Sculptor Shapes Her Story, Your Story, and Everyone Else’s, Too

Cristina Córdova’s work is known the world over. But it was at Penland where she began to understand her work in the context of contemporary craft.
Portrait by Colby Rabon

Many of Cristina Córdova’s sculptures resist being identified as either feminine or masculine. “In the case of androgyny,” she says, “I’m really interested in that precise boundary where one thing shifts into the other, or keeps you looping, because you have a coexistence of the qualities that could be associated with one gender versus another.”

In other pieces, she’s exploring “the space between what’s attractive and what’s repulsive, and understanding beauty not as belonging to just one side of that spectrum, but being able to manifest throughout — even coexisting with things that may seem in its opposition.”

Córdova was born in Boston and raised in Puerto Rico in Guaynabo, a suburb of San Juan. When it came time for college, she began by studying engineering at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez. Partway through her first semester, however, she knew she’d made a mistake, and switched to the university’s art school, earning a Bachelor’s degree in art history in 1998. Two years later, she received a Master’s degree from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University.

Del balcón

Later, while studying with dancer and potter Paulus Berensohn in Pittsburgh, she heard him talk about Penland School of Crafts, describing it as a special institution nestled in the mountains of Western North Carolina. She checked it out and was offered a three-year residency at the school. When that ended in 2005, she purchased land there, built her studio, and never left. 

“The Penland residency allowed me to understand myself in the larger context of contemporary craft, not only as it related to ceramics,” she says. “It connected me to other professional creatives and made me feel that I was part of a community.”

LEFT: Aquí siempre hay más sol; RIGHT: El Rey

Referencing her upbringing in Puerto Rico, she acknowledges that a lot of her inspiration “comes from my personal experiences within the context of my culture and my identity.” But she adds that “by departing from something that I am emotionally anchored in … I can best create images that will expand beyond the specificity of my story and affect others in meaningful ways.”

Córdova’s sculptures range from just a few inches high to as tall as nine feet. “Different scales offer different conceptual outlets,” she says. “I am matching the right idea with the right size.”

In the case of one current series, the right size is life-sized. Córdova is combining large-scale figures with photographic imagery “harvested from parts of the Puerto Rican wilderness.” Melding the forms with the pictures is “almost like forcing them to coexist in a sort of diorama, creating this new fantasy out of components sourced from reality,” she explains.

“I’m excited about settling into myself to find what’s at the top of that mountain of interest.”

TOP: Isla; BOTTOM: Nave

Small Works, Big Impact, Cristina Córdova’s show at Momentum Gallery (52 Broadway, downtown Asheville, 828-505-8550, momentumgallery.com) opens Thursday, Nov. 15 and runs through Thursday, Jan. 31. Her work can also be seen at Penland Gallery at Penland School of Crafts. For information about workshops, see the sculptor’s website: cristinacordova.com.

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