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Meet the fantastical creations of Latinx artist Sheila Cuellar-Shaffer

By Claire Lindsey, Journalism Intern

This month, step outside the reality that you know and enter the dream-like landscapes of a Colombian artist.

For over 20 years, Sheila Cuellar-Shaffer has been making powerful statements about society, politics, and human behaviors using only vibrant paints and brush strokes.

Cuellar-Shaffer draws from her background as an immigrant and years of deep thought and introspection. She transforms what she has seen and learned into provocative pieces that start conversations. 

The artist’s previous works, which have been displayed in numerous places in Pennsylvania, Florida, and New York, focused on her personal experiences. She says that her current exhibition at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art aims to tell the stories of immigrants.

Cuellar-Shaffer says that her work is “opening a door” for people in her community of Westmoreland to learn about other cultures. Minorities make up a small percentage of the population in Westmoreland county. According to the 2019 census, only 1.3% of the county’s population is Hispanic or Latino. 

“People are not very aware of other cultures,” Cuellar-Shaffer said. “This exhibition gives me the opportunity to talk to my community and to talk about immigration.”

Many of the pieces in this exhibition depict women dressed in traditional colonial attire. Cuellar-Shaffer said that she is inspired by colonial art and integrates its features into her own work. The ornate outfits of the women in the paintings are meant to portray them as royal and mighty. 

Cuellar-Shaffer wants to highlight the bravery of immigrant mothers who crossed the border to make a better life for their children.

“To me, the role of mothers, I just find it incredible,” she said. “They risk their lives to give opportunities to their families.”

Cuellar-Shaffer’s current exhibition, titled “Creation out of Chaos”, can be seen at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art until July 18th. The museum is open from 12:00 PM to 7:00 PM Wednesday-Friday, and 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free.

More information about Cuellar-Shaffer’s artwork, history, and mission can be found on her website.

You can keep up with the artist and her whimsical creations by following her Instagram and Facebook.

While you’re visiting the museum, head upstairs and see the “Border Cantos | Sonic Border” exhibit. Photographer Richard Misrach and artist Guillermo Galindo joined together to showcase the harsh reality of the southern U.S. border. The display offers a collection of compelling photographs, sculptures, and a place for visitors to share their migration stories. This exhibition is at the museum until September 5th. 

Both exhibitions are wonderful opportunities for people of all ages to appreciate art and learn about experiences of individuals on the other side of the border. Bring your families, friends, children, and loved ones to witness these works of art before they’re gone!

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