Salem artist Stephanie Juanillo honors immigrant roots in exhibit

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This is part of a weekly series introducing readers to individuals who are passionate about our Mid-Valley community.

Stephanie Juanillo is still unsure of where she will call home in the near future. It is an uncertainty she explores in a new installation at the Bush Barn Art Center titled Mi Cuerpo Es Mi Hogar.

Currently a senior at Linfield University, Juanillo said she’s known she was going to be an artist since she was 3. It is a career that her parents and family have been supportive of. The studio art program at Linfield is small, she said, but students get a lot of one-on-one time with the professors.

After graduation, she will be continuing her education and she has applied to two graduate schools. One program is in Vancouver, Canada and another in Chicago.

That is why she was eager to accept the invitation from the Salem Art Association to be a featured artist at the gallery.

“I might be moving soon and I thought it’d be cool to do an installation here in Salem,” Juanillo said.

The meaning of home

Juanillo said she has spent her senior year focused on exploring the concept of home and what that means for immigrants.

“For a lot of us, we’ve had to redefine the definition of home,” she said.

For Juanillo, home is tied to family. She was raised in Perrydale and has been living in McMinnville while attending Linfield. The prospect of moving far from her tight-knit family for graduate school has been difficult, she said.

Her installation focuses on finding home within your body.

“For most of my life, I’ve searched for the meaning of home. Attempting to understand whether home is a place, a person or a feeling. As much as my concept of home is tied to my family and community, I also believe that home is inside each of us,” reads her artist statement.

The exploration of Juanillo’s heritage is prominent in the symbols she has chosen to display. Large monarch butterflies migrate and surround the photo of a two-year-old Juanillo, similar to the way millions of monarch butterflies migrate each year thousands of miles to the same forests in central Mexico.

Monarch butterflies are incorporated in almost all of her work, she said. Both of her parents are from Mexico and the butterflies are another way of commemorating and honoring them. The yearly migration is a natural wonder that also frequently coincides with Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations in November.

Another strong symbol of Mexican identity, Our Lady of Guadalupe, or La Virgen de Guadalupe, sits on the ground during our interview. Juanillo is unsure if she’ll add an altar as she usually does in most of her installations but the virgencita, as she’s affectionately called by many in the community, remains present during Juanillo’s final brushstrokes.

A piñata made of beans hangs in another corner of the installation, her own take on a traditional decoration.

Together, they create an installation Juanillo hopes is warm, healing and inviting.

It was important to do her own healing, Juanillo said.

“So that wherever I’m at, I can still feel safe despite being far away from my family,” she said.

Joy, grief of immigrant stories

Most of Juanillo’s work centers on immigration and how joy and grief coincide within immigrant stories.

She said growing up in Oregon in a community that was predominately white was “really rough.” The environment did not grant her many opportunities to explore her identity, she said.

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She graduated from Perryville High School in a graduating class of 25 students. Despite the small art departments at both schools, her teachers at the high school and at Linfield have been extremely encouraging of her art and her themes, she said.



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