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Meet Dairys Escoto

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dairys Escoto.

Dairys, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I started making art as early as I can remember, as cliche as that sounds. As a child, I wasn’t the most active or social of kids, but I would go into my own world for hours and hours painting, drawing, and making paper doll puppets. When my family immigrated from the Dominican Republic to the United States, the uncertainty and discomfort with the new environment gave me an opportunity to learn more skills by myself. In the isolation of being unable to speak the common language, I felt the most connected to other kids by showing them my artwork, it was also encouraging to be appreciated. I continued to thrive in my skills at a young age, landing awards and attending Georgia’s Governor’s Honors Program.

Still, I was yet to understand my own reasons behind making art. Once I went to Rhode Island School of Design(with the help of scholarships, of course) I transformed my way of making. Instead of making artwork for others to like(photorealism, beautiful women, flowers, plants), I started to make artwork for myself. Rather than being concerned with precise techniques and perfectionism, I let loose and slowly gravitated towards more bold colors and innovative designs. I started to experiment with illustrative mediums and completely fell in love with animation and it’s storytelling capabilities.

Once a child making paper doll puppets in her backyard, I was now transforming these tools into personal topics through paper cut-out animation. I finally found joy outside of strict artistic rules, conformed 2D materials, and stereotypical ideas of beauty. Today, I am pursuing my MFA in Experimental Animation at California Institute of the Arts, and hope to bring my cultural narratives to more audiences such as through children’s media, or even public installations.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There was an instance during my senior year of high school. At the time, much like any other high schooler with a notable skill, I was arrogant. One day, my high school art teacher stood by my work and asked very simply, yet jokingly, “Why do you always draw white people?” I stopped. I actually did not know how to respond to that question. Never in my life did I question to look at myself, really look, at my curly black hair, button nose, big smile, and tan skin. Why do I always draw white people? I thought, maybe there’s a perfect explanation, my references online were mostly of white models. But that could not be it.

Was I afraid to look within myself, my background, and my heritage, and find beauty there?

With this question still unanswered, I went off to my undergrad. In this artist community where everyone possesses high-level skills, I slipped into a loop of uncertainty: If I do not stand out in my community, does this equal incompetence? What is the reason behind my art-making? Why make art in the first place, if it can be replicated and improved by ‘better’ artists? I was in the midst of an artistic existential crisis and I wasn’t even aware of it.

And yet again I was reminded of the question my art teacher asked me at the forefront of all my problems, while still present to this day, the only way to move on was to answer this question for myself: Why did I only draw white people?

Why didn’t I draw the people who raised me, the friends I made, the people who fed me, the food that echoes my culture, the languages we spoke, the songs we sang, the dances we misstep: the overwhelming beauty of the people that surround me every day and that allow me to understand my shortcomings in life as gifts and life lessons.

Maybe I will never fully comprehend the blatant self-hate, and negativity towards myself during my childhood years; maybe that could not explain my reasoning behind recreating ‘beauty’ and define that only as predominantly white culture. But what I do know is that no matter what mediums I use, what career path I land, or what place I end up, I will not shy away from my humble beginnings and I will share every bit of who I am.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
As a freelance Animator, I specialize in paper cut-out animation, an art form that dates back to early Chinese shadow puppetry. I work using detailed paintings in paper, cutting them out, and animating them in 2D, 3D, or even CG landscapes. I enjoy mixing the stop motion quality of moving a paper under the camera by hand with visual effects and textures added digitally. For this reason, I am most proud of my adaptability to use many mediums, physical or digital, in new and exciting ways.

The freedom I have to utilize all of these mediums could be said to set me apart from other animators. Most importantly my identity as an Afro Latinx, Immigrant, Women, Dominican, and American is the foundation of the work I make now. Through my influences in culture and perspective, I hope I can continue to make art that someday inspires others to make work about the beauty in their own lives.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
It was the early 2000s and I was seeing my mother’s side of the family in the Bronx for the first time. I believe I was around ten years old, and we had recently made the decision to move to the United States. There, in the greyed out cityscape I saw snow for the first time. The reason this memory is so present in my mind is because of the pure joy I experienced, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it even as I shivered in my thin jacket.

I may not have known it at the time, but seeing beauty in unfamiliar environments really impacted my resilience to stay positive. This also impacted the way I experience a place where now I am inspired by these spaces and the memories that come with them. Recently I’ve had the opportunity to make an installation about this experience, how funnily enough an island girl fell in love with winter.

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