Isabela Cruz makes textiles that blend nature in MN with her native Ecuador

All images courtesy the artist.

All images courtesy the artist. Isabela Cruz, 'Yaku'

Isabela Cruz grew up climbing trees, picking fruit, and playing with bugs in her hometown outside of Quito, Ecuador. As she developed as an artist, it’s no wonder that nature took center stage in the illustrations, designs, and patterns she created.

AYA: Isabela Cruz


“I wanted to mimic nature,” she says, “to echo what’s around us.”

Her latest echo is in the form of a series of 36” x 36” silk scarves, the basis of her exhibition, “Aya,” opening Saturday at Showroom. The title comes from a creation story of the Otavalo culture, one of the largest indigenous groups in Ecuador known for its tradition of vibrantly colored textiles.

In the “Ñucanchik Wacharimanta” (or “Our Birth”) creation legend, Pachamama (Mother Earth) gave birth to everything in existence; the soul of every being is called Aya. “It’s a beautiful concept and I wanted this collection to be born from the idea that everything around us in nature is alive because of Aya,” the artist says.

There is much crossover between cultures in Ecuador. The country’s residents adopt each other’s Kichwa and Spanish words. Because Kichwa vocabulary informed Cruz’s understanding of the world, she repurposed various ecological terms in that language as titles for her scarves. She added further depth to the collection’s concept by assigning each to one of the five vital elements of life: fire, water, Earth, air, and spirit. For the Earth patterns, she incorporated swamps, plants, and flowers; for the water designs, she used images of marine life.

“I wanted to create a collection of patterns that would represent all living beings in nature,” says Cruz, who aims to use her designs on objects that reflect the natural, physical world around us but that are also useful, be it in the form of stationery, kitchenware, or clothing.

“I’m also interested in sustainability, so I tried to do my research on what would be the best way to print on a fabric," she says. "These ones use water-based pigments that are environmentally friendly. They’re printed on poly chiffon, which is vegan-friendly.”

Cruz is a lifelong creative who loves working in diverse mediums. In the past, she’s done graphite drawings, cut paper, and greeting cards. “I’ve always been interested in making things by hand,” she says.

Her hometown didn’t offer any undergraduate degrees in illustration, however, so she looked to the States for a college that fit her ambitions. “I saw Minneapolis had a great art community,” she says. She enrolled in MCAD, and graduated this spring. She has one year of OPT (Optional Practical Training) on her Visa to work in the U.S., and she plans to spend that time in Minneapolis.

Indeed, much of Cruz’s inspiration comes from the landscape and climate of Minnesota, which is distinct from her country of origin. With its high altitude, Quito has closer to two seasons: rainy or sunny and windy. Temps hover between 65 and 75 degrees, and it’s green -- almost rain forest-esque -- all year. Minnesota’s fall and winter have provided much creative fuel for Cruz, from the autumnal hues to the intricate patterns of frost.

“We don’t have fall [in Quito],” she says. “That was really beautiful, seeing how the different leaves change. That’s where a lot of my inspiration comes from: looking at the similarities and differences between what home is like and here.”


Isabela Cruz: "Aya"
5 to 8 p.m., Saturday, July 8