MIRROR – Taina Cruz, 2020

Stories of the Black and Latinx diaspora translated into a collection of fashion and photography.


Taina (Tai) Cruz




Black or Afro-Latinx


Sculpture and Critical Theory

Fav color

Black or “Charcoal Grey would be my go-to”
Cool tones, earthly tones



DE: Have you ever felt constrained to a trope or have had others project onto you whether that be by your racial or ethnic identity or minimized into something by your physical appearance?

TC: “Definitely a couple years ago that was ingrained in my being, always being represented as this one idea. I think that’s because growing up in NYC which is super diverse you’re able to see people around you that look like you and things like that. Growing up in Harlem and the Bronx allowed me to feel that tight knight community but also then growing up in a top niche private school situation you can see a big contrast. Even though it's within the ideals of Neo-Liberalism and diversity like NY is really great at putting tons of money into this idea of inclusivity. I think private school has that freedom versus public schools who explore this diversity side but I think within that I think there’s this veil of this isn’t right but of course there's these people or higher figures that tell you this is what diversity and intersectionality is supposed to be like. It has become a popular rhetoric of what intersectionality is but then it loses its original meaning throughout this trying to appease the basic society. But eliminating that idea that you could be this one singular identity is something that allowed me to get away from that mindset. But there’s a way to turn what people view you into something more uplifting and free and I guess I’m still in that and my work is constantly trying to do.”

DE: “I think it’s a relearning of what identity means because I think growing up you’re put in different categories you can be but they never talked about how those can overlap or even the history behind them. So it is a relearning where you’re like ‘oh you can just be many of them??’”

TC: “And I think it’s a fun experience, there’s something exciting about relearning all of these things because then it introduces new connections and ideas that you wouldn't have been able to reach if it wasn't for your past experiences of dealing with this and that and I guess like how emotions play out of how does it feel to be within that constraint but then knowing that that constraint is this imaginary box that doesn’t exist. Or it is existing in that moment but it is a passing feeling and I think knowing that allows you to feel more free. But despite all of that you have to like ground yourself into that mentality. At one point it was hard for me to even view that mentality as something that I could achieve just because of the negative past experiences. It’s okay for us to feel free or its okay for us to exist without these boundaries and that just goes within that relearning aspect.”

DE: “A lot of what my collection hopes to be is allowing people to be removed from those boundaries especially in the context of MICA. Presenting all these people of color to them. The audience is going to be majority just white people- our peers our classmates our teachers and maybe families might be the only other people.

So another question I had is what would you want to be represented as in front of those people and have you ever been given that opportunity?

Especially since right now we are seniors and we are about to graduate, this is one of the only or the last times that you will be shown in front of other people. And I know you’ve modeled for other designers and done other things, I don't know how much of a collaboration it was but looking back at those things what has been your opinion on how you were shown or represented?”
TC: “When working with other designers it has always depended. I’ve done stuff back home that felt more collaborative than it did here but here it's been a different environment so of course its different more homey feeling here. Whereas one place it was a collaborative art show experience but then it felt very cold and isolating, but here it's more warm. How I want to be viewed? I don’t know how?”

DE: “Not even like physically, I’ve gotten responses in the past where people have said they wanted to be seen as vulgar.”

TC: “Someone said that?”

DE: “Yea they said vulgar along with other adjectives. They said that because ‘I feel like people don’t necessarily want to talk to you at MICA or are afraid about what they say to me but then when they do they act kind of scared.”

TC: *giggles* “I totally understand that” *laughs*

DE: “they’re not sure what to say and what will offend me I guess? So I want to be that person that they view me as or they’re making me feel like to emphasize that in front of all of them. I guess it’s being really petty.”

TC: “No I totally understand. I guess in terms of my relationship to how I’m perceived on the outside, I’ve always wanted to be seen as a grounded person or how do I want to be seen? Because how I desire to be seen as is different then how I actually want to be seen as or how I actually feel that I’m seen as. My desire is to be seen as this grounded person but people have always told me they see this very eccentric, not eccentric as in weird but something that is unattainable to really grasp at but they want to. I’ve had people constantly tell me that they see this glowing aura but they are afraid to approach that so because of that there is always surface level communications. I don’t even know if that answers that?”

