Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz is a nationally and internationally recognized award-winning interdisciplinary visual and performance artist. Wanda graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology with an associate degree in illustration and is now an Associate Professor of Studio at the University of Central Florida. She came into Habitable Spaces just before quarantine for a one-year sabbatical to concentrate on research.
This is a combination of two interviews that I did with Wanda in March 2020 during the quarantine, and the second one was a follow-up, one year later, in March 2021. In these interviews, she shares her experiences from childhood, being an artist, staying at Habitable Spaces, racial issues, and her take away from her one-year stay.
Topics Discussed In This Episode:
[03:10] Family background
[06:47] Puerto Rico to New York
[10:00] Growing up in New York
[14:45] Education and Marriage
[31:48] “Lives Interrupted” by racism
[42:18] Moving to Florida
[46:00] Habitable Spaces: why she’s here.
[01:01:34] The follow up: Second interview with Wanda
[01:08:35] Home takeaway
[01:28:07] Moving forward
Wanda Raimundi is the last of seven in her family, born to the same parents. She grew up around talented people in her family, with one of her sisters being a singer, and watched her brother drawing as a kid. Her sister’s son is also into music and art. Her father’s side also had similar talents in the industry, with cousins being actors and dancers. Being a girl, her mother was not allowed to attend school in Puerto Rico and never learned how to read, but she was a very responsible person, learning all her math and making clothes all by herself.
Puerto Rico to New York
Wanda says her parents eloped when her mother was 17 because they were so poor but had found love. At that time, the United States was looking for cheap labor, and people were allowed to move from Puerto Rico into the country with the promise of a better life. His father came to the United States and set up a shop in Brooklyn. Wanda said, being the last born, everybody was older, it was like having six parents.
After graduating in high school, Wanda attended Fashion Institute of Technology and later got married to DJ Buddah Bless. She recalls in 2003 when they used to organize loft parties while Alison was living next door. They had a 8x8 square foot bar in the space!
Working as an artist
Wanda says her early works had a theme and mission. “My early work was to understand who I was, and what was my place in life.”
In one of her works, she sys she wanted to create a safe place for 33 people to come for 3 minutes and 33 seconds. She wanted to show an imagery of people of all color and gender represented in the art. With the times still affected by racism, she recalls police sirens being heard after the performance.
Black people weren’t given enough time to grieve. She remembers growing up in New York City during stop and frisk time. She never got frisked because she was light skinned, however, racism got closer and closer to her when she had a black son.
Wanda says this discrimination erodes a person’s morale and is unjust.
Moving to Florida
Her early works were a direct response to her immediate surroundings in New York City. But when she moved to Florida, all the stimulus was gone since she was no longer exposed to racism. Staying in Florida, she preferred to work as much as possible and try to squeeze art in between.
Wanda says Florida was fun even after starting to teach in the University, although she had quite a rough start. The big factor during this time was that she was worried about becoming a late life mom.
While working at the University, Wanda got awarded the sabbatical right after getting tenured. It was a one year sabbatical to concentrate on research at the Habitable Spaces. Although she was worried about living in an unfamiliar community, she went to the Habitable Spaces as a humble and a quiet person deciding to just listen. Her experiences during her stay made her realize that what she wanted to do post quarantine was to get the community members to build court squares and create sun shelters for the kids. She says this offers opportunities for the kids to connect and meet people who understand sustainability and want to teach them.
Following up: One year later (March 2021)
I decided to do a second interview with Wanda, a year after the first interview because her follow up after Habitable Spaces was very thorough. This time around, we are interviewing through a zoom call. We chat about all the drastic changes we have experienced over the course of the year and how farm experience has affected us.
Wanda’s Habitable Spaces Experience
Wanda says Habitable Spaces impacted not just her life, but also her art. Apart from having a garden, which reminds her of her mother growing up in the mountains, Wanda has started making sculptures, something she’s never done before. She is also hopeful that the young people will change the narrative about racism and they are the right people to be taught how to honor gender and color. She also learned to appreciate mother nature by becoming more humble, obeying the weather, and just letting the universe roll.
Connect with Wanda
Check out the garden progress Wanda has made in Florida with gardening expertise gained plus upcoming art inspired by her stay at Habitable Spaces!