Four female sculptors four regions four med

 By Phillip Zonkel


Not exactly conventional sculpting materials, but they’re the media of choice for four Latin-American female artists Margarita Checa, Isabel de Obaldia, Susana Espinosa and Patricia Waisburd whose work is on display at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach.

“A Woman’s Touch,” opening Saturday, examines how these artists sculpture the human figure in a variety of forms and work with materials not traditionally associated with sculpture.

The exhibit, three years in the making, is the museum’s first to feature female sculptors. The four women represent the four regions that make up Latin América; Checa is from Perú (South América), de Obaldia is from Panamá (Central América), Espinosa is from Puerto Rico (the Caribbean) and Waisburd is from México (North América).

“Traditionally, Latín American women were not recognized as artists and were denied the opportunity to work with “materials such as bronze or marble,” says MoLAA director Gregorio Luke. “Their creativity was limited to what was considered ‘minor’ arts pottery, knitting and even cooking and such materials as clay, glass, paper and wood.”

Adds Idurre Alonso, MoLAA associate curator: “The traditional role of women, devoted to family and domestic duties, prevented their entrance into the art world until almost the middle of the 20th century. Two exceptions were Mexican painters Maria Izquierdo, who had her first solo exhibition in 1929, and Frida Kahlo, who had hers in 1938.”

The greatest change, she said, “occurred in the 1960s with the creation of new artistic movements and techniques characterized by their anti-Classicism, such as body art and. photo collages, which gave women access to untapped artistic territories not associated with male artists.”

Here, the four artists talk about their art, its influences and significance.




Checa yearns for something more in her art.

“Im lonesome for myth. Before, we had all the myths,” says the 54-year-old Peruvian artist. “We need to go beyond our own life to touch other people with our work. Personal items are worthless. It’s the other stuff, the unconscious collective, that is inside everybody that’s important.”

Putting her belief into art, Checa carves life-size wood sculptures, usually from olive trees, that deal with inner thoughts and emotions. Reflecting influences of pre-Hispanic art, her sculptures are connected to the mummies, masks and sculptures of two Peruvian cultures: the Chancay (600 B.C.) and the Paracas (A.D. 150).

The faces may look melancholy or full of despair, but Checa says, look again.

“I have always been told that my works are sad,” she says. “I don’t consider them sad; they look inside themselves and look out at the same time. They are not laughing but they are not sad either. It is as if they are meditating.”

Born in Lima. Perú, where she still lives, Checa studied at the School of Art of the Universidad Católica of Peru with Ana Maccagno, master sculptor and mentor to many prominent Peruvian sculptors.

Checa’s career started with bronze sculptures, but the material was too expensive. Wood became her medium of choice in 1989. After living in Costa Rica from 1992 to 1995, Checa found a purer technique in woodcarving and started to create works in wood that contained inlaid metal.

She also discovered something else.

“While I’ve been working all these years, I found out that wood is sensitive material. It changes with time and weather,” Checa says.” “I submit to her more than she submits to me,” she chuckles.

Checa says it also touches her in a profound way.

“In the center of my hand, you can touch everything. It’s the sensitive part,” she says. “Sometimes I feel I will be able to feel the beating of life.”


De Obaldia’s first artistic works in the 1980s were violent paintings exposing the corruption and brutality in her native Panamá.

But the glass sculptures she now creates are less aggressive. Many of the colorful works focus on the male human torso with extra images of lizards, snakes and flowers native to Panamá.

“I like the human figure, and I prefer men,” says de Obaldia, who still calls Panamá home. “I couldn’t imagine using a woman.”

Born in the U.S. to a Panamanian father and French mother, the 46-year-old artist studied architecture at the Universidad de Panamá, graphic design and cinematography at the Rhode Island School of Design and drawing at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

In 1987, de Obaldia took a course at the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington with master glass artisans Bertil Vallien and Jiri Harcuba. She was put off by the complexity of glass blowing but attracted by engraving and glass painting.

She started casting glass sculptures in 1996.

De Obaldia’s human forms are more solemn compared to her paintings. But de Obaldia says she’s not interested in being political this time.

“The environment has changed (in Panamá) a great deal, at least concerning violence, and although there are many things that still need to change, my works do not need to express them,” she says. “They don’t inspire me.”


In school, Espinosa’s worst class was sculpture. But after graduating from Argentina’s Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes with a double major in drawing and painting, she got her hands in clay.

“I use clay because I find it a very attractive medium,” says the 71-year-old artist. “It’s a very basic medium. It’s part of our selves.

“Our planet is made from clay. It’s a huge ball of ceramic,” Espinosa says. “After everything is gone, we will still have clay.”

Espinosa started getting her hands dirty at 25, while still living in Argentina. But after moving to Puerto Rico, where she now lives, Espinosa began feeling her way around the material.

“When I started working in clay, I started on the outside,” she says. “I started decorating the surface. But through many years, I went to the inside.

“Once you touch clay, little by little, you start knowing all the possibilities.”

For her work, Espinosa sculpts human heads that aren’t clearly male or female.

“I like the idea of androgyny, maybe an equilibrium of the sexes,” she says.

The head is recognizable as human, but the other body parts are anyone’s guess. It’s hard to distinguish them as even human.

“I work in a very intuitive way. The area of my vision is bigger than to develop a concept,” she says. “It’s my inner vision of corporeal. I don’t to represent any culture”



Waisburd experienced some of her best artistic training as a dentist. She worked on children’s teeth from 1980 to 1986 in México.

“It gave me a lot of practice and skill, not just the modeling, but the physics part,” she says. “A piece has to be stable and useful and practical. I was like an engineer. You learn how to put something in to support the other part.”

Making models of human mouths influenced her to try sculpture, first in bronze. In 2000, she found her medium, brown paper bags.

“The paper bags are like a metaphor of life,” says Waisburd, 47. “It’s so fragile, but if we take care of our life it can last many, many years, “In the paper bag, we see all the wrinkles, which for me is’ like experience. Some of them last forever.”

Waisburd’s life-size paper sculptures present everyday scenes a woman getting a manicure, someone relaxing in a chair but are wrinkled with spirituality.

“The soul is something I put in a very high level,” Waisburd says. “The ‘French Manicure’ sounds like something that is very shallow and superficial, but it’s a moment that any woman can enjoy, just sitting very comfy. She doesn’t have any shoes, just the socks, nothing formal, just relaxed.

“In ¿Quien Soy? (Who am I?), every person, all of us, uses a mask, not just carnival masks but masks in everyday life. The mask is a metaphor.

“We don’t know if it’s a man or a woman. It doesn’t matter,” she says. “We don’t know if they’re putting the mask on or taking it off. The spectator has the last word.”

The soul also is Waisburd’s muse.

“It’s something from my inner soul that drives me,” she says. “Maybe it’s something from my subconscious that deals with the Final   : product.”


What: The Sculptures of Margarita Checa, Isabel de Obaldia, Susana Espinosa and Patricia Waisburd

Where: Museum of Latin American Art, 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach

When: Opens Saturday. Hours are 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday; through May 30 (Artists’ reception and lecture 1-3 p.m. Saturday.)

Admission: $5 adults, $3 seniors and students, free for children under 12 and free for everyone on Fridays

Information: (562) 437-1689 or www.molaa.com