Contemplacion: Art out of civil war-torn El Salvador

Sandra Cornejo, "Sacrificado"

As a first generation Salvadoran-American, historical collective memory is the prime influence and inspiration for my work. Every face, every voice, and every hand holds a story. Through art one can rediscover what has been repressed and suppressed. My studio practice has evolved within the past few years. I am no longer only bound to traditional oil painting and its practices, but am drawn to compose with objects, sound, video, printmaking and painting that is reliant and complete with the interaction and collaboration of its audience.

There is a thread that runs through the post-civil war Salvadoran culture and myself: It is one of internal conflict and deterioration of cultural identity.

The struggle, pain and strength inherently running along this thread are what captivated me about this subject, in which I investigate the historical collective memory of El Salvador through personal experiences and direct observations of my family and community. I was compelled to address specific events during the Salvadoran Civil War that left deep impressions of sorrow, suffering, and denial in the lives of the Salvadoran people.

“La Experiencia de Rufina Amaya” and “Contemplacion” was a pivotal moment in which I realized I was not only making a painting commemorating Rufina Amaya, the sole survivor of El Mozote’s massacre, but I was also tapping into a frequency below culture and identity— a place of the natural condition of being, beauty and pain, the experience of struggling to survive and the strength of perseverance.

Sandra Cornejo, "La Experiencia de Rufina Amaya (Diptych 1 of 2)"
“La Experiencia de Rufina Amaya (Diptych 1 of 2)”

I realized that the further I investigated and documented this history, the more I became aware of how I had blurred the fine line between the personal and the political.

This prevailing conversation correlates to the visual activity occurring in my work. There is a push and pull between a representational approach and abstraction. By becoming more conscious of the area between self and subject, I have gained a new perspective in my approach to painting. And by exploring the area between self and subject, I hope to reveal an honest perspective through my work.

Sandra Cornejo, "Contemplacion (Diptych 2 of 2)"
“Contemplacion (Diptych 2 of 2)”


Untitled by Sandra Cornejo


"La Casita Encantada (Maria Ponce)" by Sandra Cornejo
“La Casita Encantada (Maria Ponce)”



Sandra Cornejo, "Las Madres"
“Las Madres”


Sandra Cornejo, "Carreta Chillona"
“Carreta Chillona”


Sandra Cornejo, "Suelo Ajeno"
“Suelo Ajeno”



Born 1984


2014  Call + Response IV, Hole in the Sky Collective, Washington, D.C.

2013  Exile, El Rincon Social, Houston, TX
viceVERSA, VACLAA on Broad, Richmond, VA
Freedom From Deportation Museum + Art Exhibit, Freedom Plaza, Washington, D.C.

2012  Untitled, Flames 231, Richmond, VA

2010  La Cara de Latinoamérica, The Student Art Space – VCU, Richmond VA
2010  LACAP Benefit Show, El Rincon Social, Houston, TX
2010  Solo Show, Café Gutenberg, Richmond, VA
2010  LACAP Benefit Show, The Unicorn Manor, Richmond, VA

2009  The Presence of Absence, Student Art Space – VCU, Richmond, VA
2009  Yale/Norfolk School of Art End-of-Summer-Show Yale/Norfolk Art Gallery, Norfolk, CT
2009  Puddle of Mudddddd, Plant Zero/Art Space, Richmond, VA
2009  Interaction 34, The Fishbowl Gallery, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
2009  View / 2009, F.A.B. Gallery, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
2009  Round II, Monumental Gallery, Richmond, VA

2008  Nuestras Voces, Nuestro Tiempo, Student Art Space – VCU, Richmond, VA
2008  Portraits: More Than Just a Pretty Face, Anderson Gallery, Richmond, VA
2008  Show, Ant Mountain Art Space, Richmond, VA
2008  View / 2008, F.A.B. Gallery, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA

Professional Experience

2013  Project Volunteer, Park View Elementary, Architecture in the Schools, Washington D.C.
2012  Program Director, Street Arts Festival, ART180, Richmond, VA
2012  Board Advisor, The Virginia Center for Latin American Arts, Richmond, VA
2011  Creative Facilitator, ArtCorps – Oxfam International – IEPADES, Salama, Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, C.A.
2010  Program Co-Director, Blackwell Elementary, ART180, Richmond, VA
2009  Present Assistant Creative Director, The Latin American Community Art Project, La Union, El Salvador
2008-2010 Art Director, Hispanic Heritage Month Committee, in collaboration with Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc., Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
2008 Arts Mentor, Community Village – Jackson Ward, VCU 40th Anniversary Celebration, Virginia, Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
2008  Guest Panelist, “Primeros Pasos: First Steps,” co-hosted by LUL, LSA, SUL, Virginia
2005-10  Workshop Director, The Latin American Community Art Project, La Union, El Salvador


2008  Yale Summer School of Art + Music, Norfolk, CT
Studio residency, El Rincon Social, Houston, TX
2005  Resident, The Latin American Community Art Project, El Salvador, C.A.


2012  The Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA
Nico De León, Richmond, VA

Awards & Distinctions

2012  Evelia Gonzalez Porto Latino Arts in Virginia Fellowship – First original work to become a part of the Library of Virginia permanent collection, Richmond VA
2009  Outstanding Senior Award, Painting and Printmaking Department, Virginia Commonwealth
2008  Leadership and Service Award Nominee, Virginia Commonwealth University
2008  Dean’s Students of the Arts Advisory Task Force, Department Representative
2008  Ellen Battell Stoeckle Trust Fellowship Recipient, Yale Summer School of Art
2008  Honors Advanced Studio Program, Painting and Printmaking Department, Virginia, Commonwealth University
2008  Dean’s International Travel Grant, Virginia Commonwealth University
2008  Peachtree Scholarship, Virginia Commonwealth University
2002  National Scholastic American Visions Award
2001  Full-Scholarship Recipient, Rhode Island School of Design, Pre-College Summer Program


2009  Bachelor of Fine Arts, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
2008  Yale Summer School of Art, Norfolk, CT
2002  The Cooper Union School of Art, New York, NY
2001  Rhode Island School of Design: Pre-College Summer Program