Art: ‘Juxtaposing Joy’ by Wendy Cornejo

This piece placed third for high school art submissions in the 2023 Ánimo Voices Writing and Art Competition, which invited students to respond to the open prompt “About Joy” The competition is an opportunity to motivate, recognize, and celebrate our strong student voices through writing, spoken word, and art.

Juxtaposing Joy

Screenshot 2023-04-26 at 10.16.03 PM

Artist Statement

We understand the world through contrast. The main subject of my piece is the top center goddess figure, “Joy,” a personification of the “unfathomable emotion of blissfulness and jubilation.” She is a real joy because she is growing from her opposite: woe, that inevitable feeling of “grief and sadness.” Woe is beautifully anchored in grief and impermanence: everyone we love will perish, represented by the visual metaphor of the skeleton sinking into a “Day of the Dead garden.” When losing someone, a family member, a bond, or a friend, it is heart-wrenching. This winter, I lost my uncle. Originally, I focused on all that I could’ve changed, which did not help. So, I incited joy by creating this painting. I learned to cope with loss by holding onto all memories: joyful and sad. I created joy from loss. I hope my audience can also find joy in seeing this piece and in the sharing of memories represented by the orbs and hands reaching out, and holding on. As a society, we need to question and think about the fact that facing our woe, rather than hiding it, can lead us to feel liberated, free, and happy. We should share our joy and in doing so, we should share our woe. Through bittersweet reflection, we can heal. Real joy grows from the grieving process and painting this was a long process that led me from woe to joy.

My intention is supported by the design process. The piece is unified by the repetition of hands holding onto memories, painted in oil paints, purposely with a similar color scheme to the branches. We grow from holding onto and contemplating all memories. I create contrast by making the forest dark. Joy is purposely bright and pale yellow, understood because of the complimentary dark purples, reds, and greens in the forest. I then found joy by misting over the dark values with gold spray paint and unifying the two figures and panels in a permanent cycle of juxtaposition. In adding the thick gold acrylic, I discovered that joy wins because woe’s halo is now
gold. Woe will soon rise and become joy. My viewer's eye will experience this inevitable rollercoaster between joy and woe due to the visual movement supported by an “8” curve and constant fluid lines. Expressive brush strokes support an “s curve composition” of movement which can be seen as bright memories flow out from the skeleton, growing in a garden of marigolds, further supporting the notion that joy grows from woe.

At the bottom of the composition, we linger in the garden of marigolds to notice that woe’s blissful tears are soothed by heartwarming, nostalgic memories. Sadness will always be there, and that’s okay. The marigolds convey the notion that we need to work to grieve and find joy from memories. Once we are healed, and holding onto all memories, we will return to joy. We understand joy only when she is standing in a dark forest and the night sky.

The joy I share with my audience is unified by repeating visual metaphors such as orbs of memories, grasping hands, tree branches similar to the hands, gold crosses, flowing rhythm, and gold dust. As I painted my piece, I created contrast by juxtaposing dark, light, warm, and cool colors. The feedback I received included, “Joy is not smiling.” Well, “Joy is trying her best.” We all are trying our best. This goddess is not a mask; She is constantly on the defense. I included the purple fabric connecting the wrists of joy, which represents the little sadness people have underneath their fabricated emotions. She is not smiling because joy is always working hard to cover the sadness. I want the viewer to think about how we could be the cause of joy's prosperity. Furthermore, her strong hands and curved back send the message that the emotion of joy is a warrior, far stronger than woe. She is joyful because she is alive. History and memories must be
actively guarded, represented by the hands, holding on tightly to orbs of memories, reaching and holding onto history. Facing all emotions, memories, history, pain, and woe will lead to a joyful life because we understand light, know darkness, and understand that joy and woe will always be woven together.

Wendy Cornejo



Wendy Cornejo

12th Grade, Ánimo Jackie Robinson Charter High School

Guiding Teacher: Ms. Kopera