Kiara Machado: Artist + 2020 Not Real Art Grant Recipient

Kiara Machado: Artist + 2020 Not Real Art Grant Recipient

Art as a narrative in solidarity

Not Real Art grant winner, Kiara Machado was born in Lynwood and grew up in Watts, CA. Raised by immigrant parents from Guatemala and El Salvador, Machado shares that her cultural background is reflected in her art as a “narrative in solidarity.”

Listen to Kiara tell her story on our podcast

“I’m very proud of my culture, but being Central American, we’re not as represented. I think whenever [people] see me or see anybody that looks Latina or speaks Spanish, they automatically assume that we’re Mexican…I’m not seeing myself in the arts, in the news, and we’re often criminalized because of our countries. We’re often cast as like – violent or poverty-stricken.”

Azucena by Kiara Machado
Azucena by Kiara Machado

Machado’s website details her work and process. “Her body of work brings into question the absence and exclusion of Central American folx from mainstream U.S. and Latinx narratives. Mainly working with oil on canvas, Machado combines cultural imagery and a diverse selection of plants with a vivid color palette. She obscures and camouflages the figures into the surrounding environment to create a narrative that highlights marginalized communities.”

Hermana Querida by Kiara Machado
Hermana Querida by Kiara Machado

Machado earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with honors in Painting and Drawing from California State University Long Beach. When asked about that defining moment when she first realized she was an artist, Machado shares, “I think it was definitely a progression. I feel like everything is earned, like respect. You have to earn your respect. So I think it took me a long time to actually consider or even be able to call myself an artist. I always knew that I wanted to go into the arts – since kindergarten. But I think that it was definitely a progression.

Machado says the Not Real Art grant “has been a true blessing. Everything’s heightened right now with the pandemic and everything that’s going on, grants like these are incredibly helpful.”

While the pandemic has caused uncertainty with the cancellation of shows and its inevitable economic impact, Machado resolved to focus on her work. “Thankfully, I have my studio at home so I had already blocked off the previous month to focus because I had a show in San Francisco. So after that, I was like okay, I need to sit down and be in the studio. I have no excuse not to paint all the time…And then going beyond the arts, just being aware of family and friends and how it’s affecting [them] emotionally.”

Gracious by Kiara Machado
Gracious by Kiara Machado

“It’s so wild to know that we’re living through something that will be talked about in the future…”

“It’s so wild to know that we’re living through something that will be talked about in the future and hopefully, we all make it out to whatever normalcy we end up in. I think knowing the gravity and that the whole world is going through it, and not just selected geographical domains, not just certain communities, but everybody, it is overwhelming. But I also think – don’t get stuck on that thought, because then that could also paralyze us.”

“Art is incredibly therapeutic and is my way of escaping.”

“I think art, like with other previous frustrations and other overwhelming factors, is escapism. Art is incredibly therapeutic and is my way of escaping.”

Rojo by Kiara Machado
Rojo by Kiara Machado

On managing the critical voice

“I stare at my paintings and even if they’re done, I will turn them to the wall. I can’t see my paintings for too long because then it’s ‘I can reuse this canvas for a better painting!’ So I have to hide my paintings from myself. But I think when I first sold my painting and had my first big purchase, I was proud of my work…I’m confident in most everything that I’m producing. But of course, I think it’s good to self-criticize and I still question my pieces, because I feel like if I was always confident in every single piece and everything I do, I would not be able to challenge myself.”

On influences

“I love Kerry James Marshall. I haven’t had the opportunity to see his work in person, even though seeing his paintings in a book almost makes me want to cry – just how beautiful it is and also the way that he assesses the absence of the African American figure within our history. I take influence on how Central Americans have been completely erased or excluded from certain conversations. So I take a lot of inspiration from Kerry James Marshall. I also love Lisa Butler for the use of her colors.”

“I want us to hold our own narratives to be able to tell our own stories.”

When asked what she would most like to tell the world with her work, Machado shares, “I really want to highlight that Central America is more than their trauma. I want us to hold our own narratives to be able to tell our own stories. Often, communities of color, folks of color, are marginalized or glamorized. I feel like artists don’t really paint about us and they get applauded, and then when I would paint about myself or these issues, I would constantly get questions or doubts, ‘this is too much, too much culture, not everybody’s going to be able to relate to that.’ The reason that I’m painting about this is because there’s a lack of it and I’m holding that narrative that I have this control because I am part of this conversation.”

The biggest challenges for artists today

Machado says that “having a consistent income for folks who are solely depending on art” is one of the biggest challenges for artists today. “I feel like it’s a very select few artists who obviously are able to sell their paintings and have their paintings bought for the actual price that they set. I think that goes back to the institutions. I went to Cal State Long Beach. We didn’t learn about finance, we didn’t talk about the business side of art…So I think covering how to go about making sales, how to make contracts, how to protect your art should have been discussed in art school before we graduated to have some starting point.”


Machado’s biggest cheerleaders are her family, whom she says has been “incredibly supportive. I think because my parents are migrants, it’s always in the back of my head that they crossed so many borders to be here and now I’m an artist. Being able to bring them into the art world, places that we wouldn’t normally be – is awesome. And hearing them bring up conversations around art and questioning and being able to talk about art, what they like, and what they don’t like – it’s amazing.”

Can beauty be defined?

“There’s no one distinction of beauty. Growing up with westernized, idealized, standards of beauty, even within our community, we kind of idolized lighter skin folks or certain features due to mainstream media. But I think elderly folks – I think wrinkles are beautiful, like deep shadows are beautiful, varying skin tones are beautiful. My mother’s beautiful, my grandmother’s beautiful. My great grandmother who I didn’t have the chance to meet is beautiful. But yeah, not boxing it into one definition. There’s a wide spectrum of what beauty can be.”

D(entro) by Kiara Machado
D(entro) by Kiara Machado

The best thing about being an artist

“Being passionate about what I want to do and actually being able to do it. I know that’s a huge privilege. To express myself in a visual way also forces me to talk about it. Why am I painting about this? So I always have my identity question with every piece. I want to be able to defend every aspect of it. Every piece that I paint – I go in with the intention of that piece standing on its own, and having its own story to tell.”

Follow Kiara on Instagram: @Kiara_aileen_arts

Katie Love

Katie Love's name matches her distinct style – she writes, performs, and creates from the heart. Katie is a Los Angeles-based writer-comedian, producer, and writing coach. She is the creator and host of “The Katie Love Show,” a live comedy talk show, and a producer on the new unscripted series, “Laugh Gallery,” for Not Real Art/Crewest Studios. She has written for the Los Angeles Times, Yahoo News, and is the author of the novel, “Cubicide,” and the memoir, “Two Tickets to Paradise, from Cult to Comedy.”