Name: Tanya Torres
Roots: Puerto Rican
Where do you live? El Barrio, NYC
Occupation: Artist, and college instructor
What are some of the causes you support? I am not really a part of any organized group, but as an artist, I try to support good causes in general – the cures for cancer and aids, and peace, are of particular importance to me.
As a survivor of cancer and a stem cell transplant, what is your opinion on stem cell research? I believe in science. Years ago, I would have died. But science has advanced enough to offer me the opportunity to be here and do the things I need to do, like care for my son and share with people my experience as a cancer survivor. Stem cells have the potential to save lives. I believe stem cell research is extremely important and should be allowed and funded.
Why is art important to you? I have been an artist since I was four years old, but art became really important when I became sick. At that time, art was the only resource I had for facing cancer. Through art I was able to overcome it. In moments of intense fear and anxiety, I painted and made books, or illustrated books, or wrote poems. Without these tools, I don’t think I could have been calm enough to survive.
What is your favorite method of expressing yourself? I love painting. I always knew I wanted to paint, but I did not have good teachers and so, I thought I couldn’t do it. One day, about a year before I found out I had cancer, I started and finished an oil painting. I gave up on listening to people’s opinions about my artwork and really allowed myself to play. But then I stopped again. After I found out I had cancer and had gone through the first treatment, I had other health problems caused by the chemotherapy depressing my immune system. Out of frustration and sadness, I started painting again. This time, I started feeling how the colors filled the emptiness and pain with joy, and I kept on doing more paintings. A few months later, I found out the cancer had returned, and I started a new painting called, The Four Daughters of Eve, which tells about the origins of humanity. I left it unfinished when I left to the hospital for the transplant. I didn’t know if I would finish it, but I did. It reminds me of survival — mine, and that of humans. Being able to finish that painting gave me great strength and joy, and I think my body responded to that desire to live and feel that way.
Which artists/writers have been an inspiration to you? Women artists in general, but Frida Kahlo was my real teacher. I studied her paintings and her life, and her style as a self-taught artist was an inspiration to abandon my doubts about painting. Also, as a child, I used to read and reread a poem by Julia de Burgos that my mother had put on the wall of the dining room. I am also inspired every day by the poetry and work of friends like Yarisa Colón, Raquel Z. Rivera, Verónica de Nadie, Prisionera, Sheila Candelario, and others without whom I could not have developed as an artist and writer.
Tell us about the Children Without a Nationality project: The idea came about when I told a friend that I was going to exhibit the Battle Body pieces in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. She told me that she had recently found out that children born of Haitian parents in the Dominican Republic do not have the right to Dominican citizenship and live in the worst conditions. She had gone there to bring help and gifts to the children. Because my project deals with my experience with cancer, and I teach voluntary workshops as part of that project, I thought I would teach one for the children in Batey Palmarejo. My friend put me in touch with the women of Batey, and a lot of people sent money or volunteered to make it possible to bring the children art supplies and snacks. On August 12, a group of volunteers and I went to Batey to have a big, beautiful, and fun workshop. We gave watercolors to more than 250 children of different ages and they all painted. Many painted their flag -the Dominican flag.
What do you love about NYC? New York is the only place in the world where I feel free. I don’t need a car, I can dress any way I like, and have culture all over. I love that about New York.
What you hate? Cold!
Plans for the future: I would like to travel with my artwork and teach people about how creativity can improve their lives. It is important for me to tell my story, because I will always be grateful to the people who offered theirs when I faced fear and death. I know how important it is to know people do survive and that you too can survive. Above all, I want to see my son grow, continue to create art, and always remember the lessons learned by sharing and practicing them.
To see some of Tanya’s work go to her website: www.tanyatorres.com