Born in Cali, Colombia, Rojas moved to New Jersey with her family as a young child, and her proximity to New York City ultimately led her to Pratt in 2012. There, Rojas studied Communications Design (focusing on Illustration) but unexpectedly found a ceramic studio during her freshman year. "That's when I realized this is something accessible to me," she says. "I was fascinated by how physical it was and how you could make—essentially—anything out of clay or dirt." Rojas followed her curiosity and grew excited by the prospect of creating ceramics that weren't solely functional. (She mentions Alice Mackler, Peter Fischli, and David Weiss's Guggenheim exhibition How to Work Better as early inspirations.)
In many ways, Rojas' stylish sculptures were born out of her talent for looking closely. After constantly wearing her pair of Nike Air Force 1s, Rojas noticed that the shoes appeared as though they were made out of clay. She became inspired to make a shoe that was ceramic but still retained realistic features. Since then, these sculptures have become a mainstay in her rotation. While Rojas finds a shoe's silhouette visually inspiring, there's more than meets the eye. "They're like a self-portrait in many ways," she says. "They all serve the same function but can say so much about a person, which I think is really meaningful."
Over the years, Rojas has worked with brands like Adidas, Gucci, and more. She credits social mediaas an essential role in the exposure of her work, and as part of her broader examination of the value we place on these items. However, off-screen, Rojas maintains that her favorite part of the process is the actual sculpting of each piece. "It allows me to look at a photo or the actual shoe and then use my hands to be as giving as I want so that you can see the artist's hand in the work."
This level of intention makes its way into Rojas's latest solo show Felt Cute, Might Delete Later (on view at LAUNCH F18 through June 11th, 2022). The exhibition includes the artist's shoe sculptures and the introduction of textile pieces that feature shoelaces woven onto canvas (the latter works have been in progress since early 2021). Rojas began thinking about different materials that were significant in shoes and shoemaking. Naturally, shoelaces factored heavily in this exploration. "There was something about laces and their softness and how people tend to be creative with them," she adds. "And the way that you tie them really drew me in."
Aesthetics aside, vulnerability is a driving factor in this body of work. "I feel like this is turning a new page and continuing to take myself more seriously and hold my own space," Rojas says. "As an artist, fashion at times feels exclusive, and art at times feels like a boy's club. It's difficult to be in this space where you want to hold your own and feel comfortable doing that."
As our conversation unfolds, it's hard not to reflect on my relationship with these ideas. Standing in the middle of Rojas' studio, wearing my tried-and-true Veja sneakers, I think about where these shoes have taken me in the world and going through life at my own pace. Energized by Rojas's work, I ask if I can take a "shoe selfie" with some of her pieces, and she encourages it. As I snap a photo, I'm reaffirmed of a simple truth: Rojas' shoe sculptures may stand still, but that doesn't mean they won't move you.
Ahead, Rojas shares more about her practice, thoughts on the correlation between art, style, and self-care, and the inspiration behind Felt Cute, Might Delete Later.
Tell me how you got started making ceramic shoes.
My exploration with shoes began when I would wear Nike Air Forces all of the time. They started looking like they were made out of clay, and I wanted to challenge myself and try to make one that was ceramic but looked like an actual shoe.
When I walked around New York I noticed people wore a lot of Adidas Stan Smiths, white Converse Chuck Taylors, Nike Air Forces, and Vans. The shoes that seemed more popular were the ones I began to make. However, I realized that it didn't only have to be shoes that seemed accessible to me. I started looking at different brands and designers and thought pretending to wear these shoes would be funny. That's how the Instagram photos began. I would put my foot behind the ceramic piece and then photograph it. It was a little bit ironic at the time.
Is there a way you want people to engage with your work online?
With the work online, I see it as exposure for my practice. It sparks conversation about the importance we put on brands and designers and what that says about us. It's interesting seeing how people interact with specific shoes and thinking about why we're drawn to specific ones.
Do you apply the same level of intention to your style?
Yes. I think so much of personal style comes from how you style what you wear versus what you're wearing. Clothes can carry so much meaning and history, and although I don't necessarily wake up and feel the weight of what I pick out to wear every morning, I do make intentional choices.
My daily outfits have to feel true to me. I love mixing collared shirts with crew-neck sweaters. I love styling denim jeans with my Mary Janes. I embroider things onto my sweaters and love wearing the color red because of my last name. I tend to always match my socks to the collared shirts I wear under my sweaters, and recently, I've been wearing a lot of hair clips.
What's something beauty or wellness-related that activates your five senses?
I always have smiley faces painted on my fingernails, and I usually use black nail polish and a small painting brush to paint them on. Seeing the smiles on my hands is a reminder that things are okay. There's something soothing about painting the faces on, the smell of nail polish tends to wake me up a bit, and I've been doing this for so long now that if my hands don't have the smileys on them, they don't feel like my hands.
Do you have any advice for tapping into art as self-care or wellness?
Do the things that feel good. Another thing is to try to finish something once you start. Sometimes we tend to get discouraged or quickly step away because we're like, this is taking too much time. But if you can work through that, it'll feel really good.
I want to discuss your show, Felt Cute, Might Delete Later. What was it like preparing to bring your vision to life?
I've been working on the pieces for this show for the past year. I've had the shoelaces pieces in mind for a bit now. I haven't been as public about them because they were such a different body of work, and I didn't want other people's opinions to make me rethink how I felt about them. But they were refreshing to work on when I wasn't in the studio and working on them at home, so I could focus on weaving these pieces.
Is there a piece that you think best captures your artistic identity at the moment?
Yeah, the one with the dirty shoelaces. It was one of the first ones I made. The title is: Entertaining The Idea That I May Be the Love of My Life. It's really special. A lot of people strive for perfection. But having dirty shoelaces on the first larger piece I made means a lot to me.
I love your use of language in naming the pieces and the show itself, and it's like a play on a meme or culture. Does that come naturally to you?
I feel like it's a way that we all connect. Everyone tends to understand a meme and its simplicity and how complex it can sometimes be. I tend to have a lot of fun with naming.
If you zoom out from the humor, you're addressing some pretty heavy themes. But I think that's what draws me to your work—it's accessible.
Exactly. There's part of it that does feel very personal, but it's also me being vulnerable. I'm naturally shy, so this is my way of putting my voice out there and being able to relate to someone who might also feel the same way.
It's important not to have it be something that goes over everyone's head. My title for the show, Felt Cute, Might Delete Later, speaks to that. When people typically use that phrase, they're usually posting a selfie. This is my way of posting a selfie and saying, hey, this is important for right now.
That's poignant. As an artist, are you more motivated by beauty or conversation?
I would say conversation. Everyone has a unique way of thinking about what is beautiful and what isn't.
What's something that changed your mind about beauty recently?
People, in general. When you go out into the world, you can see things as being negative or have more of a positive outlook. I tend to be more of a glass-half-full type of person, and I don't see why I would be negative when it seems like there's so much negativity out there already.