Interview: Kai Margarida-Ramírez de Arellano merges “hardcore” with “girly” in her mesmerizing papel picado pieces
 Alibi V.20 No.7 • Feb 17-23, 2011 


Paper Cuts

Former Albuquerquean mixes the old with the new

"Juárez,"   papel picado   by Kai Margarida-Ramírez de Arellano
"Juárez," papel picado by Kai Margarida-Ramírez de Arellano

courtesy of 516 ARTS

Kai Margarida-Ramírez de Arellano was born in Puerto Rico but spent most of her formative years in New Mexico. Her art, in part, explores the clash between the two cultures, as well as family history and sexual politics.

"I think a lot of my work and my medium have a lot to do with the cross-cultural experience. I've lived in Puerto Rico. I have deep roots there,” she says, adding haltingly, “I was raised in Albuquerque."

Margarida-Ramírez de Arellano works primarily in papel picado, an art form she learned from local master Catalina Delgado Trunk. Cutting images out paper is widely practiced in Mexico, and it’s perhaps most associated with Día de los Muertos decorations.

Margarida-Ramírez de Arellano draws a design, lays it over colorful paper and cuts the background away with an X-Acto knife. It’s a labor-intensive process—even a small piece can take 10 hours. She says she occasionally slips up, which means she has to improvise if she wants to complete the piece—and it has to be done without lifting off the drawing. "I never see the actual paper until it's all done," she says.

Papel picado is a labor-intensive process—even a small piece can take 10 hours.

Her papel picado pieces are part of 516 ARTS’ latest exhibition, Latino/a Visual Imaginary: Intersection of Word & Image. Curator Holly Barnet-Sanchez says the show explores the intersection of text—literal and metaphorical—and visual imagery that’s prevalent in some Latino art. The show includes high-concept installations, paintings, comics and more abstract pieces such as glass tongues filled with herbs. It will include literary and musical elements in addition to the visual arts.

Margarida-Ramírez de Arellano employs text in some of her paper cuttings. A piece that draws attention to the murder of women in Juárez is framed in Old English-style lettering: “550 Women + Counting.”

But she isn’t always so obvious. She says much of her work juxtaposes the "girlie" art of paper cutting with more "hardcore" subject matter. For example, one piece depicts three flaccid penises. She says she’s taken what she feels is the tendency of male artists to depict nude women and flipped it on its head. "It was coming from a place of making a commentary on the way women's bodies are used in art. There's a voyeuristic approach to women's bodies.” This artistic leering makes women feel vulnerable because “we never get to see our bodies that way,” she adds.

“I’m doing the same thing to men, showing the origin of their virility. The phallus is strong and intimidating. Instead I showed all flaccid penises."

Margarida-Ramírez de Arellano has moved on from New Mexico, at least for now. She lives and works in Manhattan, where she says her art has gotten a good reception—even if people there aren’t entirely familiar with it. "People are more curious because it's not something they see everyday."

Web Exclusive: See a selection of images from Latino/a Visual Imaginary here.

The Cutting Edge : Papel Picado Workshop

Saturday, March 12, 10 a.m.

Kai Margarida-Ramírez de Arellano will teach a workshop on papel picado at 516 ARTS. The paper cutting art form has been practiced in Mexico for more than 300 years but also has origins in Europe, Asia and North America. There is a $20 fee and space is limited. To register, call 242-1445.

A full schedule of events is available at

Latino/a Visual Imaginary: Intersection of Word & Image

Runs through May 14
Opening reception Saturday, Feb. 19, 6 p.m. with music by Frontera Bugalú
516 ARTS
516 Central SW