Tatiana Arocha

Sunset Park Library


Colombia’s biodiverse rainforests—and the destructive effects colonizers have had on them—remain indelibly imprinted in my psyche and artistic practice. Growing up there, I often journeyed to the rainforests and witnessed lands and lifeways that had been devastated by the ecocidal forces of both the drug trade and the U.S.’s “War on Drugs.”

In my Brooklyn studio, I use digital and analog approaches, including drawing, monoprinting, photocopying and digital painting to create collaged forest portraits that simulate the immense knowledge and web of relationships that nature holds. My fieldwork is a process of communing with plants through drawing, rubbing, photographing, preserving and tracing—essentially creating an index of forms and textures, a personal visual lexicon. Ongoing conversations with Indigenous people, who have both ancestral and contemporary knowledge of the local ecology, have enriched my practice—particularly their cultivation of forests as sites for social and spiritual relationships across generations and species.

I employ a monochrome palette as a metaphor for the endangered natural world; gold is used for details, acting as glimmering reminders of the violent costs of extractive economies and colonial practices. Recently I have experimented with translating this visual vocabulary into sculptural forms using natural materials sourced from the forest itself and sometimes fabricated with support from local artisans. This has led me to more deeply explore how my art process can advance mutually beneficial intercultural, economic and ecological exchanges with my collaborators

—Tatiana Arocha

HOMING  Cora Fisher, BPL Curator of Visual Art

Artist Tatiana Arocha has created two large-scale murals for Sunset Park Library, welcoming us to the newly reopened space with imaginary naturescapes as richly intricate and varied as the neighborhood itself. In these scenes—just as in the library—one can find both sanctuary and imaginative departures.

The first mural, destellos naranjas en la copa de los árboles (glimpses of orange between the treetops), is named after a line from the Judith Santopietro poem that accompanies it. Located in the library’s entryway, the mural transports us to an urban forest of native Brooklyn plants and wild birds, reptiles, snakes and wolves. On the mural’s lefthand side is an Anhinga, a Brazilian water bird that was unexpectedly sighted in Prospect Park in 2023, signaling the shifting migration patterns due to climate change that bring tropical birds north—possibly never to return to their point of origin.

The piece is made from the surrounding neighborhood’s trees, leaves, rocks and dirt, here depicted in grayscale with accents of bright orange, pink, turquoise and green. Young artists from Mixteca, a local community arts organization, helped Arocha marbleize paper and digitally transpose them.

Along the main reading room’s blue wall, Arocha’s second mural, Antes del amanecer (Before Dawn) depicts a large, magical tree with two owls. The scene represents a memory of the artist’s father’s home in Colombia: A pair of owls once lived in the tree beside his house. When the family trimmed the trees, the owls left—leaving no predator-in-residence to get rid of nearby mice. The owls had, in fact, been contributing members of the household but were driven away by human intervention.

Inspired by a large tree in Sunset Park (whose swooping branch children love to climb on), this mural’s canopy is composed of finely detailed leaves and a trunk populated with lichens and fungi. One owl sits discretely in its branches; the other glides along the wall as if to fly away. Like the Anhinga, the owls’ natural habitats and migratory patterns are being altered by humans—an increasingly common phenomenon.

Both of Arocha’s large-scale artworks tell migration stories. They stitch together natural imagery from various ecosystems and place them in the complex tapestry that is New York, balancing realism and imagination. We might even regard Arocha’s Sunset Park artworks as magical realist habitats. For the artist, who immigrated from Colombia, her use of detailed observation and plant gathering as a way to relate living systems from various places, they are a way of placemaking, of making familiar.

Through her process and imagery, Arocha’s hope is—much like the library’s—to provide a space of possibility, dynamic enough to allow for both familiarity and discovery, difference and belonging.

And like Arocha’s intricately imagined landscapes, which connect diverse people, animals and plants, Santopietro’s poem, from which the artwork borrows its title, uses lush imagery of plants and environments—from rainforest, to desert, to city—to evoke the experience of migration. In these scenes one can find sanctuary and make imaginative departures; we imagine arriving in a place, perhaps even Sunset Park:

Desde la colina más alta del parque

miramos la puesta de sol:

destellos naranjas en la copa de los árboles y los rascacielos

palabras   sonidos   algunos niños se deslizan por la nieve

y la danza de las aves extiende las nubes    como si fueran el mar.

—Judith Santopietro

From the highest hill in the park

we watch the sunset:

glimpses of orange between the treetops and skyscrapers

words    sounds     a few children slide through the snow

and the birds’ dance scatters the clouds as if they were waves in the sea.

— Judith Santopietro, translated by Whitney DeVos


destellos naranjas en la copa de los árboles, 2023

glimpses of orange between the treetops UV print on cotton canvas hand-painted with acrylic

(Image: Etienne Frossard. Courtesy the artist.)


Antes del amanecer, 2023

Before Dawn

UV print on DIBOND

Assistant: Giselly Zapata Mejía

Special thanks to Mixteca for supporting the creation of the mural backgrounds and to A. Bonifacio, C. Castillo, I. Lliguicota, I. Muñoz, J. Cuautle, M. Ordoñez, M. Garcia, M. Jovel, M. Castillo, O. Palapa, R. Ordoñez, V. Ordoñez for their contribution.

(Image: Etienne Frossard. Courtesy the artist.) 


Tatiana Arocha (1974) is a New York-born Colombian artist. Her art practice is rooted in personal memory and immigrant experience, exploring intimacy between people and land through historical and contemporary technologies. Arocha’s works reconstruct the vulnerable tropical forests of her homeland, confronting the ecological, emotional and cultural loss caused by extractive economies.

In 2023, Arocha was awarded a MacDowell Fellowship, an Annual Award for Excellence in Design from NYC’s Public Design Commission and a residency at Residency Unlimited. In 2024, she will be a resident at the Santa Fe Art Institute. Past residencies include The Lower East Side Printshop, LABverde, Sinfonía Trópico and The Wassaic Project.

Solo exhibitions include Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling, BioBAT Project Space, Queens Botanical Garden and site-specific installations at BRIC, Brookfield Place’s Winter Garden, MTA Arts, Goethe-Institut Kolumbien and Hilton Bogota Corferias. She has participated in group exhibitions at PS122, Smack Mellon, Wave Hill, BRIC, The Wassaic Project, ArtBridge, KODA Lab and The Clemente.



Preview the Exhibit


Artworks Commissioned by the Brooklyn Public Library.