Honing in on a poignant reassociation, Uzumaki Cepeda is the Dominican contemporary artist transposing past trauma and experience into comforting art pieces. In a journey of dynamic self-reinvention, Cepeda taps into a child-like attentiveness for colours and emotions to create the ultimate safe spaces both physically and beyond.
Hey Uzumaki - welcome to METAL! Within your art you address how comfort and agency are negotiated through objects and space. What would you say is the overarching drive behind your creative vision?
I would say the drive behind my creative vision is definitely, first as an artist, to recreate bad memories I have within myself. Anything that I’ve ever made an installation out of was a trauma or a bad memory, and I refashioned it into a comforting piece of art. I feel like reframing those things with positivity, is one of my drives for my creative vision. My other drive is creating as a first generation American - since my mum is from Dominican Republic, as is my dad and so on and so forth. Just being a Dominican young woman creating art, I feel like that’s revolutionary within itself, [my voice] it’s something which I really appreciate.
The illusive and dream-like style of your work evokes this childlike aura , would you say your childhood has much influence on the art you create today?
Absolutely, me being a kid is where I get all my inspiration from, like the way that colours used to make me feel. I feel like tapping into that energy will keep you young forever in a sense, even though my goal isn’t to be young forever, but I mean it in a way where your spirit and the way you navigate things is. It's always good to have that pure unbothered-ness that kids have.
The name Uzumaki translates to spiral in Japanese, this use of Japanese culture as a muse is also heavily observed within your work. Where is this influence born from?
The influence was born from reading manga whilst I was growing up. I was always obsessed with the name Uzumaki because that meant spiral. I always feel like I'm spiralling whether it’s up or down in my life, so I decided to name myself that as an artist because, why not? But that's definitely where the influence came from, reading manga and watching anime.
One motif which hallmarks a Uzumaki piece is the use of vibrant fur - was this always a textile you wished to incorporate within your work or rather an experimental choice which resulted in eventual habitually?
The way that I stumbled across faux fur was actually a mistake. Six years ago I was painting a big acrylic canvas in this loft where I was living in downtown Los Angeles, I messed it up, and I went downstairs, because I was living in the fabric district at the time, to get some fabric to cover it up or maybe paint over it. I got some faux fur and it ended up being the exact same size, I didn’t measure it but it covered the canvas. When I hung it up , me and my ex-boyfriend were sitting there and he said, this is your next big thing and I agreed, and then the next day I made a faux fur table. So it was a mistake that led to my faux fur work.
Is the choice to use faux fur rather than animal fur within your work an ethical one or, rather, entirely artistic?
I’d rather use faux fur, because it is an ethical choice. Even though I have seen colourful real fur, I just don't feel comfortable incorporating that into my work knowing that not everyone is comfortable with it. Also, even though faux fur is made out of a certain type of plastic, faux fur is easily much more recyclable. With my work, I always use my scraps. I save most of it if it's not damaged - it's a choice that I make. I’m not vegetarian but I just feel like using animal fur with all the stuff that I make would be very brutal - it would be kind of crazy, I don’t want to indulge in that. We’ve got faux fur. It's colourful, let's just stick to that.
As a first-generation American woman of Dominican heritage you are undoubtedly accustomed to navigating unsafe spaces both physically, within everyday life, and metaphysically within policy and law. Would you say this oppression influences the importance of creating havens within your work?
Absolutely - that’s the whole point. Even though people are sick of the word safe space, I was using the word before people burnt it out. It’s a real thing. The whole point of me creating these spaces was to have a safe space to the point where they were a soft space in every way. From physically, like if you fall you're on cushions, to spirituality, like if you're in one of my installations you're in a place where you’re going to be protected and seen and felt. That was the whole point of creating installations, to change the narrative and the art world of not only touching art but being immersed into the art and also to create a safe space for black and brown people and the LGBT community -  for all of us to be included.
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Throughout your creative trajectory, has your relationship with your identity evolved? And if so, is there a noticeable evolution of this within your work?
Yes, of course. My identity has evolved many times. I feel like I'm the type of person that if you look at 2 pictures of me I don't look the same because I love the idea of always reinventing myself.  You can see this evolution within my work when I photograph myself. I'm always trying to top the next thing. I just love the idea of using my body as a canvas, I think recreating myself is fun, I think it is beautiful. It’s a different form of art, my identity has always evolved within myself.
In reflection on 2021, the experience of creatives is split: where some found the time to create and discover direction within their art, others felt the imposing restrictions plagued them with a sense of creative futility - what was your experience of the past year?
2021 was a pretty terrible year for me. It was beautiful in a sense where I had my art gallery and I was able to display my art, other people's art and I had that community space that was a safe space - that was really beautiful. But besides, in my personal life things went to absolute shit, in every way fucking possible, and that’s just me being honest. 2021 was a really bad year for me - to the point where I had so many restrictions career wise, romantically and spirituality. A lot of things just really crumbled up into dust for me and now in 2022 I’m restarting my life. Shoutout to the people who had a good year last year because I had one of the worst years of my life.
With the use of such tactile fabrics, would you say for your art to be fully appreciated it is best consumed interactively?
Yes and no. I love that people enjoy the photos of it and that people get their own vibes but obviously I would want people to come see it in person. But, I don't know, I feel some people fully appreciate it in pictures but I would say both. Honestly, if I had a chance I would love for everybody to see my art in person.
You create set design, furniture and even murals - there seems to be no creative medium left unexplored. With this plethoric catalogue of experience are there any other creative industries or avenues you would like to explore?
Yes, I would love to explore these things at a huge scale, I would love to set design for like a fashion show or make furniture for somewhere like the MoMa. I just really want to take these things and have them blown up, I manifest that and I pray that it works out.
You’ve previously collaborated with Reebok as part of their Sport the Unexpected campaign. Are there any other brands would you like to collaborate with in the future?
Yes, I’ve collaborated with a love of brands including Reebok - that campaign was really cute. I've also collaborated with Nike, Ugg, Stella McCartney and what I really love is , they just came to me openly like, you're an artist do your thing. I would like to collaborate with Prada in the future - that would be really dope or Marc Jacobs, I really love fashion so if there's any way I could be involved in it that would be great.
Looking ahead as we enter 2022, what projects can we expect to see from you?
Y’all are going to see a lot of things that I haven't explored. That’s all I can say , there’s a couple NDAs signed so I can't say anything, but I’m definitely taking this to a bigger platform in every way possible.  I feel like you are going to see more obviously beautiful art, beautiful pictures, beautiful merchandise, everything. I’m really just going to step everything up a notch,  I know this year is going to be better than last year for sure.
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