles and points—her geometrically aesthetic, vividly painted artworks are inspired by themes of hope, heritage and Mother Nature.
For artist Carmen Rojas Gines, the strength of the medium represents the strength of humanity. But look a little closer, and you’ll see that both the art and the artist also have a softer side.
“All my sculptures are based on different experiences of a human being,” Rojas Gines said. “I’m a mother. I’m a wife. I’m a daughter. I’m a friend and I’m part of this community. And I came to this community with my culture, with my thoughts to help, to work with anybody who wants to be positive for society.”
She explained that she uses introspection to find inspiration from within. What she calls her “best days” are spent in her studio, cranking up the heavy metal music, suiting up in a welding hood and gloves and turning up the heat, but she also sees art as a community endeavor with the power to bring people together.
“We are in this community together,” Rojas Gines said. “We need to talk, to start conversation and keep conversing about the idea that we are here to work together. Art is a way to communicate. We can start a conversation through looking at a piece, and then we can share our thoughts. So, it’s a way to meet and learn from the community.”
Currently, she is working on a series of 12 sculptures titled, “She Warrior.”
“Each one symbolizes something for me,” Rojas Gines said. “That’s the reason for this series. It’s to communicate something about the strength of the woman. In my family, there were women who are very strong and tough and they had to raise their families in different conditions. So, I want to communicate that force, that strength especially, through this series. The inspiration came from the women who raised me.”
Originally from Puerto Rico, Rojas Gines moved to Ocala 17 years ago with her husband and two children. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art education and worked for more than two decades as an art teacher, most recently at St. John Lutheran School.
Her sculptures have been exhibited locally at Marion Cultural Alliance, throughout Central Florida, and across the U.S. and Canada, including the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture in Chicago. She said her most exciting exhibition experience was the 2018, “La Diaspora: Keepers of Heritage” exhibition at the Appleton Museum of Art because she had the honor to show her sculpture alongside artwork created by her former teacher and mentor from Puerto Rico, Pablo Rubio.
“It was an emotional moment because having your mentor, your professor from college, exhibiting with someone who was a former student is so exciting,” she recalled. “It was the best day of my life in the professional area.”
In 2022, Rojas Gines joined the new Arts in Health Ocala Metro as an artist practitioner, where one of her most rewarding projects has been facilitating art sessions with pediatric rehabilitation patients.
“They can feel it’s something very special,” she said with a smile. “And then they see the outcome. You can see the change of their face, seeing that they are part of something very important. They are part of a community.”
Rojas Gines leads a new arts and crafts class for adults, held on Friday mornings at Arts in Health Ocala Metro. She said the class is bringing together people of all ages, from diverse backgrounds, who are connecting in conversation while they enjoy the therapeutic process of creating art.
“I’m very, very enthusiastic about that project because it’s open for all adults,” she said. “It’s been the best experience.”
Her newest project is updating her welding studio in northeast Ocala to add stations for several students. In January 2024, she plans to open up the studio for classes in welding and sculpture for adults at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.
Find out more about the artist and her work at carmenrojasgines.com.