At home in El Salvador, a gang attacked me and my friends. They killed three of my best friends that day. In the shooting, a bullet struck made my legs, putting me in a wheelchair.
SARASOTA, Florida — A brutal act of gang violence in 2009 left me immobile and in a wheelchair. I turned to art. Suddenly, I became aware of how fragile life is, and art served as my therapy and form of expression.
I began studying art in Norway and then, in 2021, won the highest scholarship honor at Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida. This year, I earned a feature on PBS.
I have experienced many difficult moments in my life but being a victim of violence changed things drastically. At home in El Salvador, a gang attacked me and my friends.
They killed three of my best friends that day. In the shooting, a bullet struck made my legs, putting me in a wheelchair. Though I struggled with difficulties after the shooting, the incident presented new opportunities for me to learn and know myself better.
I had always been curious about art. As a child, my mother always took me to church. I admired the altar and the sculptures. I felt an immense curiosity to understand that form of expression, which also provoked feelings in me I did not understand.
Later, I met my neighbor, who was an artist. I liked to watch him paint and attended his exhibitions. It made me want to learn. He told me he could teach me, and I took up his offer. One Sunday, while he rested, I took a notebook and began learning. That’s how I started to draw.
The desire to improve motivated me to continue. Growing up in El Salvador, we experienced economic limitations, but my mother pushed us to study. She served as a pillar, and I learned that a person’s financial limitations do not determine who you are or where you can go.
I made up my mind. In 2014, I went to Norway for three years for a high school study abroad program, thanks to the United World Colleges organization.
After the shooting, I never gave up, constantly looking for ways to move forward. I took advantage of being a proud Salvadoran.
In 2015, I participated in the Winter Games in Norway. I represented El Salvador and won a silver medal in Cross Country at 21 km. I even painted a mural for the Queen of Norway.
Today, many of my paintings carry personal meaning. Creating pieces of art such as my self-portrait or “Innocent,” in which a boy is shooting a horse, have deeply impacted me.
When I completed a series about angels, they symbolized freedom and questioning the afterlife. My art represents a compilation of experiences I have seen, have happened, or are inspired by people who lost their lives at an early age due to violence.
I do not seek to pay tribute to violence but rather go beyond it, and understand it is part of our reality.
Today, painting gives meaning to my daily life. In fact, it serves as a way of life. It makes me feel complete. I can express my emotions through art. As an artist, I also feel a responsibility to monitor my time, my emotions, the way I think, and how I interpret my world. I try to be sincere when painting the tragedy that happened to me or the sadness I see around me.
Being impacted by gang violence forced me to grow up at a very early age, and to see life realistically. It led me to understand everything is fleeting and fragile. I began feeling love, compassion, and a sense of humanity for others.
Now, I seek to replicate my passion and share it. Along the way, I met people who extended their hand to me – to help or to offer sincere advice. My art allows me to share what I receive. I want to make a difference in a country like El Salvador, so I return home regularly.
If possible, I would like my people to have the same opportunity I had. I want everyone to dare to dream. Great things can be achieved with art, including changing people’s lives.
All photos by Cecilia Fuentes
Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.
Pledge to be a #ConsciousCitizen today and demand #GlobalCooperationNow! by signing this petition. Sign Our Petition.