Tabula Rasa

Tabula Rasa: Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz

Andrew Littlefield By Andrew Littlefield April 27, 2017

Tabula Rasa—meaning “Blank Slate”—is a new series in which we dive into the planning stages of a creative project by showing the early sketches and outlines from creators, comparing those to the finished product, and hearing from the creators themselves on how the project came to life. Read past installments here.


artist sketchbooks

Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz, Artist and Professor

Pietà, performance art installation

Pietà is a continuation of my ‘Queens’ series of work, which is anchored in trauma and anxiety. In Pietà, I’m investigating the fear of losing a child to violence/intolerance, so I had this premise of creating a queen figure that deals with grief. The finished piece is a performance in which I sit and cradle thirty-three young men and women of color, inspired by Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of the same name.

“I start with a blank wall and start filling it with sketches and images I find that capture the aesthetic I want to capture. It’s kind of like a vision board, for lack of a better description. I surround myself with a specific idea—it’s like walking into my mind. I sketch to stay focused—get the ideas out of my head, onto the page, and on the wall.

“I wanted to create something a bit more clear of what I wanted to do for this performance and the details of the garment for my costume. Once I had the idea of this woman sitting—a culturally ambiguous figure with many different origins—I wanted to visualize the performance and what would happen. This includes things like how I want the sleeves to hang and what the participants will do.

“I collaborated with a costume designer, and we sat with all these books and historical references, getting really detailed into the construction of the garment. The costume itself got very, very heavy. But I wanted to explore the weight of grief—it’s a physical manifestation of a psychological state of mind.

“To see it to completion, I had to recruit dozens of people, I was in constant fittings, going to hair supply places, it was tons and tons of work, a whole year of preparation. But all those details are vital to the finished piece.”

Pietà will be performed at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. on Saturday May 6th. An exhibition of Raimundi-Ortiz’s cumulative Queens series will be featured at the Longwood Art Gallery in The Bronx, NYC starting June 7th.