‘Divine Babeland’: lnside the studios of Latina illustrators

The Vitória Régia water lily is the largest water lily and can only be found in the depths of the Brazilian Amazon.

Legend has it they carry the spirit of Naia, a girl who saw the moon’s reflection in the river and drowned trying to touch it. To honor her love, the moon transformed her into the water lily.

Tatiana Suarez, half Brazilian and half Salvadoran, remembers her mom recounting this myth as a young girl. The feminine spirit still inspires her ethereal paintings of doe-eyed sirens.

Art has been a part of Suarez’s life for as long as she can remember. But it wasn’t until 2009 when Miami artist Typoe encouraged her to paint a wall at the RC Cola Plant in Wynwood during a visit from New York. Many brushstrokes and a week later, she completed her first mural for Primary Flight: A voluptuous fairy nymph with a flamingo wrapped around her nimble torso.

“Flying to Miami was nostalgic,” says Suarez. “A lot of my work is inspired by nature. Miami is so lush, it’s magic.”

Since then, she’s moved back to Miami full time. Today she lives in a light-filled Little Havana home, framed by magenta bougainvillea. Her studio space is a divine babeland, filled with spray cans, curvaceous female figures, and those signature mischievous feline eyes. Lana del Rey plays in the background.

Now her murals are scattered throughout Wynwood, and have inspired a new generation of local Latina artists, like Amliv Sotomayor, a Hialeah-based illustrator.

Sotomayor learned about Suarez from browsing the internet and just walking throughout Wynwood. The feminine mystique immediately caught her attention.

“My role model growing up was Tatiana,” says Sotomayor. “That kicked me into thinking, you can do that, you can be out there you can be a voice for women and a voice for yourself. Share your art.”

Last weekend, Sotomayor joined Suarez and five other artists in Las Ilustres, a Butter Gallery exhibit featuring local female artists. Like most careers, the artist community is dominated by men, making it difficult to find strong female artists to look up to. And Miami’s inherent Latino culture can sometimes breed an air of machismo.

“I’m stoked to meet these girls, because my experience painting murals with other females is you form a sisterhood and everyone supports each other,” says Suarez.

Sotomayor began drawing as a young girl growing up in Regla, Cuba. She would draw horses and mermaids constantly. But in 1997, at 9, her family won “el bombo” (a Cuban visa lottery) and they moved to Hialeah. Her creative drive lulled as she began acclimating to a new life and a new language.

“I couldn’t talk to people,” says Sotomayor. “It was a shock to my system. I was failing at everything, but I learned because I needed to get it. How else will I talk to people? When you have that drive you can do anything that you put your mind to.”

Once Sotomayor entered Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School, her inspiration returned.

“I started drawing obsessively again in high school,” she says. “Everybody that would see me would be like, ‘Oh it’s that weird girl who’s drawing around the school’.”

Sotomayor wanted to be a mortician, but decided to take her appreciation for the body into a more artistic medium. Today, she spends time getting to know the models she illustrates. As a result, her portraits carry their essence.

One piece, “El Laberinto de las Entranas” profiles a young woman lost in thought, transporting you to the vulnerable labyrinth of her mind.

“I get to know these women,” says Sotomayor. “I think it’s important to make that connection between you and the other human, especially women.”

All of her subjects are women, occasionally accompanied by an animal, sometimes in bondage. During our interview, she rocked a Frida Kahlo t-shirt, one of her artist idols.

“Being a woman is so powerful, it’s so sexy,” she says. “I’m so star struck to be part of this show.”

“Las Ilustres”
Saturday, August 13 through Friday, September 9 at Butter Gallery, 2930 NW Seventh Ave., Miami; 305-303-6254; buttergallery.com