In the beginning of the American singer-songwriter Khalid’s latest video, Softest Touch, he walks down the stairs towards the sofa and sits down, before turning on the TV. Just thinking about the scene is enough to give us that feeling of comfort. But in this case, it’s different; the whole set – the stairs, the sofa and even the back of the remote – are made of faux fur, Uzumaki Cepeda’s faux fur.
Based in New York and equally contributing to the art scene in Los Angeles, Uzumaki has dedicated her years' long practice to building safe spaces for marginalised people. Her installations feel like paintings, or the dreams of a teenager who seeks to be in their own world away from ‘nagging parents’. “I started as a painter, mainly with watercolours, then ceramics and photography – whichever medium I choose, the work all comes from the same place of imagination,” she tells us.
Inspired by her Dominican heritage – through her experience living in the Dominican Republic as a child and among the diaspora in New York – her installations are essentially rooms that feel like home. “I started incorporating faux fur when I had moved out into a community-based space. I was living in a loft with 10 other people, I saw how everybody interacted with the faux fur furniture I made and knew I had something,” she says. Her work has now grown into floor-to-ceiling spaces for people to relax, meet, muse and use as a place for projects to grow. That’s why Uzumaki’s work is never truly done, finite or complete. She has to see how people feel in the space and all the possibilities it provokes for the future. “It really depends on the energy,” she tells us. “It’s never just about finishing the physical piece, it’s so much more.”
With an approach to art making that is seeped in intention, nothing goes unconsidered for Uzumaki. “It’s very deliberate. The objects, the pieces, the furniture are all referencing the people in my life,” she says. “My main aim is for people to bring their own narratives and conversations to the spaces.” Uzumaki has dedicated herself to the process of studying what makes people comfortable. Now, she boasts a process that has brought in communities all over New York and even in Japan, and seen her commissioned by the likes of Refinery29 and the Craft & Folk Museum, Los Angeles. “I feel like the work I do is bigger than me, that’s why I always try to keep a universal consciousness in my work. I’ve seen people who don’t even like wearing faux fur fall in love with the rooms and being in them, that’s special.”
And so, with a practice that initially struck us as a near impossible feat – in concept and grandeur – Uzumaki has made it sound all so simple, so long as you stay close to the roots of your craft and community. With plans to return back to Los Angeles and open up her Uzumaki Gallery space for the second time out there, she is taking all the things she’s learned and the spirit of all the people that have graced her spaces. As for how she’ll approach the bigger and broader avenues ahead, she says: “It’s all about tapping into what you know and feel. If I’m making a room that will reflect Dominican or Caribbean culture, what chair am I going to make? A rocking chair. Sometimes it’s really that simple.”
Uzumaki Cepeda: Teenage Room, Refinery29, 29 Rooms: Expand Your Reality (Copyright © Uzumaki Cepeda, 2019)
About the Author
Yaya (they/them) is a staff writer at It's Nice That, with a particular interest in Black visual culture. They have previously written for publications such as WePresent, and worked as researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.