DE: “Yea what you’re describing is a feeling or idea and then from there’s also your favorite color or things that represent you or objects that are an extension of you or an extension of home?”

TC: “ With the colors and the objects I think I always revert back to feeling one or grounded in the earth and what does the earth and vibrations are telling me? I understand that through that I can have my ancestors speaking to me certain wisdom or ideas and that helps influence my being and my creative being and these different identities within. Whatever object I can find a connection back to the center of the earth or back to a memory I would have of an ancestor to keep their memory alive. I guess I try not to have a deep attachment to objects as well because my family members have these deep connections to objects and I see the positive and the negative side to that so knowing its okay to have these central objects that connect back to family or the ground.”

DE: “So you distance yourself from that idea because your family is drawn to that idea?”

TC: “Yea they are and I see the benefits of that but I try to find a middle ground between the both.”

DE: “What kind of objects?”

TC: “I like collecting minerals and rocks and things like that, I have an heirloom tie from my great grandmother. I like to use candles and incense and I have a collection of herbs to make teas and things like that. I have a nice rug…”

DE: “This all sounds so nice like…” *giggles*

TC” *laughs* “I try to build a safe sanctuary and I’m literally mapping out my apartment. I see my home as this sanctuary of peace and groundedness. My mom doesn’t have a lot of money but she was able to buy me this rug from this store in East Harlem that is from Africa but it has these beautiful intricate designs on it and the fact that it's made from this wealthy leather material, it's now a meditation center in my bedroom.”

DE: “I’ve seen one of those before.”

TC: “It’s the only I wouldn’t say fancy, leather material that I own. Everything else is form thrift stores or second-handed but that is an og furniture material.”

DE: “Do you like leather a lot?

TC: “Not really” *laughs*

DE: “...Because I’ve been working with leather and I’m trying to put two and two together...”

TC: *gasps and laughs* “I mean I’ve delved into some leather pants from time to time but I like clothes that make me feel comfortable. I always wear loose clothing...”

DE: “Yea leather is pretty constricting.”

TC: “Yea I only wear leather when I’m going out or when I feel special or something like that. But my everyday basics are clothes one can breathe through.”

DE: “So that’s why you want to be portrayed in everyday kind of looks?”

TC: “Yea I guess think: linen beach material. Because linen or thin material like that, or cotton, can help me feel more within my body and I like feeling my body in a loose free way.”

DE: “Alright thank you, because this is a collaboration in a way since I’m trying to merge the style that I’m working in with what you feel and how you want to be represented. So that’s my task to put that together.”

TC: “I think linen can connect… Sorry I keep going back to Linen but it’s a material that I know I have in my closet because I can wear it at the beach or in the sand....”

DE: “It’s versatile.”

TC: “...Yea I know I can wear it at all times in all climates which I like.”

DE: “It sounds like a big deal for me to represent someone but it’s definitely something I really enjoy. I want to go into visual editorial storytelling. And what’s better than representing your stories. Especially since it’s not like you all as models are being paid, you’re just wearing something and walking down a runway…”

TC: “And we’re all students…”

DE: “Yea and we’re all artists, we’re all creative. Also if there is any other way you think of collabing besides just walking, you let me know. For example I’m using Yasin as a model. Yasin’s a freshman from Miami...”

TC: “Right I feel like we’ve talked about him before. What is he doing?”

DE: “He wants to do product design, he likes shoe design. So we’re collaborating on the shoes, I looked at his shoe designs and he uses a lot of transparent fabrics. But he doesn’t make the shoes, so he’s really excited that I’m making him these shoes. He was like “those are hard!” *shows Tai an image of the shoes I plan to make for Yasin*

TC: “Oh I love those pants! “Tyler's Photos” that’s where I got the leather pants that I mentioned, I literally got it from him. That’s what I was thinking about when we were talking about the leather pants, it’s funny that you have him there.”

DE: “Wait, you worked with him? That’s so cool!”

TC: “Yea I think it’s that you know so many people back home that you just… But yea it was a video shoot he did for his Thesis and it wasn’t paid but at least I got to keep those leather pants. And those are the only leather pants I own.”

