I had the amazing opportunity to connect with Helena Cervantes a.k.a Nena Mágica at the Richmond “Oddities and Curiosities Festival.” Her artwork stood out above all else so I had to pick up one of her Dessert Charlotte Eyeball Sculptures for my art room. Now we all get an inside look at how her art has provided a space for healing and transformation.
We appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. I’m curious, did you grow up around any artistic influences? Where does the story of Helena begin?
My story begins before I was born. I come from a family of artists. My father was an artist, and his father was an artist, and so on. So I've always been surrounded by art since I was a baby and grew up with it. I've always been known as the artistic kid in school as well, that was my thing, and I strongly identified with it.
My father (who passed away in 2019) was a self-taught artist that did almost everything! His main medium though was sculpturing in the form of paper mache. He made large, life-sized animals and even miniature ones too. His focus was on animals, but he would occasionally make other things. He made alien space ships that lit up, Ferris wheels that moved, and merry-go-rounds (these were all fairly small scale - at most 4ft at their largest measurement).
My art is extremely different from the work he did in that it's about me, my inner world, not an outer one. Unfortunately, we were not close at all. Like many Latine/immigrant families, he was a victim of the Patriarchy and colonial trauma that took place in his country. He acted in ways that created distance between us. Our styles are very different, and I don't feel I can say that he influenced me.
The passion for creative expression runs deep in your family. Is there a defining moment that made you realize you were in divine alignment with your passion?
Art and being an artist have been the only constant in my life and the only thing I could turn to for comfort, expression, and to be seen and heard.
I learned about Lowbrow Art while in art school. I worked at my school's library and would see all the new books we'd get in and that's how I first saw what lowbrow art/pop surrealism was. I loved it and related to it. It's an art movement that began in the '60s and is also known as Pop Surrealism.
I love how it can look cartoony, or cute but be about very heavy subject matters at the same time. I love juxtaposition and that's exactly what lowbrow art features. My art shows monsters being cute and having fun but there's something very painful behind it, such as my feelings of not having a sense of self. It can be very painful but we have to go on with our lives and put on masks to hide those parts of ourselves. I look at them as having fun despite feeling pain, they are living their best lives and doing it despite everything.
I'm almost 40 and only recently have realized that I am my art. My art is Me. My art cannot exist without me. To realize that I can be so intertwined with something is incredible. In a way, it feels weird to say I'm intertwined with something I've created, because of course, I'm intertwined with it - it came from me! In the past, I would see myself as separate from my art, but once I realized I'm not; then I noticed more abundance and opportunities come to me because of it.
Hold The Vision
Art has a beautiful way of unveiling our truth and helping us feel seen. What advice would you give to an artist who wants to take the next step and become a business owner? Any major lessons learned?
It's tough being a business owner! I started Nena Mágica in 2018 (under a different handle - I changed it in 2021); and began selling at in-person events in 2021 so I'm still pretty new at it myself! I've spoken with other artists, and one said they wouldn't want their creative expression to be their main-source of income. I understand that, and it's completely valid. I've had fun trying to make it my main-source of income. It's still stressful, for sure, but I've felt like the positives have outweighed the negatives.
Traveling to different places and seeing people's reactions to my art and excitement it's been an encouraging and healing journey. I say take your time, don't rush yourself, and DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS! Your journey is for you alone, not for anyone else! This is one of the most important things I've learned, and to have fun with it!
Staying focused on your timeline and celebrating your progress can be a difficult internal battle. We all face challenges, but looking back, would you describe it as a relatively smooth journey?
It's been a rocky journey, there have been ups and downs for me, and a lot of it was from myself being my worst critic. Being an artist and business owner has been about unlearning things, learning-to-believe in myself and trust in myself, and learning who I am. I know for others it might be different if they already have the confidence and trust in themselves, but I didn't.
