Nayda A. Cuevas uses art as an outlet for healing and expression



In her Fierce Latinas collection, Cuevas counteracts stereotypes of Latina women by painting a wide variety of people, reflecting the diversity within the Latino community.

A dancer or a painter, an observer or an activist, an aesthete or a healer. The essence of an artist can manifest into countless forms, making it one of the most versatile and encompassing characterizations a person can have. Doodle on the corner of your classwork, and you’re an artist. Trace the shape of a flower in the sand with your toes, and you’re an artist. Paint portraits combating hyper-sexualized categorizations of Latina women with the hashtag “Fierce Latina”—well, you’re Nayda Cuevas, and you’re most certainly an artist.

Since she was a young girl in Puerto Rico, Boston-based artist Nayda Cuevas has always observed everything from color and texture to the way autumn leaves look on the ground. Through her time studying art at Stetson University and into adulthood now, Cuevas has maintained the eye of a creative.

“When I look at somebody, I’m not just looking at them blankly. I’m looking at their facial structure, their eyes,” Cuevas said.

Cuevas is an interdisciplinary artist, or an artist who chooses the medium according to the subject they are trying to portray.

“Not everything, not every theme, can be presented via a painting,” Cuevas said. “The theme calls for the medium.”

In Cuevas’s case, the theme is not always a joyful one.

Cuevas said she draws inspiration from her life experiences, such as being a Latina woman in this country—an experience that has at times been overshadowed by discrimination.

“Whether it was racism or encountering different prejudices along the way in my life, I found that if they stay in my body, they’re toxic,” Cuevas said.

Nayda A. Cuevas, pictured above, uses art to provoke thought and reflect her Latina identity. (CONTRIBUTED BY NAYDA A. CUEVAS)

This form of coping through art is especially important when it comes to dealing with national tragedies. When the massacre at the Pulse nightclub happened in Orlando in 2016, Cuevas turned to art as a way to process it.

“I felt drawn to paint those 49 victims. And that, I have to say, emotionally, it was the hardest thing to paint. I am slowing down the process of looking at an image of somebody who had just died,” Cuevas said.

Yet Cuevas said making art is a way of processing; in her case, it answers the difficult questions we all grapple with in the aftermath of horrific events like the Orlando shooting.
“How, as an individual, can my voice be heard? I was so horrified and upset that such a thing had happened. And I’m just one person,” Cuevas said. “How can I, as an individual person, continue to raise awareness?”

The answer is not an easy one, nor is it the same for every person. But for Cuevas, she finds release in the same craft that her younger self discovered a love for in Puerto Rico all those years ago.

“I found that painting or creating art was a way of releasing all those negative things, all those toxic things that just needed to be transmuted into something else,” Cuevas said.

Whether it be to cope with a tragedy, embrace her identity, or simply paint a portrait of her and her son, Cuevas said she keeps the making of art for herself.

“There are a lot of artists that say they can’t get rid of their art,” Cuevas said. “I am not attached to my artwork, other than just having had the process, the experience of releasing all that energy and feeling accomplished within that body of work. After that, it’s no longer for me—it’s for the viewer.”