So my name is Jade Leyva and I am a visual artist. I have been living in the United States for about sixteen years. I am originally from Mexico City. I was born and raised there, and lived throughout different areas in Mexico growing up. And yeah I create a lot of artwork, locally, and I also have a project that includes, for about three years I have been working with the community creating awareness about the environment and different things by creating murals and seeds in community. Yeah, we have been working on that for three years and we have created almost ten murals with people.
Well, it actually started about four years ago. I started collecting seeds around the place where I live because the place is very arid so it doesn’t have very much water. So I wanted to collect local seeds that could actually have a garden that doesn’t require that much water. So I started collecting seeds and created a pretty sweet, humble, but sweet seed bank from local drought teller and plants. A friend of mine found out what I was doing and she started mentioning all these things about, if I was aware of GMO’s and I have never heard of that before and I went to research. GMO actually means Genetically Modified Organisms, which means that seeds are being modified from their natural state into other things; to be more prolific pesticide resistant. So I started learning all this stuff and I told my husband, he actually has a nonprofit organization, he works with a lot of community stuff as well. He is one of the directors of Globalquerque! It’s a beautiful event that promotes cross cultural understanding of the arts and music. So I asked him if his organization would partner with me and do and exhibition that was designed to raise awareness about seeds. I put a call out to artists on Facebook and I got an incredible response. I just wanted to have 30 artists. We ended up with 61 of them. We had people all the way from Paris, Mexico City, all over the United States sent us a piece. It was just one piece per artist. It was beautiful. We did the opening at contemporary downtown gallery and we partnered with. It resulted to be an amazing multi-media piece. Poets did poetry for the exhibition. It was really great and it kind of ended there.
My husband told me that he had an available space in Globalquerque that same year, this is 2013. He said I have this space available for community work there. Do you think you can do something with seeds there? And help me give out seeds for three sisters. We could actually help people learn how to plant them. And I started thinking about what I do as a community project that everyone can be a part of. And that took a lot of thought. But actually what we did, I remember seed murals in Mexico City. In the little towns around Morelos, near Cuernavaca, there is this one town, a lot of little communities make seed murals every year to decorate their churches, atriums, or like their streets even. They do posada like parties for Christmas and they decorate the streets with beautiful saw dust and seed art every year. Every year they take it down and next year they create a new one. It could be one piece. So I created a board, a pretty heavy board.
It was six feet by three in a half. I just designed this beautiful it was like a deer and butterflies, I did corn beans and squash on the bottom of it and all this stuff. So I just did that piece their and actually the project just sort of evolved on itself. That day I got approached by like twenty different teachers and they said, “we love this project, can you come to our school?” And so I decided… I just said YES without even asking or thinking of the logistics of it. So I said just said ok, yeah, I think I can, sure. So they emailed me and that’s is where the community seed mural project got started. I started designing other things and I started designing other sections. I started designing other sections and it was really great because that same piece that I did in the beginning grew. I did another one that connected to it and then another one that connected to that other one. Now there was three pieces and then it ended up being a pretty big mural. It was 12 by 8 feet high. I visited several schools. It took four months to complete this one. I continued to have demand in people inviting me. I said it was something I wasn’t quitting in because it is something that the community loves.
When I was funding all this, friends of mine were volunteering their time to help me with the design and also come and paint here at the house. They helped me paint the boards or whatever. It was just a lot of community effort that went on and money too because the seeds are an expense and the materials. A friend of mine she does mosaic work, and she creates it with this material that is like insulation material that you use for the wall. My husband actually was so kind to help me with the first mural, carrying it everywhere, load it in the car and everything. But it was a big effort to move it around especially when I didn’t have anyone to help me. So anyway, I started making it with this other material and I said this is so light and I can do it all the time and I could do it myself without no problem, so I started doing them. The second mural we starting making it in this material which makes it a lot lighter and it’s pretty sturdy too. So yeah right now we have it kind of sort of by itself, it evolved by itself into an environmental project. We started choosing themes for every mural.
