Inspiration Behind the Art: ‘The Indigenous Woman’ Sculpture

"The Indigenous Woman" - By Emily A Willard, 2008 (c) 2013

“The Indigenous Woman” – By Emily A Willard, 2008
(c) 2013

My final project for ceramics class, senior year of college (an elective class for my International Relations degree), our professor told us to go to museums and look through art books and online to get inspired and use combination of influences to create our final sculpture.

My sculpture of “The Indigenous Woman” is a representation of thousands of years of violence against women, and particularly violence against indigenous women across the globe in the last 500 years. More specifically, it tells the story of violence against the Mayan women in Guatemala in the 36-year internal armed conflict. It represents the current violence against women (Feminicide) in Guatemala, and the violence against Mother Earth in the form of extraction industry.

A quick summary of my piece, “The Indigenous Woman”:

This piece symbolizes how often the woman’s body becomes a battlefield, especially the indigenous Guatemalan woman. It also shows, however, her resiliency and struggle toward a peaceful future for her children. It also symbolizes our mother earth, and the violence of extraction of natural resources and pollution, but also her resilience and continuing to provide for her children. In many indigenous cultures, the people have a strong spiritual connection to the earth. [read more here, on page 16]

The following are the pieces of inspiration that led me to create this piece:


Frida Kahlo - "Self-portrait dedicated to Dr. Eloesser" 1940

Frida Kahlo – “Self-portrait dedicated to Dr. Eloesser” 1940

A Mexican painter, she was deeply in-tune with her indigenous roots, a lover of animals and the natural world. Many of her paintings and self-portraits connect to her indigenous past, and nature. FLOWERS PLANTS NATURE INDIGENOUS WOMEN

I used plastic and cloth flowers to surround the female body in my sculpture.

Frida Kahlo's self portrait: "The Broken Column" 1944

Frida Kahlo’s self portrait: “The Broken Column” 1944

Frida was injured in an accident as a young woman and struggled her entire life with physical pain, as well as the emotional pain of not being able to bear children – as a result of her injuries. She expressed pain through her art in many ways. NAILS PAIN (EMOTIONAL AND PHYSICAL)

I was inspired by this painting to use the nails in my sculpture to represent the pain and violence that indigenous women experience.

"Flower of Life" 1943 by Frida Kahlo

“Flower of Life” 1943 by Frida Kahlo

She also focused a lot of her art around sexuality in general, and her own sexuality. She transforms plants and flowers into male and female body parts – I see that her art can be abstract, modern, and feminist. FEMALE FLOWERS PLANTS BODY

I created flowers as body parts in my sculpture.

Outside Frida's house in Coyoacan, Mexico City. --- No photos allowed inside :(

Outside Frida’s house in Coyoacan, Mexico City.

I have always been a big fan of Frida. In 2008, I went to her home in Coyoacan, Mexico City. I saw her paint brushes, her studio, easels and items around her home, such as her bed, which are featured in some of her paintings. It was this same semester that I was working on this sculpture project.

In 2007, the 100th year after her birth, I had a once in a life time opportunity to see the largest collection of her work ever brought together that went on tour. A friend and I drove up to Philadephia to see it. In 2011, I saw a wonderful exhibit of her photographs, and photos taken of her, in Rosslyn, Virginia.


I am inspired by the Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso as well because his modernist technique, use of colors, and shapes. Also, importantly, is his use of art to make political statements and protest.

"Guernica" by Pablo Picasso. 1937

“Guernica” by Pablo Picasso. 1937

Obviously, one of his most famous, being Guernica, which is also considered on of his most powerful political statement. I had the opportunity to see the original in Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid in 2004. It is 26 feet long, and leave an immense impression on the mind and heart in it’s majesty as a piece of art, as well as it’s powerful statement of the horrors of war and violence. VIOLENCE POLITICAL STATEMENT FASCISM STATE REPRESSION HUMAN RIGHTS

I wanted to make a statement with my sculpture about violence against women in general, and violence against indigenous women, specifically in Guatemala, by state forces and colonial powers, and indigenous women around the world.

"Les Demoiselles D'Avignon" 1907

“Les Demoiselles D’Avignon” 1907

I like Pablo’s use of shapes for the women’s bodies in this painting. I had the opportunity to come across this painting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and was really drawn to the shapes. I was specifically taking notes for this sculpture while visiting this museum. BODY SHAPES WOMEN

I used the ideas of geometric shapes when building the female body of my piece.


I remember learning about Georgia O’Keefe in my second grade art class, and have always liked her work. We had to choose a painting of hers and recreate it on our own paper. I chose this one:

One of Georgia O'Keefe's flowers

One of Georgia O’Keefe’s flowers

I am always drawn to her because of her use of colors, larger than life flowers, and connection to nature and the earth. NATURE COLORS FLOWERS LIFE

I was inspired by the color and shape of this one for the center clay flower on my sculpture.

Georgia O'Keefe's "Red Canna" 1923

Georgia O’Keefe’s “Red Canna” 1923

St. Sebastian

Flipping through my dad’s art history book as a kid, I remember coming across this painting of St. Sebastian by Andrea Mantegna (1456-1459). I took a copy of it into art class in high school for a class project where we had to re-draw a piece of art we found. It was one of the best free-hand drawings I ever did. For some reason I was always mesmerized by the violence of this piece. I ended up having the opportunity to see a similar painting by the same artist at the Lourve in 2009. After seeing the Mona Lisa, walking back down a hallway and was shocked to see this St. Sebastian, so similar to the one from my childhood, here in real life in the Lourve. To be honest, for me it was more exciting than the Mona Lisa.

Andrea Mantegna "St. Sebastian" 1456-1459

Andrea Mantegna “St. Sebastian” 1456-1459

It wasn’t until after I finished my piece that my dad pointed out that my sculpture reminded him of the painting of St. Sebastian that I had always been drawn to. This inspiration was much more subconscious and subtle than the previous ones.

— so, that was a little bit of a window into my mind and work. I hope to do this more in the future. Thanks for reading.

****Remember that 50% of the proceeds of any purchase from the Guatemala Collection goes to support Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala.


2 responses to “Inspiration Behind the Art: ‘The Indigenous Woman’ Sculpture

  1. Pingback: EmaBee Inspiration: Creation Station Cork Board | EmaBee's Art·

  2. Pingback: EmaBee Inspiration: Frida Kahlo | EmaBee's Art·

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