Embellished Bags and Silicone Statements


By Tanya Silverman

El Barrio Bodega. By Nicoletta de la Brown. 2013. Courtesy of Nicoletta de la Brown.

What is rich can show, and be shown, in a variety of different ways. Even the least regarded everyday objects can capture cultural richness–like a disposable black plastic bag from an NYC bodega.

Nicoletta de la Brown grew up in neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Manhattan where these unique local mini-marts serve as integral landmarks. Her childhood experiences toting around purchased bodega “treasures,” like plantain chips or quarter waters, influenced her, as an adult artist, to embroider and embellish the black bags with vibrant floral designs. El Barrio Bodega is her way of celebrating the beauty she sees in these enclaves of city life and immigrant communities.

La Chucha Terranium, meanwhile, works more to challenge elements of her upbringing. She reflects on enforced norms as young girl in Catholic school, where, “your body as a woman doesn’t belong to you. You’re supposed to produce babies, but anything that’s sexual, or even remotely signifies that you are sexually aware or powerful, is frowned upon.”

De la Brown contests the embedded moral dogmas through sculpting orbs that enclose silicone vaginas elegantly accented by gemmed mosses. The project made her blush but also feel empowered.

“It makes me giggle,” she admits, “because it really forced me to push myself with being okay with being a sexual being.”

Rolling the R. By Nicoletta de la Brown. 2013. Foam clay, silicone, latex paint, mineral powder, oil pigments, water-based lubricant, cast iron. Courtesy of Nicoletta de la Brown.

For Rolling the R, de la Brown chose to graphically portray the respective Spanish-language sound. Atop a curved, silver cast iron plate sits by itself a pink silicone tongue, implicitly detached. Its tip curves upward to represent the rolled “r” pronunciation.

“I am a black Latina, which tends to bring up a lot of confusion for other people… in this country about identity,” she says of her Panamanian roots. “In my family, we come in very different shades, but inside we are Latino.”

Currently, de la Brown is enrolled in Maryland Institute College of Art producing films about urban and minority experiences. One in progress focuses on the problems of a young Latino boy growing up around mixed languages; he has trouble communicating, so his misunderstandings become dismissed as “speech delay.” The artist is excited about experimenting with the open-ended opportunities of cinematography.

“Especially as a filmmaking student,” she says, “you really can push the medium and tell stories about things that are very close and personal.”