Nike (and Art’s) Next Big Thing, Uzumaki Cepeda, Wants You To Be 1000% In The Game
by Rae Witte
Born and raised in the Bronx and a true creative at heart, Uzumaki Cepeda (FKA Julianna Cepeda), is no stranger to being fine.
“My best friend was a photographer, and we would run around the city and take pics. We would always act like we were doing a lookbook. I have mad pictures of me mad young looking fly as fuck,” she tells me of her youth in New York.
Cepeda was just featured in Nike’s major Cortez campaign that dropped last week (she was also featured as one of Glamour’s 39 Game Changers Who Are Redefining “American Beauty”). But her passion lies in her profession: art. Currently residing in Los Angeles, Cepeda is a textile artist.
Although it’s been across multiple mediums, Cepeda has been doing art since she was 15 years old. Initially, it was graffiti and slapping stickers all over New York City.
“I was into photography a lot and I painted,” she says. Although she’s 22, she still worked with a film camera and developed her photos in a dark room before ever holding a digital camera and paints in both watercolor and acrylic. She later found her niche in installations and furniture covered in brightly colored faux fur which she references as being reminiscent of childhood innocence, the Dominican Republic, and even acrylic nails.
Her art has become her way of ensuring things feel good, and it’s hard not to when her spaces are like fluffy, candy-painted dreams.
Do your thing, feel me? If you’re into something, be 1000% in. @UzumakiGallery
“The reason I do that is because I want to create a safe space for myself. So I decided to just start taking rooms and everything in there possible and covering it so I feel comfortable in there. I’m from a rough childhood and making a safe space is very important me.”
This resulted in some of Cepeda’s distinct and exciting style. Bright, faux-fur lines every inch of her installations, and it’s not just four walls and furniture. She’s also doing earrings now, and plans to expand, applying her take on other things as well.
One of three children brought up by her single mother, in high school, Cepeda’s mom relocated her and her two brothers to Lawrence, Massachusetts.
“My brothers were getting into gang problems in New York and one of my cousins moved out there. Around the same time rent was really skyrocketing in New York. My mom couldn’t do it anymore, she was a single mom with three kids. We were all sharing rooms.”
Her experiences turned out to be a catch-22 as in the end, Cepeda names her Dominican heritage as her number one inspiration for her work. A key reason being that Lawrence is primarily Dominican and Puerto Rican immigrants.
“I love Lawrence. It’s OD inspirational. It’s like a little DR. It’s like a little PR. You can’t find that nowhere in L.A., it’s just Afro-Dominicans and Afro-Puerto Ricans.”
I love Lawrence. It’s OD inspirational. It’s like a little DR. It’s like a little PR. @UzumakiGallery
However, Lawrence didn’t come without its own set of challenges. Unlike New York, you needed a car to really make moves – and the rest of Massachusetts for that matter. This made it difficult for Cepeda to take advantage of opportunities in Boston. For the same reason Cepeda loved it, it proved to offer its own set of disadvantages.
“It’s super dope because of the community, but it sucks because Massachusetts gives them the short end of the stick all the time because they know only people of color live there.”
Eventually, Cepeda realized she needed to get back to New York. With no more than what she could pack in bags and a little cash, she couch-surfed and house hopped pursuing what she was destined for – making a living off her passions. Almost immediately she landed an internship but was essentially responsible for cleaning. Not exactly where she thought she would find herself.
“I interned for this crazy ass artist. I was cleaning floors, but I was learning how to throw an art show and how to sell merch and all of that.”
For Cepeda, it was her passion accompanied by the internship that allowed her to learn the game and more about who she wanted to be in this artistic world.
“It was all through observing and seeing other people manage him because he was just a wild person. He just created. I felt like me and him were very similar. I felt like I needed direction, but I had the content. It was really dope.”
The takeaway from that internship is that she’s been able to approach her art as a business, a blessing for any creative. Last year she had an installation at the first ever ComplexCon, and she plans on doing more installations and modeling this year, especially after last week’s release of the Cortez campaign.
Go extra hard for what you want. @UzumakiGallery
“The best advice is go extra hard for what you want.”
Cepeda offers when I asked her what’s the something she would say to young women hoping to pursue art. She continues,
“If you like singing, sing. If you write, write your ass off. If you dance, dance your ass off. Document everything. Document your whole process. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t that good. Documentation is everything. It shows you how much you’ve grown. That’s the best advice I could give: document and go hard. Do your thing, feel me? If you’re into something, be 1000% in.”