So we had, we did combinations of Tonantzin and Guadalupe, which is an earth deity which the Aztecs believed before the Spanish got to Mexico and Guadalupe which is after. And we just combined the two, but they also believed that after she appeared they all still believed that she is still Tonatzin, Mother Earth. We did a mural and she is actually holding corn and trying to raise awareness to show how corn is a very ancient crop and how it is crucial in many cultures in Native America and Latin America. We also started documenting native families in Mexico to help people understand how the history of corn and how the treatment of corn has been changed so much in modern day. It is being modified and it is being treated as a crop that is just something to make money. In a lot of areas especially where I come from it is actually worshipped as a God, we believe we come from it. All these things, every one of the murals means a different thing. We try to keep it all education and we don’t go into the actual political side of things. So anyways, we are trying to keep it more education than political because we actually encountered things that we understood that this was a big money, like the seed world is like a thing, globally, like the food world and corporations is powerful. I decided to make it as a way of not attacking corporations, like a lot of people do.
I decided to just tell people about solutions, so we would go into schools and we would say, “What would be a solution to be able to avoid pesticides being sprayed on plants?” Well, maybe promoting people eating organic food is a good way because when people put their money it creates a demand for that and creates a solution. Even though it is more expensive we also think it is a good solution and start promoting, this is a little bit before I am talking about three years ago. Now we are seeing a large movement but back then there was very, very little. There was many people working in preservation and stuff like that but I think, for us, we saw, like after this project started coming up, a ripple effect in the community and we saw, not new, but people were creating awareness. We are proud to say that we are one of the first people that did that not that long ago. To see how much it has evolved, by now we have visited, by the end of the month it is going to be 95 locations we’ve been to and three years of really heavy work and even a women that designed one of the bees for the bee mural, she asked me, “I am moving to New Zealand” and she asked “do you mind if I do this kind of work there?” And I said no go for it. The more people that go for it the better because it is another form of education, but at the same time there is this vivid thing that you don’t even have to say and I think it has to do with what seeds are, they are the source of life and I think that people without knowing or even thinking about it there is something in seeds that open up your heart and it’s because they hold life.
It has been a wonderful ride. One of the murals that you photographed today is actually nine different sections. That was the first one, I started expanding most of it sometimes myself, with friends . This particular one I was approached by many people that told me I want to be a part of this project. I could see it in their face they wanted to design one. So I cut nine different hexagons and gave them to different artists and I just told them, just do a bee. There was a color rule for them so that they would fit together in the installation, but I just I took them to two different areas in the community. One of them actually at the Escuela De Sol, She created and filled the seeds in the event. We gave out educational material on how we are so connected to bees, like profoundly connected to them. One of the reasons we decided to do this is because we found a lot of unawareness and people don’t understand that when spraying their lawns that it is actually a very bad thing, the bees are declining very quickly and people think it is a mystery. It is not a mystery at all. It is because of people. It is adding up. People want to kill the bad pests but they are there. We gave out a lot of information, educational materials, tips, things to do, not to do, how to help them humbly at home in their house and garden. Also we gave out seeds that were local to New Mexico and gave them to people, encouraged them to plant them in their garden. A flower is like a bee mix. Hopefully they are planting that and doing that. By now those flowers are already growing because we gave those seeds last year.
