Through artivism, Rosalia Torres-Weiner amplifies stories of the Hispanic/Latinx community to impact social change

Central Piedmont Community College history mural.

Central Piedmont Community College history mural; credit: Rosalia Torres-Weiner.

Art has always been a source of inspiration for Rosalia Torres-Weiner. Her murals and paintings are known for bold colors that connect her to her Mexican culture. But it is her love and empathy for the Hispanic/Latinx community that compelled her to turn her artistic talents towards activism in a practice she refers to as, artivism.

“I believe that the artist’s role in achieving social justice is to present new perspectives and give voice to others,” says Torres-Weiner. “At its core, artivism is about using my art to tell stories that engage with the community and bring positive change to the world.”

Mural created by artist Rosalia Torres-Weiner.

Image credit: Rosalia Torres-Weiner.

From immigrant to artivist

Growing up in Mexico, Torres-Weiner always wanted to be an artist. After moving to Charlotte, North Carolina, art took a backseat to raising a family. But no matter what she was doing, she used her creative spirit to find unique ways of helping people.

“I had always loved painting, especially painting murals for my children,” recalls Torres-Weiner. “One day, my husband suggested that I could turn it into a business. It started with just murals for my children’s friends, but then it started booming. Suddenly I was working with families and businesses across Charlotte.”

While Torres-Weiner’s commercial art business was taking off, her thoughts became focused on immigration and the Latinx community in Charlotte. “The stories of people, especially children, separated from their families and orphaned by deportations really affected me,” says Torres-Weiner. “I felt compelled to do something. I decided that rather than just commercial art, I would also use my talents to tell the stories of the Latinx community and try to push for immigration rights and reform.”

Combining art and technology

As a mural artist, Torres-Weiner works primarily with paint, but she became increasingly interested in the potential of technology to help tell her stories in enhanced ways.

“My husband is a technology guy, so I’ve always lived at the intersection of art and technology,” says Torres-Weiner. “He and I make a good pair, just like how art and technology can work together to create something bigger. I started to become fascinated by the idea of digital art and incorporating augmented reality elements into my projects.”

In The Dreamers, Torres-Weiner painted a series of portraits that profile young immigrant DREAMers. Viewers can download the Red CalacAR mobile app (Android version here) and tap on a portrait to hear an interview with the DREAMer who inspired the image. For example, a portrait of Javier Juarez incorporates Incan imagery and the mountains of Machu Picchu to illustrate his tale of leaving Peru by himself at the age of 10.

Mural created by artist Rosalia Torres-Weiner.

Image credit: Rosalia Torres-Weiner.

“I love the way that augmented reality allows me to enhance my stories and give even more power to underrepresented voices,” says Torres-Weiner. “I received an email from a teacher in France who was using the app in lessons about immigration. How beautiful is that? That’s the power of technology, to reach people anywhere in the world.”

Bringing a rich history to life

Torres-Weiner was recently selected along with artist and former mentee Felicia Sky Sutton to create a large-scale mural honoring the history of Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte. Located in the college’s new student union, the interactive mural is over 100 feet long and 13 feet tall and includes 20 augmented reality elements that allow students to learn about the history of the university through the eyes of past students — many of whom are also immigrants.

Mural created by artist Rosalia Torres-Weiner.

Image credit: Rosalia Torres-Weiner.

“The theme for the mural is ‘Conquering Possibility’,” explains Torres-Weiner. “The images take students through the history of the college itself, but also highlight the accomplishments of graduates who have found success. Augmented reality allows us to really tell the story behind each student, like a mother from Ghana who crossed the ocean with her baby who grew up and graduated from Central Piedmont. I want to open students’ eyes and tell them, ‘look at what these students before you have done. If they can do it, so can you.’”

One of the biggest challenges was that Central Piedmont requested that the mural not be painted directly on the wall, as they wanted the ability to remove it and reinstall it in another location in the future. Torres-Weiner and Sutton considered painting the mural on large canvases before coming up with the idea of printing it like wallpaper with a vinyl wrap. But that would mean putting down the paint brushes and creating digital art instead.

Mural created by artist Rosalia Torres-Weiner.

Image credit: Rosalia Torres-Weiner.

Torres-Weiner used a grant she received from the Charlotte, North Carolina Arts & Science Council to attend CreativePro Week in Washington, D.C. There, she was introduced to Adobe Creative Cloud.

“I was like a little rabbit shaking in an open field because I didn’t know anything or anyone,” recalls Torres-Weiner. “But everyone was so helpful. I talked to people about what I wanted to do, and that’s when I learned about Adobe Fresco.”

Torres-Weiner started the mural on paper, sketching out portraits and designs. She then brought them into Adobe Fresco on her iPad, using the lasso & transform tools to rearrange her sketches to create a basic outline for the mural. From there she expanded on the sketches before starting to add color and patterns using Adobe Capture. After finalizing the layout in Adobe Photoshop, the mural was ready for printing. Using Photoshop provided an opportunity for Sutton to become a mentor to Rosalia, as she had used Photoshop in her university program.

Mural created by artist Rosalia Torres-Weiner.

Image credit: Rosalia Torres-Weiner.

“Adobe Fresco is my new baby — I’ll never work without it,” says Torres-Weiner. “But color is a huge part of my artwork. That’s why I also love Adobe Capture. I could take original paintings or flowers from my garden and turn them into colors, patterns, and shapes for the mural.”

While Torres-Weiner was the primary artist, she emphasizes that collaboration with Sutton and Central Piedmont was essential to creating the final mural. Shortly after starting the project, Sutton moved to Philadelphia requiring the artists to work remotely. Using Adobe Creative Cloud apps made collaborating much easier, as Torres-Weiner could quickly share drafts and ideas with people anywhere.

Mural created by artist Rosalia Torres-Weiner.

Image credit: Rosalia Torres-Weiner.

“It would have taken me a month and a half to paint the mural in a traditional way, but the digital mural took half the time,” says Torres-Weiner. “Adobe tools enable me to do rapid designs and develop ideas quickly. It makes me feel like a magician.”

Raising the voices of underrepresented communities

Torres-Weiner continues to explore new ways of amplifying voices through art and technology. “Many muralists are male, but I find that my female perspective really resonates with people,” says Torres-Weiner. “I paint mostly women because we are often underrepresented, and it’s my goal to raise those unheard voices as much as possible. I believe that even seemingly small acts can build awareness and momentum toward real change for women and other often-overlooked groups.”

Through the Red Calaca Mobile Art Studio, her 24-foot “Art Truck”, Torres-Weiner brings art to underserved areas in Charlotte. The Mobile Art Studio incudes 10 iPads that she uses to teach children and seniors to express themselves through digital art — thus helping to preserve the stories of generations in the Latinx community.

Children looking at a printer.

Image credit: Rosalia Torres-Weiner.

Torres-Weiner is continuing to explore new avenues for digital art. She has started using Adobe Express to create social media posts featuring her art, while Adobe Aero offers exciting new possibilities for how she can expand on augmented reality experiences. She also worked with her son, Brandon Torres-Weiner to create the short film, The Magic Kite Movie, to accompany an exhibit, The Papalote Project. Created using Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, and Adobe Media Encoder, the movie brings the story of deportations to life through a paper puppet production.

“Discovering Adobe Creative Cloud apps really taught me that you’re never too old to learn new things,” says Torres-Weiner. “Taking chances and making the investment in yourself and your work is definitely worth it.”

See more artivism projects from Rosalia Torres-Weiner at her website, Red Calaca Studio.