Sneaks 3 by Jose Manuel Cruz. A colorful collage of a sneaker

Artist spotlight: Meet Afro-Latino artist José Manuel Cruz

Author: Kyesha Jennings

The North Carolina Arts Council celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month. This national celebration, which runs September 15–October 15, honors the history, culture, and influence of past generations that came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. The Arts Council is committed to uplifting and supporting the inclusion of North Carolina's diverse Hispanic, Latino, and Latinx communities and their equitable access to resources. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are shining a spotlight on the talented Hispanic/Latinx artists who help to make our state’s arts community dynamic.

Meet Afro-Latino Artist José Manuel Cruz

Born to Colombian and Puerto Rican parents, José enjoys working with bright colors and experimenting with different media. He says, "I try to stay as versatile as I can with my work. I believe that my culture is embedded in my work and I love when others get the opportunity to embrace it." He is the art educator at James E. Shepard International Baccalaureate Middle School, in Durham.

The Arts Council spoke with José to learn more about his identity as an artist and how his culture influences his work.

What inspires you?

I believe that cultural life inspires me. I embrace all the colors that my Columbian and Puerto Rican heritage brings to the world. Teaching and having the opportunity to share my art inspires me even more.

What is your most important artistic tool?

It is to have a mindset of openness and growth. This allows me to take in as much as I can, not only from my cultures but also from the people who I surround myself with every day, and to integrate what I see or hear into my work.

Artwork by Jose Manuel Cruz
Artwork by José Manuel Cruz

How did you start making art?

I started making art in third grade, when my elementary art school teacher and mentor, Professor Bernard, allowed me to use his Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph pens to draw a still life in class. After that, he took me under his wing and taught me everything, from pencil and pen and ink drawing to watercolor painting.

I make art to share my God-given talent, to share the culture that lives within me, and to inspire others to do the same.

What does your artwork represent?

My artwork represents all of my experiences from my life and my culture. I take all of my experiences and try to bring them to life on canvas or any other surface.