An interview with artist Jahaira Aguilar

Jahaira Aguilar wears many, many hats—almost too many to count. A recent graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute, she is an artist in residence at the Charlotte Street Foundation. She’s the art director for Art in the Loop Foundation and a co-director of Front/Space. And that’s not counting her day job as a coordinator in the director’s office at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. If that weren’t a full enough plate, she recently added one more item to her resume—MoBank Artboard artist. Through the end of February, you can view Aguilar’s “Clear Sign of Joy” on one of the two billboards dedicated to art above the Mobank at 125 Southwest Boulevard. Kansas City Spaces recently caught up with Aguilar to talk about her most recent installation—and how she keeps all those balls in the air.

Jahaira Aguilar

Kansas City Spaces: What is your artistic background?

Jahaira Aguilar: I graduated from KCAI in 2016. I studied painting formally, but in my junior and senior years, I started drifting into installation art and sculpture. It’s an ongoing departure, but I do still consider myself a painter.

KCS: Tell us about “Clear Sign of Joy,” the MoBank Artboard. What was the inspiration there?

JA: It’s a photograph of pieces of a larger installation that I’m working on. It has pennant flags made out of clear vinyl, about 50 feet of pennant strands for the photograph. The hope is to have a larger installation of them.

The reason I chose the flags is I’m interested in what a billboard does. A billboard takes away from the image of the sky but is an image itself. My billboard, I wanted it to be interactive more than image. I photographed it with the intention of the sky as a background—it plays with the sky behind it. It’s more of an installation within the sky.

The hope is to generate excitement for a larger installation.

KCS: What does the bigger project entail?

JA: It will have the same clear pennant flag but will not be photographic; it’ll be the actual pennants themselves. The larger installation is a pavilion of 500 to 700 feet of pennant flags I’ve been making by hand. They are clear but also reflect so much light, not like regular pennant flags that absorb the light. They almost glitter and dance in the sky.

KCS: What are your plans for the larger installation?

JA: Open Spaces seems right up my alley. It’s very new. It’s an exhibition-style temporary sculpture festival that will be held in 2018. It will be held Aug. 25 to Oct. 28, with nine weeks of performances and temporary art installations. It’s in Swope Park, but you can apply to put a sculpture anywhere in the city. I can see my pavilion interacting with other sculptures on that skyline in the park.

KCS: Sounds like another great project. What else are you juggling?

JA: Really I wear four hats for now: the Nelson, Art in the Loop, Charlotte Street, and co-director of Front/Space, one of the oldest artist-run galleries in KC.

I work at the Nelson in the director’s office with Julián (Zugazagoitia). He’s been a great mentor to me. I started as an intern and now am working full-time as a coordinator. He’s been such an amazing advocate for me as an artist. I was able to work as the curatorial project assistant to Julian on the “Through the Eyes of Picasso” exhibit that he curated. Julián’s background is amazing—he speaks so many different languages. Understanding the importance of vision and perspective is what I’ve learned from him the most. If you don’t have vision and perspective, you don’t have anything.

Another one of my hats is as the art director at Art in the Loop. In the past, it’s been an annual exhibit for temporary works or performances. This year we’re trying to introduce a new studio residence with the Art in Loop Foundation, so we’re getting our feet wet in creating studio space.

I’m in a collaborative at Charlotte Street with my partner, Andrew Lattner, called NDo. We’re working on the idea of creating more artist spaces in Kansas City. I also studied social process at KCAI—what it means to introduce creative spaces into a community. Artists who can’t afford a studio space that’s $400 or more a month might look in lower-income areas for studio space, but there are consequences for all these decisions. We looked to Charlotte Street’s community residency as a model for more studio spaces in Kansas City. We’re looking at how to create symbiotic relationships within that community, not parasitic, as in “We’re only here because the rent’s cheap.” It’s all about the research that goes into it, not just the real estate.

As an artist, I’ve gotten to know the art of hustling. You can’t just do one thing.