DE: “Maybe he likes leather? But yea I’m working on that.” *shows photos of shoes I’m working on*

TC: “Where is that?” *referring to the location in the photo*

DE: “I don’t know their just on a cliff” *laughs*

TC: *laughs*

DE: “The boots will have motifs on the side in the way cowboy boots have inlays with other pieces of leather in them. I’ll be doing motifs with inlays but instead of other leather it’ll be transparent so you can see through it and see the pants or legs underneath the boots. That’s what I’m working on right right now.”

TC: “Yea I love apocalyptic wear they kind of remind me of that.”

DE: “Me too! Making everything is a process and I’m working on a lot right now. That’s why I asked you to model so long ago and you were probably like what??”

TC: “No that’s good because other people were asking me and I have to mark down. No I’m glad you did.”

DE: “Do I have any more questions to ask you? Hmm.. just one more. It goes back to the topic of constraints. Have you felt the pressure to make work about your ethnicity, identity, race while being at MICA.”

TC: “Yea definitely…”

DE: “ Or escalate here at MICA?...”

TC: “No no, which is a good thing. I think it was inevitable that that would happen, that you can’t really resent it or build a negative emotion towards it happening. It is how it is, is what I thought of it as. But it definitely didn’t accelerate, it took a lot of discipline for myself and I had to change how I think about my work and how I want my work to be perceived as. But in order to do that it took a lot of self-care, and through that self-care it was shown in my work, I think that’s how I was now able to get new ideas and new goals.”

DE: “I think that goes back to the fact that a lot of the teachers here are white and I’ve always felt this pressure to explain where I’m from or what I’m making in order for other people and teachers to understand it in class. And I’ve just heard from other people of color that that shifts their work and makes it more about educating the class. But then you come to realize, wait that's not what I do or what I’m for, I’m more than that…”

TC: *Nods head* “Yea yea. I definitely felt that way that I had to teach my teachers but I think of it now as, they’re here whether I want them to be or not and I use it to my advantage to suck out whatever resources they may have. Because MICA is a well known institution and there’s people that understand MICA as this wealth of resource so I keep that in mind. Even though there are white teachers, and I remember feeling so much angst against it from my long relationship with white teachers and talking about diversity since like pre-k or things like that, but I think now understanding that this is a wonderful opportunity…”

DE: “Right it’s not a battle but as something you can take what you will with...”

32:30 TC: “...And just thinking about how short you’ll know them in this long lifespan, it’s not worth those rushing hyper-being feelings that you get when you’re discussing this very sensitive topic. Because I’m a sensitive person I could ball out crying trying to explain myself in critique…”

DE: “Wait what sign are you?”

TC: “I’m a cancer.”

DE: “Oh so am I! When you said that you’re sensitive I was like wait I think she’s a cancer…”

TC: “I can get worked up super easy, especially if it's something that I’m talking about in general...”

DE: “Yea you get overwhelmed.”

TC: “So I understand that emotion. It’s just a passing feeling, just accept that feeling let it happen, acknowledge that it’s there.

DE: “Write about it or something…”

TC: “Yea exactly, but that’s how I think about it.”

33:40 DE: “I write” *refers to MIRROR Magazine* “it’s become this and I’m working with this but I still struggle with how this is so commercial and the cover and the title are still things I’m working on. Over winter break I had a lot of time to think about how I want to approach the magazine and display writing. Just wanted to let you know that the magazine will change so that you can foresee that since I won’t always be able to update you along the way. But please let me know if you have any ideas or think of other ways to collaborate. I think I’m going to ask Karryl soon if he can make something with all of the audio of the interviews and create some type of sound for the show. It would be really cool if at the show there are parts of what each model said during the interviews along with a beat.”

TC: “I’ll let you know for sure. I’m just trying to find my way back since I haven’t worked with my hands in a while.”

DE: “We talked about your work the other day, that sculpture you were creating with the figure. How is that going?”

TC: “It’s going good yea its been a good response so that’s really exciting,”

DE: “It was like a swing with a person?”

TC: “It didn’t really have a specific tie to anything but there was a metal bar and then this figure was pulling the bar and wearing a horseshoe crab armour hat covered in tobacco leaves and things like that. I really liked how it was invoking sense of smell when you get closer to the piece and connected to this robotic hat that I put together. It was a good turn out, I’m trying to see if I’m going to use some of those pieces for my thesis but maybe not we’ll see.”

DE: “Are you guys already choosing your places for Art Walk?...”

TC: “Yea

© Diana Eusebio