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Sophomore artist confronts women’s issues through art

Sophomore Alexia Sambrano is majoring in neuroscience, a field of study that has informed her art as she highlights the anatomy of the female body. (Photo courtesy of Alexia Sambrano)

Alexia Sambrano’s art grapples with a lot. The bold, young artist paints and draws to unpack her views on social issues like mental health, sexuality and femininity using only a canvas and brush.

With assistance from her cousin, Sambrano, a sophomore majoring in neuroscience and cognitive science, first discovered the possibilities of art by drawing anime characters. As she continued developing her craftsmanship, her technique diversified from Japanese-influenced sketches to mediums like oil and acrylic painting. Now, Sambrano’s achievements in her creative technique has led her to present multiple paintings and prints at Divine Femininity, a USC art show curated by senior sociology major RaeAnn Noakes.

This show offered a variety of art by women, especially women of color and people who are part of the LGBTQ community. As Sambrano uses her art to define the intersectionality of her Mexican American culture with her bisexuality, first-generation status and other identities, her interest after discovering Divine Femininity through a friend was immediately piqued. Sambrano was also keen on presenting to a larger audience after having recently gained exposure in sharing art through platforms like Instagram and Etsy this past summer.

The largest painting Sambrano submitted to this event, “Impending Doom,” was a 24×32-inch acrylic canvas that displays a girl falling. Sambrano remarked that people have seen the painting as the girl drowning or falling through the sky, yet her original intent was to relate her emotions during a difficult transition. 

“I had a hard time my junior year [of high school],” Sambrano said. “I kind of felt out of place, like I was falling.”

Two other paintings that were presented, “Sweet” and “Lollipop,” provided a stark thematic contrast for “Impending Doom,” focusing more on specific women’s issues. These pieces are representations of female mouths, and Sambrano noted they have often been seen as “promiscuous” or “sexual.” She explained that female sexuality has often been created for the male gaze, but her pieces try to reclaim the female body away from that. 

“Me painting these pieces depicting women, whether it be with sexual undertones or just presenting them in their natural form. It’s not necessarily sexual — if anything, it’s more about reclaiming power back to our bodies,” Sambrano said. 

This focus on the female body is a common theme throughout Sambrano’s paintings. Although she originally depicted these bodies to express the body type she wanted, her explanations behind these pieces have transformed dramatically alongside her own mental, physical and emotional growth. Now, Sambrano paints these portraits to show women that beauty is not about having the ideal body. 

“You may not be society’s conventional beauty,” Sambrano said. “But you are a beauty within yourself. That is what I would like people to take away from my paintings. Appreciate yourself for who you are.”

Even though personal identity was an especially important component of Sambrano’s art during Divine Femininity, her other work explores a variety of themes and issues that are near to her heart.

One such issue is anxiety. One of Sambrano’s paintings — titled “La Ansiedad,” which translates to “The Anxiety” — depicts her face surrounded by a large collection of eyes. Sambrano noted that the painting can be construed as “chaotic,” but this is intentional in conveying her own complex emotions. 

“There’s a million eyes, there’s hair that kind of looks like Medusa,” Sambrano said. “You feel kind of trapped, and that is how I felt before making that painting and in the process of making that painting.”

As she pursues her majors in neuroscience and cognitive science, Sambrano cited her interest in science as one of her inspirations for her images. Her independent study of other artists and their relationship to neuroanatomy and neuroanatomical figures has helped her envision and improve drawing human figures.

“One thing that really fascinates me is how topics that seem super, super different can be superimposed and are actually a lot more similar than you imagined,” Sambrano said. 

As Sambrano works toward these two majors and an LGBTQ studies minor, she hopes to one day attend graduate school for research or work at a non-profit organization. She wants to research neurodegenerative diseases and mental illness within minority populations in the future. 

In regard to art, Sambrano’s short term goals are to produce enough to help her parents pay for her college education. Currently, she is working on a painting that involves a heart placed on a jean jacket with flowers emerging from it. It’s a piece that continues the intersection of science and art in her life.

“Eventually when it’s done, what I envision is for it to have flowers,” Sambrano said. “For it to be a symbol of not just science and what I’m studying, but also understanding that there is love within.”

Sambrano’s art can be seen on her Instagram and Etsy page @alexiasambranoart.