We have been funding the project for a while now, a year and a half. My husband told me, “Jade this project is totally grant worthy.” I told him that I don’t have that kind of mind to tell you the truth. I am just a painter and visual artist. My husband has that kind of mind. He worked together with other people to write a grant to a charitable foundation and we got a partial grant for the project and we were able to buy a lot of material, I mean it is just a huge help. It really, really, really helped and so we feel very proud that we were able to get a grant from them and also that they saw this project and that it was worth funding. I have been putting hundreds of hours of my time into it but one the things about it is that I don’t pay myself. I don’t get paid for this work because I understood that we need more people in the world that do things that help the environment because we are in a tipping point and we don’t know where we are. I think that we need more people, not sacrifice, but at least put, create more time to bring awareness and say this is what is happening. Working towards solutions in what we can do in our place because it is from everybody because it is not only from government and big corporations, it comes from every individual from all of us. So, if we change all those things that we do like recalling. One of the things that I think, is that we are actually, through this project, I found out that most things if you trace them back you could trace them back to a seed. Your own self your own being because we all eat as well. We need seeds just for regular life and so it is really interesting that the whole learning experience that has been going on that not only with the community side of it because you know working with people you get some that don’t get it at all. They work on the mural they walk away and they just saw that it was a kid’s activity. It’s really cool for the ones that do get. I am actually “gladder” when I run into people that don’t get it because they walk away and you made them curious and that hopefully will inspire them to search.
One of the things with the murals is we try to always make it an educational experience. Just because the goal of the project is not just creating this beautiful murals with all these people and accomplish the idea on how slow is also good in this world of quick, everything needs to be right now, this particular second because the world is heading that way. Because working on a project that has that level of learning and for kids it is an interesting thing because like I said everything has to be so fast. The more “we evolve” and as time goes by we think that things need to be quicker. Even food, like fast food, you see it everywhere, the whole culture aspect of it. But this particular thing is not only about learning about environmental solutions but also learning that slow is good also. One of the things I experience going to schools a lot of the times I do the educational part of it. So if I am doing and educational piece on forests I gear it and it is totally relaxed. A lot of the time kids can sense and you can sense them too. So I go in and sense the group. Sometimes they are shy and sometimes they are really open. Sometimes they are not open to talk and we just go to work. It is always a different experience.
Most of the time I have been invited to schools. School has always been by invitation. Teachers just say, “Oh can you come into our classroom?” And so, I just go in and bring my materials and I have always been so grateful. One of the areas is the South Valley. Maybe I feel connected because I am from Mexico and the Mexican community is pretty high and it is a really nice place. I worked in many different schools in Santa Fe, went to many places there, also in Albuquerque. Different public events. All kinds of demographics, I try to include everybody because I think that food and the future of food is not like only for one particular group, we all need to understand you know, especially in the South Valley the kids are pretty conscious because a lot of their parents are farmers or they have been farmers. Right now there is this big organic movement there right now, so I think these Mexican kids are pretty aware. I never rejected any schools by invitation because I think that everywhere I get invited I go to, but we always try to include an educational element. I always open up with a little speech and we speak a little bit about the project. What’s a seed and then they snooze. They tell you all these stuff. A lot of them are like amazing, super aware. I learned a lot from kids myself. There are things that I had no ideas, like holistic ways of taking care of pests. This one girl she was amazing oh yeah you could use this, you can use kelp or ladybugs, just things like that. It has been quite the ride.
I grew up in Mexico City and I was born there. My mother is a painter and my step dad was a painter too, so they were both artists. A lot of family members were also inclined to different multicultural things and artistic things. And also growing up in Mexico, we went to a lot of museums. My mother would take up out to the archaeological sites and went to areas where art was all over. I always did something my mom would give us the supplies. Before I moved here I worked for a really prestigious art gallery. They carried Frida Kahlo’s work and Diego Rivera’s work, and major renaissance paintings from the 18 and early 19 century painters, all of them deceased. It was a really cool gallery but when I moved to the U.S. it was like starting from scratch as a waitress in the family business and I met my mentor serving on table. My mentor Bill he came in as a client with a friend. I spoke broken English back then. He said you should come to my house, you got see what I have. I am glad that I listened. I found out he was a full time artist and had all these friends that had learned art from him. He had an amazing house that had any kind of supply you could think of. He was a potter and painter. I started hanging out at his house with him and his friends and started learning all these restorations. Fast forward to nine years I experimented trying to find my own voice. He moved to New Mexico, that is how I ended up here. A lot of people told me you should move to New Mexico there it is such an artistic place to be in. What are you doing in Arizona?
