Unlike many students who will be graduating from college this spring with no idea what comes next, 22-year-old Othiana Roffiel already has a job lined up.
The young painter and art historian was born in Mexico City and enrolled in the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in 2009. Petite and pretty with dark hair and dark eyes, Roffiel has a quiet smile and gives serious thought to questions about her art and goals for the future.
“I have a job lined up as a teacher's assistant at my old school. I am thrilled about it,” she said. “But my long-term goal is to create a community center for the arts where people from low-income families can express themselves through the creative process.”
Roffiel has interned in renowned institutions like Estudio Urquiza, an important photography studio in Mexico City as well as the Telfair Museums in Savannah. She is a promising artist who uses a brush to express her profound interest in the human body. She was chosen as artist of the year and exhibited her work in the American School Foundation’s 2008 Art Fair. She has been awarded several recognitions and prizes including SCAD's Nancy N. Lewis Endowed Scholarship in 2011.
In addition, Roffiel is currently working as coordinator for SCAD’s Service Opportunities for Students, where she provides opportunities for SCAD students to volunteer in artistic activities with children from low-income families.
“I'm in charge of a program called “Kids Cafe”, she said. “I work with America's Second Harvest at several after-school programs. Second Harvest is a non-profit food bank whose mission is to end hunger but they also work with centers where kids can go to eat and participate in after-school activities. Our goal there is to use art as a form of therapy but also to promote important life values through diverse art projects.”
Looking at her family background, it is easy to see why Roffiel was drawn to the arts.
“My dad is a film producer in Mexico City,” she said. “My mother is an event director and exhibition manager for an association for companies in the graphic arts industry. So, in a way, they are both involved in the arts.”
Even though figure painting is her passion, she also enjoyed her work as a curator's assistant at the Telfair museum.
“Even though I love making art I also love learning about it. Sometimes I feel torn between the two,” Roffiel said. “At the Telfair, I enjoyed researching and writing biographies for the photographers featured in their “Fresh Focus” Contemporary Photography exhibit.”
Roffiel says she will miss Savannah's unique ambiance when she returns home this summer.
“Living in downtown Savannah is like living in a bubble in time,” she said. “I love it here and I don't feel like I'm living in the US. Since I don't have a car, the only Savannah I know is the one where my feet will take me.”
In discussing her art, Roffiel said it is an attempt to communicate who she is.
“Solitary female figures become the protagonists of my paintings,” she said. “I have my own motives for creating but once I put my art out there, I'm happy if people use their own experiences to interpret the piece. If I guide viewers too much, then the magic is lost.”
Last fall Roffiel used a class assignment to create an alternative media piece entitled “Beautiful Masks” inspired by a collection of essays by Mexican writer Octavio Paz.
“In his work “The Labyrinth Of Solitude,” Paz explores why modern Mexicans behave the way they do today and he examines how the past has molded the modern Mexican,” Roffiel said.
For her own installation project, Roffiel enlisted the help of six Mexican women living in Savannah- three SCAD students and three other women who work in downtown Savannah. Each woman was given the opportunity to describe what it means to be a Mexican living so far from home. Their comments were displayed randomly along with stark black and white photos of the participants. Roffiel said, “everything is randomly placed, in a mixture of stories that are many but that also could be only one.” Each of the women was also given a t-shirt imprinted with this quote on the back: “My duality has become my most beautiful mask- I am a proud woman of the world.”
“My goal was to allow each of these women to express themselves anonymously but honestly and I think some of their comments were rather surprising,” Roffiel said. “We all became good friends as a result of the project and I'm currently giving English lessons to some of the ladies who participated. It’s been a beautiful experience, they are amazing women.”
Two examples of their comments:
“They don't listen to my culture. I need someone who listens to my culture. They want my personality but not my culture.”
“When we interact with other Mexicans we live inside this dogma, but the beauty of having American friendships is they don´t know that, so you can decide to be someone else.”
Like any other young adult just starting out in life, Othiana Roffiel has plenty of unanswered questions about her own future, but this talented artist has demonstrated a remarkable willingness to explore all of her interests and abilities.
You can see other examples of her art at www.OthianaRoffiel.com