Her name is Chelsea Rodríguez Barrios only in official documents. The rest of the world knows her as Venus de Chela, a young Cuban artist who arrived in Miami from Cuba nine years ago. Her polymer clay earrings, inspired by masterpieces such as Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night or Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, among other universal paintings, have recently created a trend on social media. At just 23 years old, she became a successful entrepreneur in the Magic City.
With a design inspired by the Cuban flag that she created after the events of 7/11, she raised close to $2,000 to help with the Covid health crisis that affects the island these days. “That was one of my saddest days”, she confesses. ‘“At first, my idea was to sell some earrings that I had in stock and donate the money to the Cuban cause, but when I sat down to work the only thing that came to my mind was the Cuban flag. Out of the blue, I started to create my own design and ended up raffling three pairs. The response from the people was incredible. I couldn’t believe it and must admit that I still get emotional about it. Every penny was sent to the project Solo el Amor, which brings donations of medicines all over the country.” (Now through October 1st, Startup Cuba readers enjoy 10% off all products. See below for details.)
She plans to create a collection inspired by iconic Cuban painters such as Wilfredo Lam, Amelia Peláez and René Portocarrero.
Chela’s first calling was to be a forensic doctor and to have a CSI lifestyle. This is how she saw herself while she lived in Vueltas, her native city, a small town located in Villa Clara province. In fact, she took a few classes after arriving in the United States at 15, but soon realized that it only was a mirage from childhood. Currently, she’s about to major in Art History at Florida International University. Her bedroom is the mystical space where this youthful artist spends up to ten hours a day creating her artwork, inspired today by Pablo Picasso’s Cubism and tomorrow by René Magritte’s Surrealism. Every piece is handmade with meticulous skill. Each piece is unique, which gives added value to the final product.
“My last job was at the box office of the Miami-Dade County Auditorium, but the theater closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. During isolation, I continued working with polymer clay and made earrings for some friends but not with the idea of starting a business. My mom is an artisan and I grew up watching her create something out of nothing with fabric, paper and other mediums. It could be told that we Cubans have this gift. I’ve always felt the urge to make art. Suddenly, I started to get positive feedback. More and more people showed interest in my work and at some point, I decided to put all the meat on the grill and start Venus de Chela. Later on, I launched my website and threw myself into this adventure ”.
The plural “Families” that has replaced “Family” in the new code is a recognition that today Cuban families take many different forms, beyond the nuclear family dominated by a male father figure that was once idealized in Cuban law.
Chela is still processing her success. After a little more than a year working non-stop, she insists that nothing would be possible without the unconditional support of her parents, boyfriend and friends. Helped by her mother and the pasta maker machine that she uses, this maker produces new collections pursued by over 10,000 followers on her Instagram account. Some designs are sold out in less than 48 hours.
To the surprise of many, she hardly wears accessories. “I confess that I have never worn bracelets, rings or necklaces; only small earrings. Polymer clay weighs less than a quarter, so it’s very comfortable to wear and since I discovered it, I went crazy with it. My intention is to create eye-catching pieces that bring joy to whoever wears them. You don’t need a pair of earrings to live; you buy a pair of earrings because you enjoy them and they make you happy. That is what I want: to spread happiness”.
Coincidences do not exist for Chela, but only what can be harvested from effort and perseverance. Although her mother helps her during the manufacturing process, the young entrepreneur is not only in charge of the designs but the photography, promotion and social media management. In her own words, “not all days are a vacilón (fun)“. As any other artist, she has to overcome procrastination and to cope with those who may not approve of her work. “In my opinion, everyone chooses what to say, how to act and what to do based on what they carry inside themselves. If you are a nice person, there’s no need to attack, but to respect others’ criteria, even if it differs from yours”.
“May art live forever,” that’s her mantra.
Nevertheless, constant work also comes with a high price to pay at some point. For more than a year, Chela has struggled with an injury in her right arm; doctors are trying to find a treatment to help her deal with the pain. However, she is unstoppable and fearless. With the impetus of the dreamer, she has new goals to achieve. She plans to create a collection inspired by iconic Cuban painters such as Wilfredo Lam, Amelia Peláez and René Portocarrero. Other future projects include collaborating with young artists on the island and eventually opening her own studio in Miami.
“May art live forever,” that’s her mantra. With Concha Buika singing as a motivational background, she immerses herself in the universe of sunflowers, contrasts, beauty and simplicity to start a new venture. Unlike the mythical Greek statue, this Venus has arms and with them she creates wonders. This Venus has Cuban blood and is called Chela.
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