I believed in my art but not myself. That's why I mentioned earlier, when I finally realized I am my art, abundance came to me, and that's how I knew this was my path. Being on this journey has been healing, even if rocky at times, but I know it'll keep getting better!
Letting go of limiting beliefs and being open to abundance can elevate us to our higher path. Where we are on our path is often partly because of the individuals and communities in our lives. Who/what else deserves recognition for how your story is metamorphosing?
I would say my partner of 6 years, Daniel. He helped bring me to a safe place where I could finally begin to heal and let my art flourish and be what it is today!
Daniel believed in me and encouraged me to apply to events even though I didn't think I was quite ready at times. But if I waited until I was "ready" then it would never happen, so his support really helped me out. He truly did give me a space where I could heal and focus on myself. I noticed once I did begin this process my art flourished as well. I felt more courage to put myself out there. He helps me run my table at events and shares my work with other people who might be interested.
He believed in me when no one else did. I really wouldn't be where I am without him. I told him about this and he doesn't want to take any credit for it and on one hand, I know I had to make the decisions myself to leave my old life behind in the first place! But he was there with me while I did that so I do feel very grateful to have him and his support in my life.
Eye Believe in Magic
Allowing yourself to be seen is your ultimate power. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
My artwork on the surface level is "monsters having fun.” It's much deeper than that. The monsters are anthropomorphized forms of my shadows. One of my most popular characters, Charlotte, was born from my trauma. It was a feeling of a lack of Self, the disintegration of the Self, a human not fully formed. On one hand, I could say she is the physical manifestation of trauma, but on the other hand, she is also the physical manifestation of my healing. Her having an eye is very significant.
In my past works, none of the forms/bodies I made had eyes. Her having an eyeball is like me finally peaking out and seeing the world, like being able to see and be seen. Making eye contact is extremely personal and visceral for me, and Charlotte being a form of self-portraiture and having an eye speaks volumes about my healing. I feel like my work has become cuter as time goes-on, and I LOVE IT! I'm so happy to see it this way, and it's so interesting for me to look back on my much older work and see the contrast.
There's still remnants in the forms of monster figures, but everyone's having fun now, regardless of their forms. They're still having fun even with their traumas. I'm also interested in mythology, cryptids, and the idea of monsters being representations of human acts/emotions/thoughts. I think it's cool to give form to intangible things. You're able to sort of put a face on something and be able to address it easier. That's why I talk about healing so much; making art has been a form of therapy for me. I've been able to address my innermost feelings and let them exist in the world instead of bottled up inside of me.
Art is an endless alchemical process of becoming. What drew you to your current art style and art medium?
Anime! When I first started watching Anime, I knew that's how I wanted to draw. It's funny because I don't think my style is very anime-y at the moment. I think there are influences in it. I'm not too sure what my style is like; I know that it's kinda weird and cute at the same time.
I bounce around between different mediums, and my main ones now are mold making and casting, sculpture with oil clay, painting, punch needle embroidery, and drawing with micron pens. I also work with paper mache! I began mold making and casting because I saw some super cool designer toys from a convention called “Five Points Festival” and decided I wanted to do that too, so I did!
Art transcends cultural boundaries and acts as a powerful binding force that unites people no matter where they are from. As a Latina paving her way in the art community, what long-standing legacy do you hope to create with your art?
Hard questions because I don't think much about my legacy. I want to have fun with my art and make other people have fun too. It brings me so much happiness to know that my funny creatures were born from my shadows, are having fun now and making others smile, too. It feels like I'm sharing in my healing in a way!
Thank you Helena for inspiring us to hold the vision of our dreams and trust the process. I’m excited to see how you continue to heal through your art and teach us to do the same.
Comment Below: How has art healed you?
If you are interested in following along on Nena Mágica’s journey, you can connect with her here:
SHOP ART: https://nenamagica.carrd.co/
Click to read “Arteporlola: Surrealista of Divine Femininity ” Interview HERE