Kaila Cordova

Kaila Cordova’s Community Garden: Growing through Grief

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by grace call

 Kaila Cordova’s collection of artworks Community Garden is just as eye-catching and diverse as an actual garden. Using sketch work for reference, she went out of her comfort zone by creating images digitally in Procreate and Adobe. The final images were then printed on matte watercolor paper. Her work incorporates people and plant life, blooming both individually and collectively. The surreal use of plant allusions to suggest human features is a unique element in Kaila’s work. In Edith Nesbit’s Botanical Garden, soft pink flowers stare at the viewer from where the subject’s eyes would be. 

The digital medium and carefully blended colors give the work a type of softness that is difficult to achieve with other materials, but Kaila creates texture with subtle details. The wreath of thorns that circulates the head of the subject in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Rose Maze seem to protrude sharply from the image. Although each piece differs, green in various shades appear as a unifying element, solidifying the motif of plant life central to the collection. The plants that appear in each piece are deliberate; Kaila uses flora in a symbolic way, taking inspiration from a Victorian flower guide. For example, orchids represent beauty and leaves represent daintiness in her work Anne Bronte’s Topiaries.

Kaila Cordova, Community Garden, 2021. Photographer Stephen Apicella-Hitchcock.

Below the surface of Kaila’s whimsical visuals are more vulnerable messages. Kaila explores emotionally charged topics like loneliness and loss in her art which are largely influenced by her experiences during the COVID-19 lockdown. She intends to interview people about their own experiences in lockdown and make portraits of them, inviting them to be vulnerable. Kaila said “I feel like the whole purpose of Community Garden is inclusion and ensuring people don’t feel alone. It’s ok to be depressed, it’s ok to be anxious . . . but at the same time you are still beautiful, you are still valuable, you are still brave.” This duality is evident in Kaila’s work, and she validates the potential feelings of her audience. The natural imagery, which humans so often find themselves reflected in, is an effective vehicle for what Kaila wishes to express. For instance, the stoniness of the figure in Christina Rossetti’s Bouquet contrasted with the flowers bursting forth from isolation is beautifully affecting. Viewers of this piece might recognize their own experiences of isolation or frustration in the fractured stone, creeping vines, and resilient flowers. 

One of the only ways in which we were able to connect with each other during the height of the pandemic was in digital spaces. Kaila’s process of creating the works in a digital space and then displaying them on physical print nicely parallels the actual experience of emerging from a solely digital space back into the physical world as vaccines began to be administered and lockdown mandates were lifted. Her direction is clear and the work she has created has something to offer each of her viewers. She is able to capture the vivacity of plant life even through a contemporary digital medium. Kaila transforms each piece, beginning and ending on paper through a process that mirrors the yearly rebirth of the plants she herself displays.