University of Arizona School of Art alumna Bella Maria Varela has been named a prestigious Early Career Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin as part of its Expanding Approaches to American Arts initiative.
For the next two years, the 2021 Master of Fine Arts graduate in Photo, Video and Imaging will receive research funding, studio space and robust mentorship at UT-Austin to help prepare for a career in academia.
Varela moved to El Paso, Texas, after graduation to attend the Border Art Residency (BAR), where she helped establish a new arts and philosophy program — Transformative Learning Communities — in elChamizal, a barrio on the U.S.-Mexico Border.
The artist uses video and cultural objects to explore the intersections of immigration, sexuality and gender identity. At UT-Austin, her teaching focuses on combining found objects, digital, photography, green screen performances, and experimental video into non-traditional and virtual classroom environments to guide students to explore their relationship with space, culture and community.
“We are thrilled to welcome Bella . . . into our community of artists and scholars,” said Raquel Monroe, a College of Fine Arts associate dean at UT-Austin. “(Her) curiosity and transdisciplinary methodologies are inspiring.”
Varela, whose parents were Guatemalan immigrants, grew up in inner-city Washington D.C.
At the University of Arizona, Varela served as a facilitator with the Common Ground Alliance and QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color). Using photography, video and installation work, Varela’s artwork explored her identity as a first-generation Latinx women exploring and reclaiming American landscapes.
“I cut and reconfigure iconic material to skewer mainstream anti-immigration rhetoric, subvert the appropriation of Latinx culture and queer mythologies of Americanness,” Varela said.
Her practice is rooted in the resourceful legacy of immigrant hustlers, which has compelled her to not only collect but also corrupt and alter found objects and images to amplify the power dynamics inherent within it.
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In April 2022, during her Border Art Residency in El Paso, she presented a mixed media installation at a Las Cruces, New Mexico, gallery entitled “@Border Becky,” which she also exhibited at the University of Arizona Museum of Art during her studies. It combined photography and two videos with fleece blanket assemblages to explore the intersection of immigration and gender identity through the lens of contemporary pop culture and mass media.
At the University of Arizona, she received first place in the 5 Minute Film Festival at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Tucson for her work titled “Triathlon” and was accepted into the Mellon-Fronteridades Graduate Fellowship Program.
Varela attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where she majored in Mass Communication and minored in Photography. After receiving her undergrad degree, she returned to Washington to serve as a museum assistant at the Phillips Collection, assistant manager at the Renwick Gallery Store, and as arts program coordinator with All Our Kids DC.