Bronx-based Eilen Itzel Mena is an Afro-Dominican-American artist practicing across various mediums including poetry, painting, drawing, installation and performance. Her work begins with poetry or illustration and explores important social realities including nature, race, sex and gender in an African diasporic context. Through various mediums, the artist works around the themes of everyday diasporic actions such as spiritual ritual and artistic actions which have been passed down through many generations.
Speaking to It’s Nice That, Eilen tells us how she creates work to a global context; “I like to highlight many Black communities that aren’t just in the United States… Black American culture has set the standard for major artistic trends throughout the world. However, I am glad that social media platforms exist in order to erase borders and open up channels for the exposure of other cultures and ethnicities”. This is seen in Eilen’s digital drawings which highlight everyday rituals and experiences “throughout the African diaspora that are neutral in nature”, reflecting the artist’s experience of living in several countries throughout her life including the Dominican Republic, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil and New York. However, “being an American woman who has visited and lived abroad, I recognise my privilege of visibility”, explains Eilen. “Traveling has solidified my understanding of being seen in different ways than peers who look like me,” for instance there are “spaces that welcome my presence due to my American nationality”, she says.
“Transformation and healing are important themes in my practice as they mark a shift of consciousness of the mind and body, they are crucial psychological elements embedded within the Black experience”, explains Eilen. The artist demonstrates this in her performance work which acts out mundane rituals repetitively as means of culturally communicating with multiple generations in the past and present. “I emphasise the visceral instead of the rational” and focus on how ‘one learns physically rather than logically’.”
Additionally, Eilen’s digital drawings are vibrantly colourful which “allude to sacred colours in African diasporic religions while being guided by general colour theory principles”. She produces the work spontaneously, using mark making as a way of expressing internal and external conflicts between the work’s subject and the viewer. The over-stimulating and intense mark-making mirrors Eilen’s repressed emotions which are then released through the energetic compositions.
This summer gone, Eilen completed an artist residency program organised by the Slade School of Fine Art and the Camden Arts Centre, exhibiting a collaborative mural painting, A performance and 22 pastel drawings. She felt “really fulfilled by the end of the summer in London” and is currently focusing on an art practice which “reflects the times and lives of people that look like me, and I don’t think that is going to change any time soon”. This month, Eilen is exhibiting the work she developed during the residency at Right Window, San Francisco along with a performance surrounding the mango being a diasporic and exoticised fruit.
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.