A lot of instability around immigration started to happen in Arizona and I started experience a lot of things with people there. I was treated a certain way and I was told things and I wasn’t that comfortable anymore. There was checkpoints within the city and everything. My legal status was not right at the time. I have to say I am not ashamed, it is just what happened to me, it’s just not easy. And yeah I moved to New Mexico and my mentor took me under his wing. You could live in my house and cook for me. You could clean the house in exchange. Half of my time I was always painting and trying to find my stuff and finally I found my own voice here. After two years that I arrived to New Mexico I was just inspired by everything, this place is so awesome. I think one of the things why I felt at home is because it is so similar to Mexico. Certain parts of Mexico look just like New Mexico. The architecture, so I felt really at home here and kind of flourished from the beginning I just started painting and doing my own style which is called magical realism a form of Latin America literature and metaphor.
I started painting and it became something that I could do. People started buying my work right away and I didn’t wait on tables anymore and I started doing my own work and met my husband shortly after that. Actually, we met because of work because I did the image for Globalquerque. We got married. We live in the same neighborhood. He is also in the arts. It was really easy to flourish with him too. We helped each other to flourish. I help him and he helps me too, so we both help each other. I have been doing it full time, since I have been doing art when I met my mentor, it has been seventeen years, no sorry, sixteen years. But like trying to do it fulltime, for nine, now I have been a full time artist for eight, just not doing anything else. My mentor passed away three years ago and I started doing the seeds project right after he passed away. I actually took care of him when he was sick. That first exhibition that we did I was organizing while I was taking care of him. This project it kept me really sane because I really loved him as a friend he was a really good person, amazing guy. Completely different from me. He was a Texan. He was a true cowboy. Complete different background then mine. He spoke Spanish because he grew up working in his uncle farm working with Mexicans, but he was Anglo. He was a really cool guy.
One of the things that I really like about New Mexico is how many different cultures are here. The one that I like the best is the Native community. The native vibrant scene that exists here. Even though I wish I spend more time coming to the dances and the pueblo, I think that is what I like more, the culture, the native cultures, the ancient side of new Mexico, what came like way before, but one of the things that I think is great about it too is that you have the Hispanic community now and the Anglo community, and there is way more. You have so many different demographics that live here and that is one of the things that you don’t see anywhere else in the U.S. and I have been to a lot of places. There are so many cultures mixed together and that inspires me. One of the things is that people are very open, I like that people are open hearted to learn and be more connected to cultures from different cultures from outside New Mexico to learn from that.
The bad side the actual challenges… I think it is too much of a little town. There is so much creativity happening here, from what I have witnessed. I wished people were more open in collaborating with each other. I think it is so small that people feel threatened. Maybe I am guilty of it too, I don’t know, I just do my thing without thinking about other stuff. So when people are collaborating with me and I see they are going to slow, slow me down I just have to continue going because I have so much other stuff that I have to do too. I do my painting, I have to do my living, I am always open to collaborating with people. One of the things, I can see sometimes as far as how many people live here and how many cultural creatives live here. I think it is a little bit hard, people make it too hard, and they make it too difficult to be creative sometimes. When you have to go through 20 pieces of paperwork I just don’t do it, I would rather do it on my own, going through the bureaucracy part of it. There have been some places that haven’t been like that at all, but when I run into those things I just go around and just do it on my own. Just a little more open and I think it is just because there are too many creatives, too little opportunity. I think it’s good to just do your best. Even though that exists, I think it is still a free place to do whatever you want. I think if you take it and just run with it and succeed, not accepted, but like your projects or whatever you do will be well received by the community. That has been my experience don’t know, have ran into several situations where I have been like oh my god. It’s just a hard situation , things just work out the way they should work out.
That is such a good question because coming from my perspective, I am in the creative realm here. One of the things I have to say something I watch from afar is, what I see lot of the organizations support a lot of the same people are always doing the bigger things. I just don’t know how or why or how that is. Public or Private funding what, it’s sometimes I see the same artists doing like 10 different things. I think it is a little limited in that way. I don’t know if that is a lot of people you interviewed agree with. I think it’s a little limited, I see that lot of the same people are managing everything.
