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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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Q&A with Manuela Guillén 

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Born into a Cuban and Salvadoran immigrant family in Miami, Manuela Guillén is a freelance painter, muralist and digital illustrator residing in Philadelphia. In 2022, Guillén received her M.A. from Moore College of Art & Design. 

Throughout her career, Guillén has worked with various local, national and global art organizations, including Mural Arts Philadelphia and Gender Justice Fund. She has also partnered with larger brands, such as Old Navy for their “Project WE” series, which included a collection of graphic tees designed by diverse artists. Her art often centers around tropical plants, vibrant colors and her cultural heritage to advocate and bring awareness to environmental and sociopolitical issues, as well as art education. The Hawk sat down with Guillén to learn more about her work and career.

Manuela Guillén poses in her art studio in Philadelphia, Pa. PHOTOS COURTESY OF MANUELA GUILLÉN

The Hawk: When did your passion for art first start? 

Guillén: My early childhood memory was when I was like five and I watched a film. And I remember that there was a scene where there were murals and stained glass windows and I started drawing on the ceiling, I don’t even know how, and on the windows and walls, because I wanted to make a mural in my mind. And that’s one of my earliest memories for art.

The Hawk: What did you originally want your career in art to look like? 

Guillén: Throughout high school and college, I didn’t know where art would lead me. I didn’t think of it as a career yet. I think, at the time, I was still trying to do storytelling in my work, which I still do, but I was hoping to get in the gallery world and showcase.

The Hawk: What made you decide to eventually go into public art? 

Guillén: I started interning for a public art organization called “Fung Collaboratives.” They were based in New York City and did public art, and I saw this opportunity in the public art world and how you don’t need to show your work in a gallery to be known or seen. I’ve met all types of artists from internationally renowned artists to street artists and local artists, and I remember feeling like it was much more wholesome. And I was like, “I think I want to do this. I want to do this type of work.” 

Manuela Guillén’s mural “En El Barrio, We Grow Together.”

The Hawk: What made you decide that painting was the style of art you wanted to produce most? 

Guillén: Public art was really the door to see how not only can you get your work seen by tons of people, but it’s super wholesome. It’s reflective of the community and yourself, but also like that there was a career in art. I was a painter major. Everyone around me was doing graphic art, and I was like, “Oh no, I want to tell stories.” I think painting does a really good job of doing that, and I started doing that through murals.

The Hawk: What is some of the inspiration behind your work? 

Guillén: I love the tropics. I love to daydream about different parts of Latin America, especially where my family’s from [in] Cuba and Salvador. Miami, sometimes, because it did feel like a whole nother world. It’s not like here, I don’t think it’s like anywhere else, to be honest, in America. The work kind of became nostalgic. This way for me to tap back into culture, to the roots.

The Hawk: Who is someone in your life who motivated you to enter freelance art? 

Guillén: My partner. He had a business for 10 years, where he had a record label. He was like, “you need to do this.” He’s like, “you’re going to be okay.” And then he’s like, “remember, and if you’re not okay, you’ve always been resilient. You’ll bounce back, and you’ll fight.” And then I was like, “Yeah, you’re right.”

An example of a displayed acrylic painting by Manuela Guillén.
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Hannah Madeya
Hannah Madeya, Features Editor
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