Mabel Valdiviezo, Mother and Daughter #1, image via Mabel Valdiviezo

Peruvian Mom and Daughter Tell Stories of Immigration and Womanhood Through Art

When Mabel Valdiviezo returned to Perú after living as an undocumented immigrant in California for sixteen years, it was art that brought her closer to her mother, Bila Flores. For the first time they will showcase their work in the exhibit Mothers and Daughters in Art: The Prodigal Daughter and the Healing Mother. The exhibit will be running until September 9th at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts.

Curated by Indira Urrutia, the exhibit brings to light the multi-generational immigrant stories of Mabel, her mother, and grandmother while raising awareness to Mabel’s documentary film-in-progress Prodigal Daughter. The film will show her reconciliation with her family after the sixteen years of separation. I spoke with Mabel about the mixed-media mother-daughter collaboration.

Bila Flores, Nazca Lines Triptych #3, image via Mabel Valdiviezo. Description: At the center of this image is the figure of a monkey and a hummingbird behind them are mountains. Around the edges of the painting there is a vase, a bowl, a stone sculpture, textiles, and plants.

Angy Rivera: How did this exhibit come to be?

Mabel Valdiviezo: While filming Prodigal Daughter last year, my mother and I painted together on her table. It was the first time we had done that. We were living these parallel art lives, her in Perú and me in the United States. I filmed and she painted and right there on the table came this idea of having an exhibit. My mother had never visited the United States before. These are a lot of firsts for us. There is something really special and intuitive about our lived experiences where we bring together three generations: mine, hers, and my grandmother’s.

AR: How has the process of putting this exhibit together been for you?

MV: The process has brought us closer together and has helped me see my family through a different lense. I’ve realized my mother and I have a lot in common. We are both okay with the unknown and open to taking risks. We have gotten to know each other as mother and daughter but also as artists. It has been very interesting. My mom started making art at 60 years old and she is 71 now. She draws a lot of inspiration from the sacred Peruvian sites Nazca and Machu Picchu and her experiences as a migrant in Perú. She was really excited about the idea of having a joint exhibit. We wanted to express ourselves in an intimate way through visual arts. This exhibit is really intimate for me because I am showcasing all the journals I’ve accumulated through the years, family photographs, and other pieces I never thought I would share. Our art talks about having a split family and split identities. We weren’t sure what the exhibit would be about in the beginning and ended up making art that visually spoke to Latinas, immigrant women, and their families.

AR: Why explore the topic of immigration and womanhood?

MV: There is a lot of symbolism behind this exhibit. I came to the United States by myself on a tourist visa at the age of 25 and became undocumented after I overstayed. I was escaping a lot of political upheaval and violence in Perú and wanted to advance as an artist. Classism, racism, elitism, and patriarchy worked together to keep women like me down. I am outspoken and felt like an outcast in Perú. By leaving I thought I could find freedom of expression and truly be free. It wasn’t easy being an undocumented immigrant in California without physical familial support. Out of necessity, I was a stripper for a few years and art, especially journaling, kept me grounded. As I became older and battled cancer, art healed my spirit and helped me return to Perú after so many years. It was crucial for me to center immigration in this exhibit because immigrants are silenced and excluded from many artistic spaces. Immigrants across the United States are sharing our own stories and adding our faces to current narratives around immigrant rights and family reunification efforts. This mother-daughter collaboration is an important addition to the spectrum of immigrant experiences.

AR: What do you hope people take away from the exhibit?

MV: I hope people take away a new or deeper understanding of immigration, displacement, and our lived realities as immigrants. This exhibit is different because the art is coming directly from us and that doesn’t happen often. I was even surprised the gallery was so welcoming because I was expecting push back! I also hope to challenge the notion that art is only reserved for those who have studied techniques and can only be observed in elite spaces. Our art doesn’t need approval from anyone. Art is subjective. We are all born with the capacity to make art. We are the artists of our lives. Society places barriers on our art and creativity. Art brings us closer to ourselves and taps into our vulnerability. We are much more similar than we think, if we just listen and learn from each other. The exhibit includes many forms of mixed media art and I will be facilitating an art journaling and healing workshop. Participants will explore present emotional pain and buried feelings through collage techniques and releasing. I hope people open themselves up to it. It can be scary to face yourself through art but definitely worthwhile.

Header image via Mabel Valdiviezo.

Queens, New York City

Angy Paola Rivera is a Colombian immigrant living in New York City. She is a core member at the New York State Youth Leadership Council, an undocumented youth-led organization fighting for immigrant justice through leadership development and community organizing. She created Ask Angy, an undocumented immigrant advice column. In 2012 Rivera met documentary maker Mikaela Shwer who filmed her and her family for the film entitled No Le Digas A Nadie (Don't Tell Anyone). The Peabody award winning documentary, which aired on PBS as part of their POV series in 2015, navigates the difficult reality and double silence Rivera experienced as an undocumented immigrant and survivor of sexual assault. Rivera graduated with her bachelor's degree from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

is a Colombian immigrant and an expert side-eye giver.

Read more about

Join the Conversation