By: Daisy K. Espinoza
“Law is powerful. Art is powerful. I’ve always lived in the middle of that.”
Left-brained. Right-brained. Usually, one side is stronger than the other, whether it be that we process thoughts more logically or more creatively. I don’t think I’ve ever met an individual who harmonizes both forces so powerfully, more than lawyer and artist, Carolina Rubio-MacWright.
It was during her childhood in Colombia that she remembers first being inspired to create. “I’ve always loved the law. In Colombia, I did drawings of displaced children of the guerillas. The children were coming into the city. They were no different from me. I remember crying and not being able to understand why those kids did not have the same life I did,” Carolina recalls. It was then, that she began to understand that just as art could reflect feelings, art could also provoke them.
Moved by the injustices that surrounded her and inspired by her passion for art, she attended both law and art school in Colombia. It was during this time that she realized that all of her creations actually reflected law, particularly the loss of freedom. “I started showing my work to my law school friends,” Carolina remembers. “The work we did didn’t touch them as much until they saw that visual representation. The figures in my art were not mystical creatures, but real humans that breathe like you and I.”
But, it was also during this time, that everything changed for Carolina. From one day to the next, she was forced to pack her life in a tiny suitcase and abandon her home. She and her family left Colombia to move to the United States, but it was in this foreign country, staying in one room with her entire family, that she found a new source of inspiration. “When you grow up in the States, you don’t realize the value of freedom. This has been my guide my entire life. I couldn’t be free in Colombia. I was always fearing getting kidnapped or killed. I couldn’t be the happy person I was.” And it was a very simple moment, one that we all take for granted, when Carolina realized the new-found power that her activism could have in this country. “I remember driving and being able to roll down my window, while not fearing that someone would come up and hurt me. I quickly knew I could make a difference here without dying.”
She is making that difference by creating a space for her community in Brooklyn. Undocumented immigrants and domestic violence survivors gather at her “Know Your Rights” clay workshops, where attendees express themselves artistically. Carolina challenges the women to build any object – to conceptualize and realize. It is through these regular gatherings that these mujeres have built their own community and empowered themselves to reconstruct their lives. Carolina believes that there is a similarity between clay and humans, “Both can be destroyed in a second, and rebuilt if you want.”
Carolina sees an incomparable power within grassroots organizing. Just this past summer, she arranged for 15 women – lawyers and translators – to work inside a detention center to aid over 50 families affected by separation. To her, there is a force behind arming each other and connecting one another to accomplish what we’re meant to be. “Through these connections and mentorships, we are able to create spaces where we harness each others’ forces,” affirms Carolina, “never underestimate the power you have to bring immense impact to your community.” To her, it is through mutual support that we can arise above and combat suppression, which, can come in many forms. In Carolina’s case, one of her largest opposing forces has been stereotypes. Many times, she has been mistaken as the nanny of her own children, but to her, these characterizations reflect the fear of those that are threatened by our beauty and uniqueness.
It is this innate power that allows Carolina to envision a world where change can be brought through laws, and not with bullets or money. A world where the power of freedom will consistently fill her, like the breeze she felt coming from that rolled-down window years ago. A world where we fight to create our own spaces and are able to share the raw emotions that can serve as catalysts of change. That is where the power of art lies.