Art: ‘I Am My Cathedral’ by Jessica Miguel Mateo

This piece placed second for Art  submissions in the 2024 Ánimo Voices WRITING, ART, & SPOKEN WORD COMPETITION 2024, which invited students to respond to an open prompt. The competition is an opportunity to motivate, recognize, and celebrate our strong student voices through writing, spoken word, and art.

I Am My Cathedral

2nd place art winner

Jessica Miguel Mateo: Artist Statement

In my visual art piece “I Am My Cathedral,'' the main subjects of my piece are a
myriad of expressive oil self portraits existing in a displaced and fragmented world of Paraiso,
Purgatorio, and Infierno, unified to reveal a corrupt system keeping kids from finding
themselves. The first image shows the original physical works numbered in order of
completion. The second image shows how I digitally unified all three physical oil paintings
with an iPad Procreate to create a Cathedral where I discover my current self, trapped
between two extremes created by society’s idealism and mental anxiety. I digitally unified
the three physical works by connecting clusters with flowing rhythmic paint strokes, creating
a stained glass pattern in hell, and repeating significant visual motifs such as skeletons, blue
swirling cycles of obsessions, and praying hands.

The process of creating this Cathedral by unifying physical oil paintings is a choice to
build a stronger me free of the requirement to mask and cover myself. The solution is to see
and love ourselves as we are, which is represented by my vulnerable painting of myself.
Dissecting our truth leads to true self love and self discovery. Near the bottom of the
composition, I used Procreate to create a patchwork pattern of stained glass, conveying a
discovered beauty in facing our demons, resulting in a motivation to become unstuck. My
playful cats, dancing in clown collars, hints at humor discovered in finding a way out. The
focal point of the painting is my paradiso self portrait (painting 1) surrounded by a bright blue
sky. The repeated praying hands create convergence, pointing at me. I’ve removed my “clown
mask,” representing society’s expectations. The bright angels signify religion, a monumental
part of my childhood. The heavens and clown masks are purposely painted in unnaturally
pure white, tying them to clown masks, conveying that religion can be an unnatural masking
and hiding truth. I am standing strong because I am facing my history.

My face is purposely rendered in darker values, looking out at the viewer, seeing the
truth. The shadows on my face convey a toxic religious household, the first source of me
being stuck. The praying hands beneath me, holding me, represent my fight to free myself by
making this art. I am stuck in between my two sisters: eldest on the left, youngest on the
right, supported by a cold, dull, purgatory-like landscape. My siblings’ eyes are closed, not
seeing me; I either love them one moment or I hate them the next. To the left of the paradiso
is a ballerina in a clown mask that represents my yearning for “perfection”(painting 3), the
second source of my purgatory. Yet my angel wings hang low, and my cats are doubtful of
this “heavenly pursuit.” The hands pulling my organs down into an inferno of skeletons
represents the omen of death, and thus my urgency to create. The truth of mortality is
underscored by the natural yellowish whites in the skeleton. The overthinker (painting 2) is
rendered as an unmasked cycle of swirling blue lines sufferers from self doubt. Many people
don’t realize that teenagers feel that once we “fix” something about ourselves we'll see
another “imperfection,” then it’ll repeat itself over and over again like a cycle. This cycle of
worrying about perfection, death, and religion creates hell, leaving us stuck and confused.

But it’s my hope that my viewer will see the whole picture of the Cathedral and the
path out and up the stairs.The overall visual tension between a “heavenly” idealism (painting
1) and a hellish anxiety (painting 2) is meant to draw the viewer in to discover a personal
solution. So many kids struggle with growing up in toxic religious households. We also obsess
over the concept of perfection (painting 3). We don’t always look the way we wish - like a
ballerina - and that’s okay. But we can climb up stairs towards our own heaven and find
freedom by understanding that “the self” isn’t defined by circumstances such as family,
religion, and societal expectations. How we respond to circumstances and create meaning
out of our pain, with art, makes us who we are. It’s better to step back and create something
from our broken pieces rather than to stay stuck and silent.




Jessica Miguel Mateo

11th Grade, Ánimo Jackie Robinson Charter High School

Guiding Teacher: Rachel Kopera