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Wednesday, April 17
The Indiana Daily Student

arts

Grad student celebrates Carnival Dominicano through ceramics

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Michelle Solorzano, an IU graduate student in her third year studying ceramics, stood at her workshop table in IU’s Studio Arts Annex. Inside, it was quiet. On the walls around her hung drawings of flowers, trees and other objects that inspire her.  

She is pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts in ceramics from the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture and Design at IU. Most of her days are spent molding and shaping clay for either her own artistic expression or teaching classes — her two passions.  

Solorzano immigrated to the U.S. from Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, with her sister and mother when she was 14. Both of her parents worked as doctors in the Dominican Republic and continued their professions in the U.S.a. Solorzano said they wanted to give her and her sister a chance at a better education.  

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A sketch of Solorzano’s thesis project for her graduate program hangs in her workshop on Oct. 2, 2023. Solorzano strives to channel vivid colors into her artwork.

To teenage Solorzano, the English language sounded like gibberish and the culture, food and climate was a jarring adjustment. While in high school, she would always be the one to make posters for group projects because she constantly wanted to create, no matter what it was.  

Initially, Solorzano thought she’d take after her parents and become a doctor. In the Dominican Republic, she said, artisan careers are rarely pursued.  

It wasn’t until her sophomore year at State University of New York Potsdam, a college in Potsdam, NY, that she began experimenting with the craft of ceramics. For the first time, she realized art didn’t have to be just a hobby she loved — it could be her career. Ever since, she has developed her artistic style and found a love for teaching. 

After graduating from undergrad she went back to the city she grew up in and taught art classes at Washington Heights Elementary School for two years. However, over time the city life was becoming overwhelming and she wanted to reach towards a masters in order to teach higher level courses.  

Now, as a graduate student at IU, she has continued her teaching and artistic endeavors. She said the schedule is busy, but that it continues to motivate her to keep creating. 

“I feel like everytime I’m teaching, it inspires me.” she said.  

Solorzano explained she finds joy in seeing her students succeed in their creative endeavors.  

Emily Grimaldi, an IU senior studying media marketing and studio art, took a class with Solorzano when she was a junior. Her and Solorzano bonded over jewelry making and have since gifted each other pairs of earrings.  

“She would encourage us to step out of our comfort zone.” Grimaldi said.  

Grimaldi also explained Solorzano cultivated a feeling of community within her classroom by giving constructive criticism and positive feedback to her students.  

“It was nice to see that she cared about how much we got out of the class.” she said.  

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Michelle Solorzano’s workshop is pictured in the IU Arts Annex on Sept. 4, 2023. Solorzano was heavily influenced by the culture of the Dominican Republic, where she was born.



IU professor Tim Mather shared Grimwaldi’s appreciation of Solorzano’s work. Mather has been teaching in the ceramics department for 31 years and said Solorzano stood out to him because of the positive energy she exudes toward her work. 

“She has been a valuable, positive contributor to our ceramic program,” he said.  

Mather said Solorzano has refined her style during her time in the program. He said every graduate has their own style of art and Solorzano has been able to develop her style to connect to her culture, specifically to the biggest celebration that happens in the Dominican Republic every year.  

Solorzano’s ceramic creations focus on The Carnival in the Dominican Republic, or Carnaval Dominicano. The carnival is a parade through the streets of various cities in the Dominican Republic. People dress up in costumes to mimic the devil and mock evil spirits. The costumes are composed of bright colors and traditionally involve a mask covering the entirety of a person's head.  

Solorzano’s thesis project for her graduate program features five masks, each representing the economy of her hometown, Santo Domingo, with the goal of nodding to the traditional costumes worn in the carnival. Each of the masks signifies the different influences of her home country’s economic systems. They will be connected by a metal pipe going through the side of each other in order to hold them together at the same level horizontally.  

The centerpiece represents tourism, the main source of income for the Dominican Republic. The other pieces signify different agricultural products such as cacao, sugar cane, coffee beans and plantains that are traded and exported as another source of income.  

Each mask holds importance because the history of each economic industry connects to the history of the Domincian Republic as a whole, Solorzano said. Her main interest with this art piece lies in representing her culture — including the origin of slavery and how it affected her country. So far, the piece is molded, shaped and has been hardened in the kiln. Next, she’ll paint it with the colors she is brainstorming with on a diagram hung up on her wall.  

Solorzano said a lot of work went into formulating this idea and, with her teaching job, the life of an artist can be very busy. She said her desire to create is heightened by her calling to be an artist. She also said expression can take forms in many ways, ceramics being one she hadn’t found out about until later in her life.  

“I encourage people to keep their creativity alive, in whatever form that might be.” Solorzano said. 

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