Beatriz “Soco” Ocampo

At first Glance, Beatriz “Soco” Ocampo’s “narrative collages” look like colorful abstract paintings. But upon closer inspection, they combine figural representations, paper, photographs, painted imagery, archaeological finds, cultural references and symbolism.  

“My work deals with a lot of native things,” says Ocampo, whose says her own Colombian ancestry includes Native American bloodlines, and who alternately describes her soulful work as prayers and stories of her life.

Ocampo’s earliest memory of expressing herself through art was making Christmas cards as a child. In the late 1960s, her family moved from South America to the United States for her father to get his doctorate at Columbia University. Ocampo found artistic inspiration in museums and began her own artistic journey. She has studied with other artists but considers herself mostly self-taught. She also found life-changing empowerment in the messages of activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., and Angela Davis.  

After moving to New Orleans as a widow and mother at 40, and later marrying native New Orleanian Raul Esquivel, she found that several other things had a profound influence on her work as well. Jungian philosophy opened her mind to the healing power of creativity. And studying with artist John Scott, who taught at Xavier University for 40 years, gave her a love of printmaking that she continues to explore. She regularly incorporates prints into her collage work — the latter being a fitting medium for an artist who is examining many things at once: her Colombian heritage, her Catholic faith, her roles as woman, wife, mother and grandmother, feminist and humanist causes, her fascination with other cultures and her belief that we are more alike in our humanness than we are different. 

The mountains of Colombia, the bridges of New Orleans (whose peaks remind her of the Andes), religious iconography, women, mothers and their children, Mardi Gras Indians and pre-Colombian motifs are part of the vernacular she weaves into her collages, pastels and quilts. They are also part of the 3-D tableaux she creates inside triangular flag boxes.

“My voice wasn’t heard when I was young,” says Ocampo. “Art helps advance causes such as feminism. And it shows children, they can do this too.”

Several quiet acrylics of Venice scenes and a vibrant Matisse-inspired collage depicting Matisse’s red atelier are currently available at Meet Me in Venice, a collection of Venetian textiles and other arts on Magazine Street.