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Expat Life

Cuenca artist Magy Peña transforms garbage into objects of beauty

By Michel Blanchard

Magy (pronounced Mah-djee) Peña is a woman on a mission.

To be more precise, her mission is to recycle garbage, but not by putting it in neat blue bags for city sanitation workers to pick up. She transforms rubbish into art. She is a pioneer and a staunch believer in reusing what would normally be discarded and end up in landfills.

Magy Peña, left, and jazz musician Su Terry.

I met with her one afternoon in her shop on Otorongo Plaza, on Paso Tres de Noviembre, and we spent the entire time laughing and reminiscing about the Cuenca she grew up in, and, of course, talking about the burden of garbage and the importance of recycling.

A dyed-in-the-wool Cuencana, she can trace her origins back six generations. Her great grandmother, Hortensia Mata, had 22 children. “Basically, I’m related to everyone in Cuenca” she quips.

After raising her three kids, she decided she wanted to do something artistic and innovative. “I felt the urge to create, to build something out of the norm, something nobody does or sees.” She had seen an embroidery machine, which was a novelty in those days, in Quito, and was the first person to bring one to Cuenca.

A mask fashioned from a plastic bottle.

“It was completely innovative in those days. People would come to the shop and were amazed that a machine could do in a few minutes, and perfectly, what would take hours and sometimes days to make otherwise.”

Then, Magy decided she wanted to expand and to include art and artists in her vision. She opened the very first Café Gallery, which was located in what is now Café Magnolia, and which displayed the work of several artists with various shows and themes, in a relaxed café setting.

Another mask made from CDs.

Then, as fate would have it, her life took a sharp turn. “I was in a deep trance-like state, and I was sort of seeing the earth from above, and I received a strange message about the garbage situation on earth and how to do my part to help fix this awful problem.”

Since she was already immersed in the world or art, she decided to transform garbage into art.

“It came very naturally, very organically, looking at stuff in the garbage and thinking how to transform this art, using the shapes and materials.”

“I saw that I could take a plastic bottle that would normally end in a landfill, and transform it into, say, a mask.”

Hanging window ornament crafted from CDs.

Magy gets most of her garbage donated. “These days, I get tons of CDs. Everyone is donating their old CDs, so I have to figure out a way to make art out of it.”

A lot of the art she creates has a meaning that goes further than just aesthetics. “I am fascinated with crop circles and with powerful symbols, especially those from the Eastern traditions,” she says. Magy enjoys creating art that depicts such sacred patterns as crop circles, mandalas, or yantras.

Sri Yantra. Acrylic paint over canvas with embroidery and reclaimed materials.

One of the collections Magy is most proud of is her jewelry. Using discarded items that was headed for the garbage, she has managed to create jewelry that is evocative of artists such as Schiaparelli. “People kept donating their old watches, many of them antiques, that weren’t working anymore and that had no hope of repair. I took them apart, and used the inside mechanism part, along with my seemingly endless supply of old CDs, and other elements, to create jewelry pieces.” The result is remarkably clever.

“Of course, I don’t just make decorative items, I also am into making quite utilitarian elements for the house, such as lamps, or chandeliers.” Again, the use of old CDs features quite prominently in that area as well.

Magy’s slogan is “What have you done for your planet today?” Magy teaches recycling art classes at her studio in Plaza Otorongo, and organized the first National Recycling Art contest, called “ReusArte.” Her next project is a workshop in Quito on how to make art out of recycled objects. If you would like to donate some items to Magy, please contact her at: galeriaotorongo@hotmail.com.
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Michel Blanchard is a graduate of McGill University with a degree in Fine Arts. He was Lifestyle Editor for Palm Springs (California) Life magazine in for 10 years. He has been an active supporter of Cuenca arts and cultural events since moving to Cuenca in 2009.

4 thoughts on “Cuenca artist Magy Peña transforms garbage into objects of beauty

  1. Thanks for this fascinating article. Magy is an amazing artist and inspiration, also one of the kindest people in the world. A visit to her studio on Otorongo Plaza is highly recommended.

  2. Magy IS an amazing artist. I have one of her crop circle creations in my livingroom, a former cd hummingbird hanging in my bedroom and a former cd dragonfly hanging in my Canada cabin. If you haven’t visited her studio, you should treat yourself and go there!

  3. Beautiful art and the vision may be more a transformation of thinking about ‘garbage’ then truly recycling it – at the scale of the problem. There are now some half dozen state size vortex’s of plastic trash masses in our oceans. Two of the largest in the Northern Pacific all going down meters deep ! A huge toxic mess to marine life and human life in the food chain. A priority and need to address. Donate to Magy and her inspiration and illumination as well as organizations and governments working to stop this destructive pollution in our lives.

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