Ep. 13: Tanya Aguiñiga

Mexican and American artist/designer/maker/activist Tanya Aguiñiga shares what it was like growing up in Tijuana and crossing the US border every day to attend school in the US, how an accidental haircut during her troubled teenage years got her kicked out of the house, and how a dedicated mentor gave her the encouragement she needed to become an artist. She also recounts a few crazy stories featuring a clown, a bull and an eagle. Listen:

A young Tanya riding a horse.

A young Tanya riding a horse.

Growing up crossing the border every day to go to school in the United States was a critical part of Tanya's childhood, and informs a lot of her current art and design work. The isolation and frustrations—from violence to secrecy—that were a part of this daily process, gave Tanya a unique identity that wasn't quite 100% Mexican or American... her cultural identity remained in a confusing place that resembled purgatory. Her artwork became an outlet that set her free: listen to the episode above to hear more about how she channeled her emotions and experiences and carved out a space for herself and her family.

The Aguiñiga family

The Aguiñiga family

Tanya stands at the border wall. Photo by Gina Clyne Photography.

Tanya stands at the border wall. Photo by Gina Clyne Photography.

Tanya's most recent project, AMBOS, is a border activation with the goal to unite the community of people who cross the US/Mexico border every day through art. The project's first major activation just ended and she talks about the unexpected effect that it had on her and her family.

Tanya's rope jewelry, wall hangings and fiber housewares

Tanya's rope jewelry, wall hangings and fiber housewares

Tanya is most well known for her use of textiles in both home decor and jewelry. From textile-wrapped chairs to knit bowls to fringed wall-hangings and rope bracelets, Tanya is a pioneer of the contemporary fiber art movement.  In the episode she talks about how she studied with Mexican craftspeople to identify her life's calling.

Support (left) and Tierra (right), 2014, Volume Gallery

Support (left) and Tierra (right), 2014, Volume Gallery

SHEvening, 2015, Merryspace in Los Angeles

SHEvening, 2015, Merryspace in Los Angeles

Tanya's exploration of textiles in home decor and jewelry expanded into artwork and gallery installations, such as the ones pictured above. Not only does she create functional objects, but she also makes artistic sculptures that convey personal and universal statements about gender, identity and craft. 

Tanya and her AMBOS team members tying quipu knots at the border market. Photo by Gina Clyne Photography.

Tanya and her AMBOS team members tying quipu knots at the border market. Photo by Gina Clyne Photography.

As mentioned above, her AMBOS border art project was designed to unite the commuters crossing the US/Mexico border. The project involved many projects including pirate radio stations, photography, documentaries, and her personal project—creating quipu using knots made by the community. Listen and find out more about the road to making this fascinating project come alive.

The AMBOS banner with quipu knots. Photo by Gina Clyne Photography.

The AMBOS banner with quipu knots. Photo by Gina Clyne Photography.

AMBOS interacted with those who were crossing the border to tie a colorful knot that culminated in a series of colorful quipu community art project. Photos by Gina Clyne Photography.

AMBOS interacted with those who were crossing the border to tie a colorful knot that culminated in a series of colorful quipu community art project. Photos by Gina Clyne Photography.

In addition to her work, Tanya talked to us about life in Mexico (i.e., how Americans perceived it and its reality), her family's interesting backstory that included neighborhood marriages and hopping border fences, as well as her early years hustling for candy and the family's pet eagle (say what!?).

Photo by Gina Clyne Photography.

Photo by Gina Clyne Photography.

For more of Tanya's work, visit tanyaaguiniga.com and follow her on Instagram

To learn more about the AMBOS border art project, visit ambosproject.org.

You can also view Tanya's artwork or hear her speak at one of the following upcoming talks and exhibitions:

  • "Textiles: The Sense of Touch" (group show) August 27 - October 8, 2016, Lyndon House Arts Foundation, Athens, GA
  • Artist talk/lecture: September 15, Lyndon House Arts Foundation, Athens, GA
  • "Conglomerate Objects" (group show) September 12 - October 18, 2016 The Chan Gallery of the Pomona College, Claremont, CA
  • Panel discussion: October 15, American Craft Council Conference: Present Tense, Omaha, NE
  • Panel discussion: October 17, Design Sponge: In the Company of Women book tour, Los Angeles, CA
  • Artist talk/lecture: November 17: "What it means to be an ally" Temple Contemporary at Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia, PA

Thanks to our sponsor RISD for supporting this episode of Clever.

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Special thanks to Chris Modl of Yore Studio for editing this episode.
Music in this episode courtesy of El Ten Eleven—hear more on Bandcamp.
Shoutout to Jenny Rask for designing the Clever logo.