While I was celebrating Three Kings Day, or 'Dia de los Reyes' as it is known in Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries, I came across some remarkable artwork on George Torres' 'Sofrito for your Soul' website, as well as a call to preserve the tradition celebrated every January 6th. Impressed with the artwork displayed on the page, I used it as a cover photo on Facebook. As the law of unintended consequences would have it, the image started to spread like wildfire and soon enough, someone recognized the work as belonging to artist Olga Ayala. After a few inquiries, I was able to obtain Ms. Ayala's information and was able to speak with her and ask her what was the inspiration behind her work.
Ms. Ayala, who was born in El Barrio and currently lives in Staten Island, has displayed her work in the Bronx for the better part of the last decade. Having been an artist all her life, it wasn't until 1977 that she began her first works using clay as her medium. She has used clay to create functional art, statues, and in reworking everyday items into art.
Originally, much of Ms. Ayala's art centered on pieces that could be sold in art and crafts fairs. As time went on, she noticed that the Puerto Rican culture was invisible in these fairs, and it started to concern her. Inspired to do something to raise awareness and beauty of Puerto Rican art, she began creating pieces based on the musical styles of 'bomba y plena', recreating the artwork of the Taino Indians and their influence on Puerto Rican culture, and at the time, the young and dynamic styles associated with Hip Hop music and its influences on NYC, particularly in the Bronx where it all began. Gradually, her work centered more and more on preserving the culture, which was both, in her words, a "growing and learning process".
Olga's first and wildly successful attempt at creating artwork based on 'Los Tres Reyes Magos' was back in 2005, which consisted of 11 inch tall clay figures of Melchor, Balatazar, and Gaspar, otherwise known as the Three Kings. Soon after this work, she began creating other similar works throughout New York City and particularly in the Bronx. She has displayed her work in the biannual event at Hostos College called "BomPlenazo", which is a tribute to the Afro-Puerto Rican traditional music, which will take place again this year in October. Additionally, she has participated in the annual 'Comite Noviembre', month long ceremony dedicated to Puerto Rican heritage which also takes place at Hostos College during the month of November.
She comments that when she was young, she did not put much thought into recognizing her roots. Nowadays, she wishes that more of the youth did, and know how beautiful it truly is. Humbly she states that she tries to make herself and her art available for events and displays. But behind her genuine modesty lies an artist and an art form that is vibrant, captivating, and inspiring.
To view more of Olga Ayala's artwork, or to purchase any of her existing pieces, visit her website. To learn more about the significance of the Three Kings and other Puerto Rican traditions (because the holidays aren't over for us yet!), click here and here. Check out additional photos of her artwork in the Bronx On The Go Facebook Album. Don't forget to like and support the official Facebook Page.