Something that I have to say. My kind of mind works a certain way in one of the things is like you just give me you know just a little bit and go with it and run with it and make it go a long, long way. I think that is one of the things that has happened. I proposed to them if they would like to bring all the murals together in their space, immediately, “oh yeah, oh my god” because we have been going to events there that they have invited us to, a pretty cool event it happens every month, Salud y Sabor, so I went there so many times, and a lot of the murals I brought them in their and so they saw our projects for the past couple years, since Salud and Sabor started and I think they started in fall or winter 2014 and so I started going, and sometimes I can’t and sometimes I could. And they said oh sure let’s do it here because their space is so beautiful. I would rather have in their space (National Hispanic Cultural Center) then in a museum. This is an educational project. It is not only a visual beautiful stunning thing, it is an educational project that you design but raise awareness to the environment and subjects and the educational is into it and so we are very happy to have that support. I just don’t know that is the only thing I have collaborated with them that’s the only thing I have done with them besides helping my husband with Globalquerque. But I am really happy to see where it goes, I feel this was my duty, bring these murals together at some point because that was a question I was always getting from people, “where are these going to go?” I didn’t have an answer until about a couple months ago but I couldn’t say, I promise I will bring them together at some point so I am doing all of the heavy lifting like moving them, building the frames, bringing them all together, but I am glad, totally, I could not think of anything better that I could be doing at this point of my life then giving myself to the community this way because it is definitely worth it even though your back hurts you know, there is always this stuff that happens with working so hard but it is always a good thing. I think I am going to be very emotional during the opening because it is like three years’ worth of my time to just be able to bring these murals together getting them installed and people enjoying them with people that participated. I actually recorded emails of people with the project and I invited them. I just sent out emails saying, “Hey come on out,” because not everyone gave me their emails they are going to miss out, I am hoping through the grapevine people will see but a lot of people did and those people said yeah I want to know. Just putting them in the dusty patio they look amazing, could you imagine in the right setting all set up. They are going to look great.
That one (bee mural), I am donating it to this beautiful space that I trust is going to be one of the coolest visitor centers that is going to exist in Albuquerque. I believe that Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge is the only with an urban citing limit in the U.S. and it is really cool. It is beautiful. When I have done events there and we were walking in the Bosque I saw a red bird, it was not a cardinal, I have no idea what it was, but that was my sign. These guys are doing the right thing and they preserve the area and they are going to build a huge visitor center so I am donating the honeycomb mural. They are going to take it. The Tonatzin/Guadalupe mural, the educational department in the NHCC. I feel that one should be there, not only NHCC the Guadalupe image made of seeds, but one of the things they also do a lot of things that are multicultural as well. Cross cultural understanding the reason I am donating that piece. Her home just feels like the right thing. I have currently installed in the South Valley economic center, it is going to be installed there permanently I am just going to give it to them and it looks great in their space. I think it is such a beautiful mural and I have had a lot of people tell me that have seen it which means that it should be there, people want it. We have one of the forest, right now I am taking to the open space in Coors from Bernalillo County. They have a gallery space, a learning area, very environmentally minded people that work there. A friend of mine when I started the project started volunteering a lot of her time. I can donate it and they are talking about it and it will probably go there. Every piece they are going to find their own. I am going to advertise during the installation so we are going to have like four murals we need to find homes for. I am sure, they are all going to be sold from September 9th from 5:30pm to 7:30pm is going to be the opening and it is going to be in the evening of September 9th and they are going to be up for a month (Sept. 9th to Oct. 9th) of this year. I hope that the more people put the word in for us if they can. The more people, we are going to have educational materials that we are going to be giving away during the entire month that people can take with them and review them and see. Hopefully we can teach some more people. Seeds Murals Reception at the NHCC