We had the good fortune of connecting with Shirley Alonso and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shirley, what is the most important factor behind your success?
Displaying my work in galleries and events to people other than my family to see was a success in its own. I had the courage to show work that my culture found taboo to talk about. My thoughts’ and art’s purpose was to aide my mental health whenever I felt depleted. Every time I posted my work on Instagram or set it up on my 6ft table for a show, I had mostly positive responses and having people feeling heard and seen for the first time in their lives has been such a rewarding experience for me. My brown, chubby, Nicaraguan American life was being seen and understood, I finally have a voice for the first time in my life, and don’t let others dictate my thoughts anymore. My brand is for all the thoughts and actions that we as womxn of color have been shut down for most of our lives. My artwork encourages womxn of all shapes and sizes to be their authentic selves even when society tries to shut us down. The true success of my journey has been building relationships with all sorts of crafters and artists and have found a home for my self-worth and works of art.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m proud of my story being published in not only English articles but a Spanish article as well. I was terrified of being vulnerable with Spanish speakers, especially the middle aged and elderly, because they were the ones being negative about my work, saying I was too much, that I was corrupting their children; when my only goal in my art was to create conversations our brown cultures found frowned upon and to not only enhance my self esteem but other womxn feeling the same way I do, lost and voiceless. There were 3 lessons I wish someone would have told me before starting my artist vendor life: 1) ask yourself, “who’s my audience?” I had to learn through trial and error that I can’t please everyone and that I don’t do my best anywhere in a closed minded community,, “family friendly events”, non POC events, and if the majority of the vendors aren’t the actual face of the “small business” (ex. Triangle businesses that involve hosting parties & merchandise they didn’t create themselves) 2) Get to know your neighbor, they’re your friends not competition. They’ll most likely tell you more events to showcase your work in. 3) As much as social media has been a big impact on any small business, don’t focus on it too hard when it comes to the day of selling your art. Stop texting friends and answering DMs and talk to the people who actually showed up to see and buy your craft. The biggest lesson I’ve learned and am continuing to learn is to never sell myself short and take into consideration, my degree, my years I’ve spent on my craft and passion I have for my art and messages behind each and every one of them. Whenever people stop by my table or browse my page I want them to feel good about themselves and that it’s ok to be vocal about what we want in this life. I want people, but womxn especially to feel at home when they’re around my artwork.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Depending on the best friend, but my itinerary on the best time ever revolves around food adventures and/or a night out dancing. If you’re a very special friend, it’s my mother’s and aunties’ cooking would be first on the food adventure. Check out Old Pasadena for all the various options, I’m such a sucker for the Dynamite and Philadelphia roll. La 27, a Nicaraguan restaurant in LA., good hole in the walls, authentic meals served with sass. Take them to Chinatown for Wong Ton soup or Little Tokyo for some Ramen. Go to Highland Park to get pupusas and platanos that gentrification didn’t hit. Sometimes I’d show them my artwork by taking them to the Pasadena Chalkfestival I have been attending since 2012 or an art pop up if they’re interested to try my vendor homies vegan yumminess, pupusas, tacos, cupcakes y todo mas. Lastly a night out dancing in Downtown LA, Pomona, Hollywood, Echo Park, or Oldtown Pasadena depending on which friend I’m taking. The music genres of these nights out include Latin, Hip Hop, metal, rock, alternative , industrial, 80s, 90s, Emo, and mostly anything with a rhythm.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My family, for always believing in my work even if it was foreign to them. As a first generation Nicaragüense – American/Latinx, I was born and raised to always seize my dreams. My sister Melanie, my mother, and my friend Lisette vend my artwork with me whenever they can so I don’t feel alone in the hours I put to having strangers see me, my art pieces and hopefully purchase it. They help me assemble, de-assemble, and hype me up whenever I need a restroom break or am working on caricatures. My support system is strong & am lucky to have them in my life My vendor friends who have become family and motivate me to keep going, to never apologize for my work at my most vulnerable, and which events to sell my pieces. I’ve grown a network of inspirational womxn I’m happy to call my friends. These artists and crafters aren’t competition but my shoulders to lean on whenever an event is a miss and my people to celebrate with when it’s a hit. Vendors supporting vendors has kept me from quitting. There are too many to name drop that have taken recognition in my story, & I’m grateful for all of them. Every brownish body.
Cumbiatòn LA – Photography by Paolo J. Riveros Melissa Alvarez (purple backdrop)