Luis Sosa Manubes '23 makes clay sculptures. This is a simple description of his art, which has come to represent so much of who he is during his years at Notre Dame.
He got into ceramics by chance. In his first year at Notre Dame, Sosa Manubes took a painting class with a friend. He didn't think he'd be good at it. Turns out, he says, "It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever done."
The painting class challenged Sosa Manubes in new ways and he found it at turns relaxing, frustrating, and time-consuming. But the following semester he went back to the Department of Art, Art History, and Design to take a drawing class, which he enjoyed even more than the painting class.
Sosa Manubes realized he liked taking art classes and the next year, he enrolled in a ceramics class. "When I took ceramics, everything changed," he says. "I think I just completely fell in love."
While enrolled in that first ceramics class, Sosa Manubes spent up to 20 hours a week in the studio. He made a lot of work during that time.
"I thought, 'I'm not doing this for a job. I'm not doing this for a grade. So I can just be as free and wild as I want,'" says Sosa Manubes. The studio became a therapeutic space, one for both respite and creativity.
As a Mexican person, a queer person, and an immigrant to the U.S.—Sosa Manubes' family emigrated when he was 16—Sosa Manubes is often forced to deal with the political aspects of these identities. But in the ceramics studio, Sosa Manubes finds freedom. Not freedom from his identity, but freedom from stereotyping, from the negative aspects of our political climate, and from feeling alienated because of who he is.
"But I'd go to ceramics and catch a break. Clay was not judging me," he says with a smile. "Clay didn't know my ethnicity. Clay didn't know my orientation. Clay didn't know where I came from. Clay just knew my hands and I liked that."
At some points, he says, making ceramics began to feel like an extension of who he was.
It helped that Sosa Manubes also found community in the studio.
The art department is tight-knit. Sosa Manubes considers his teachers, fellow students, the department's graduate students, and the ceramics studio's artist-in-residence his friends. He is always learning from the people that work in the ceramics studio, whether the topic of the moment is learning to load a kiln or make glazes or whether he is just benefiting from being around other artists' work.
Sosa Manubes credits former teacher Jenn Kaplan with mentoring him and offering him the freedom to explore in class. He remembers once telling Kaplan that he was frustrated with the experience of throwing clay on the pottery wheel. "This isn't fun," he told them. Kaplan encouraged him to sculpt instead. So Sosa Manubes began making little pan dulces (sweet breads) out of clay and his passion for shaping the clay with his hands took off from there.
Given his original major, computer science in the College of Engineering, you might think Sosa Manubes' brain is divided into two very distinct halves: right brain and left brain. He does see the computer scientist and the artist in him as two fairly distinct personas. He says he's always been a very responsible, work-oriented person and that's one of the reasons computer science appeals to him. But both ceramics and computer science are ways of creating and he looks for opportunities to incorporate his inherent creativity in his computer science projects.
"I am trying to find that intersection where art meets technology because art is something I love and computer science is something I'll do for the rest of my life," says Sosa Manubes.
So far, his favorite assignment in a computer science class has been an animation, a simulation of the opening to the 2010 movie The Last Airbender. The animation was about three times as complicated as it could have been, he says, simply because he enjoyed the creative aspects of the project.
Meanwhile, Sosa Manubes' focus in ceramics is on making art and considering a thesis exhibition. The thesis is not a requirement for him since studio art is his second major—he'll be earning a bachelor of arts rather than a bachelor of fine arts, for which the thesis project is required. But Sosa Manubes may want the opportunity to exhibit his work along with the bachelor of fine arts students before graduation next spring.
One possible thesis idea is a series of alebrijes he has been working on. These are traditional Mexican folk art sculptures based on mythical creatures. Sosa Manubes' versions are bold, colorful, and, he says, slightly imperfect.
His sculpture in general embraces imperfections as Sosa Manubes prefers the look of a piece that is slightly off. He'll make a cup that leans to one side, for example, or sculpt a symmetrical piece and make cuts into the clay or pull it to disturb the clean lines.
The alebrijes aren't slanted or cut into. But they do reflect their origin as Mexican folk art, bright and free with color. Through these pieces, Sosa Manubes is making something that represents an important part of his Mexican heritage. They are, he says, a commentary on different social issues like immigration, racism, and growing up under gender expectations.
He also thinks it's important that folk art be considered high art.
"I believe there’s a heavy lack of appreciation for non-European art styles. I’m inspired by Mexican traditional artwork that is often considered craft work because it doesn’t fit the Western standard of 'high art.' I don’t believe there is such a distinction," says Sosa Manubes.
Sosa Manubes will soon be seeking jobs in his chosen field of computer science, but he won't stop making art after graduation.
"I may not know where I’m going once I graduate, but I know no matter where I go, a potter’s wheel will be there waiting for me," he says. "But it’s not the object that’s important—it’s that I know that I will be able to express anger and sadness, but also happiness. So much happiness! Through my art, I conquer those feelings that I’ve been afraid of my whole life. And with every piece, I feel a little more powerful."
To follow Sosa Manubes' creative journey, check out his Instagram profile @luis_inhisfeelings.
- Check out the studio art program at Notre Dame.
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