The act of storytelling is not something new, nor is it a new interest for artists, and so what becomes interesting is how different artists tell their stories in artistic languages that somehow surprise the viewer. Espousing both the internal and notions of daily life, Mabelin Castellanos 'paints' vignettes and little stories not using the tools of a painter, instead she uses the tools of a fiber artist. Carefully crafting line, depth, and perspective, she launches into many stories to quiet the chaos of modernity and asks the viewer to just be with her work and read through the often optimism and teaching moments she finds in life.
A few years ago The British Museum hosted an exhibition of storytelling through art, tracing through world history where art has served as the pictorial language to document our existence, our presence on this planet—from 30,000 year old wall paintings in Africa, to friezes in and around the East and beyond—highlighting our need to remember how we live and, frankly, that we have lived, that we have been here and still are; the same need can be found in the works of Castellanos. One example, Passing by The Flowering Tree (2016), shows a moment where nature becomes the distraction, honing in on a universal need to pay attention to, be responsible for, and find healing through nature and our co-existence within this world, overflowing with the possibility of not only a healthy environment but also the need we all have to use nature as the entity to save us from both chaos and extinction. Beach Picnic (2017) presents a scene we are all familiar with, but leaves us out, somehow implying that we were there, but are no longer. Is this a moment where, maybe, the subjects are off frolicking in the sea, and now, because we are not sitting under that umbrella, nature as seen in the small bird is able to infiltrate 'our space' and take what crumbs for sustenance due to our infiltrating nature's space, changing not only the landscape, but also damaging it? Is this piece serving as a guide, or even evidence of, what we carelessly do to nature in the pursuit of our happiness?
Inarguably, it is the questions that Castellanos' works stimulate from the viewer that render her a storyteller. Her stories serve as reminders of what we do, what surrounds us, and leads us to decipher her meaning akin to the way ancient friezes on temples document feasts, daily activities, and where we fit into this world. Castellanos’ works further suggest that not only is she telling stories, but offering the viewer an opportunity to learn, and more importantly, to just be. Castellanos invites the viewer to become and accept our ontology of being-ness, that we are here, and this is what we do. Because her stories are stark and void of distraction, insisting that we focus on what she wants us to hone in on—because these are pretty much all universals—Castellanos, like Plato, Homer, and their contemporaries across time, presents works that can be likened to heroic poems, following the path of her 'every' person through life. As these poems often glorified and warned, so too can one ascribe this characteristic to Castellanos, establishing her as a 21st Century heroic story-teller through fiber.
Statement by Melanie Prapopoulos
Curation by Andrea Román