Ivette Cabrera wants women, especially those with histories of oppression and marginalization, to view themselves as royalty. The Nicaraguan architect-turned-artist is famous for placing crowns on the female subjects of her pieces, whether they be queens, goddesses, rebel fighters or the everyday barrier-breaking badass.
“Headdresses are a symbol of power. We associate a crown with royalty, that position of importance, and it goes across different cultures,” Cabrera, 33, told us. “Headdresses show power, and I want to show that we, women, are all born with that. It’s not physical, so I draw them on women so that we can all see ourselves in that light and know we can accomplish anything.”
The Miami-based creative was inspired by the history of her native country. In doing research on Nicaragua, which Cabrera, along with her siblings and single mother left when she was three years old, she stumbled across a photo that changed her life: a female Sandinista revolutionary.
“There was a woman breastfeeding a child while holding a rifle. She was a fighter,” Cabrera said. “In fact, a lot of women took up arms. So reading into that, and seeing how women can hold different positions and powers in that society and fight, that inspired me to look into other powerful women worldwide.”
But Cabrera, whose career as an artist started just four years ago, hasn’t abandoned her architecture background. Each of her headdresses are hand drawn and inspired by the lines and forms of architecture, using a mix of free-styled forms and rulers as well as a magnifying glass for detail.
Since starting her Monarch series, she has crowned numerous celebrated, vilified and oft-forgotten women. Among them: Kumari, a young goddess worshipped as the divine female energy in Nepal; Zaha Hadid, an Iraqi-born trailblazing woman of color in architecture; Wu Zetian, the only woman to rule China as emperor; and La Malinche, a Native concubine and interpreter for a Spanish conquistador who has been demonized as a traitor, rather than a victim, in Mexico.
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The artist would like to feature more Latin American women in her series, particularly enslaved Africans who ran away and broke free from servitude, but notes that colonialism has made the task difficult.
“The problem with some of the history in Latin America is we don’t see powerful women before the conquistadors. We have a small, limited history of our roots. We lost it when the Spanish came over,” she said.
Cabrera also credits Spanish colonizers for dividing the genders and relegating women’s role in society.
“We were partners. We create life. Unfortunately, we have a history that comes from conquest that made a lot of issues for women prevalent today,” she said.
It’s because of this history of colonialism, patriarchy and white supremacy that Cabrera believes women, especially those of color, are unable to witness their own power – something she hopes her art can help change.
“I think it’s important for us to see the power in ourselves and in other women. If we can start seeing all women, those who have been oppressed, those who lack opportunities, as royalty, too, we can have a greater global awareness,” she said.