Wanda Ortiz also known as Steph Haris (The Iron Maidens) or Wepa woman is an American musician, artist, producer, and bassist of the all-female band, the Iron maidens since September 2002. Wanda's origin is traced to Huntington Beach, California in the U.S and currently resides in Orlando, Florida. Wanda started her professional career in 1997 where she worked with the band, Rotten Rod and the Warheads from 1997 to 2002 before joining the Iron Maidens band. Wanda's stage name is Steph Haris, a female version of the founder and bassist of the Iron Maidens. Other than being in the band, Ortiz is also a freelance musician in different groups and Orchestras in South of California. She is also a youtube and an artist where she uses arts to inspire and also bring together Latino communities.
Ortiz background growing up is not much to talk about regarding luxuries and lavish lifestyle in her upbringing. This is because she grew up as an outcast in her neighborhood in Bronx community. She didn't hang out with other kids and never spoke slang which was the norm among other peers. Wanda became a victim of stigmatization and was referred to as "the book warmer, an artsy girl from the hood" due to her love for drawing. As a young girl, Wanda loved the picture and gained a lot of support from her parents such that she became good at it and she uses art as a tool to appraise herself and everything around her up to date. She found herself when she discovered other kids in the hood who was like her regarding creativity and this gave her a sense of belonging that inspired the artistic gift she always had.
Her music career started at nine years when she began playing upright bass in school through a music program that allowed students to choose an instrument. On her first day of music class, Wanda got to level late and found the only remaining tool was an upright bass, so she took it. She also taught herself to play electric bass and ended up in the school jazz band. Wanda kept up with playing both double bas and electric bass through the college and eventually earned a B.MUS degree from the University of California which she plays up to date.
Wanda Ortiz rise began through her music career. She is well known for a variety of music styles including genres like hard rock, classical music, blues and the one that brought her to stardom, the heavy metal. She is commonly known for the massive metal road dog produced in 2016. In 1998 and 2004 she won the award for the best female bassist at the rock city news award. Ortiz also won the prize of the best bassist at all access music magazine awards. Her journey in arts started in Bronx in New York City(NYC) where her parents immigrated to from Puerto Rico. She enrolled for Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC and earned an associate degree in illustration. She also took a residency in Skowhegan School of Painting and sculpture in Marine, and this revealed her more to the world of arts.
Ortiz work has been featured in different exhibition across the globe which adds more to her accomplishments. This is despite the distractors on her way, and this shows that Wanda inspires many people and not only the Puerto Ricans. No matter what detractors may say though, it's evident that Wanda's art appeals to many and not just Puerto Ricans. Her story and that of many Latinas in the United States is reaching audiences across the nation and the globe. Wanda's story and that of other Latinos in the USA has reached many viewers around the world including American chambers and Hush#3 in South Korea, Stargazers in Bronx Museum of Arts New York, Manifesta in Spain, and Guerilla Reina in Miami among others.
Wanda's story of origin has given her lot of material for her work where she describes herself as scarce and misplaced in her hood but tough outside her hood. Ortiz lifestyle is very familiar to other Puerto Ricans and Latinos hence her inspiration to change their condition. As a marginalized Puerto Rican among other Latinos, Wanda sees herself as advantaged to build her career with the aim of investigating the belief of otherness to as a Latina in the US.
Wanda's main aim is to reduce the gap that exists between her community and the contemporary arts since she believes that the Puerto Ricans are left out in mainstream arts. This is demonstrated through her project where she uses herself in a YouTube platform called Ask Chuleta Time, started in 2006. Ortiz makes videos that are aimed at inspiring other Latinos to embrace contemporary arts. Wanda comments that this kind of techniques is not for everyone since it makes some people uncomfortable. She challenges the way people judge other concerning their culture, habits using the videos of herself adopting the speech, dressing, and manners of a young Latina girl (Chuleta), to cover topics such as identity politics, postmodernism, and color field painting in an artistic way. She is foul-spoken and impudent but able to pass her message across.
These videos refer to how Latinos are intimidated by the art world and how they feel less welcome at the museums. The videos are used to demonstrate two scenarios. On the one hand, the videos show how Latino lifestyle and experiences are described in the work of artists. The paintings by Frida Kahlo in the second video on Pollock and Kahlo showcase a reflection of trials of pregnancy, female suffering, and male unfaithfulness. On another hand, the videos attempt to educate Young Latinos the beauty of art and how they should embrace creativity in an attempt to bridge the gap between the community and contemporary art.
Ortiz involves her community in arts by giving relationship advice to girls by telling them to get on with a partner who embraces and cares about their culture. This is through a known series on Wepa Woman. The set features a Puerto Rican urban girl, (Wepa woman) who is motivated to maintain morals of Puerto Ricans. Wanda uses a comic art painting that shows the Wepa woman teaching a lesson to a street thug who disrespects her for refusing his favors. She does so by telling him to 'stimulate a woman's mind.' Wepa woman leaves and leaves the thug mumbling curse words, and he writes on the wall that he will respect women. In this theme, Wanda uses art to describe dealings and interactions between men and women concerning cultural norms.
Ortiz also gives shout-outs to people whom she believes are doing what is right in the Latin community. She encourages people to rise and be better than they are. This is shown in her art of the Wepa woman fleeing Puerto Rica as she is scared away by stereotypes of Puerto Ricans in the US as thugs. She urges people that it is crucial to work in areas they are passionate about. This is because people draw inspirations from the regions they are excited about. She is committed to elevating her people as she respects and honors her roots.
Puerto Ricans and other Latino women are encouraged to represent their culture with pride such as making pinchos, wearing hoop earrings and dubious, a technique used by Latino women to preserve a straight hairstyle using doobies (questionable). Her work in the series Ask Chuleta, Wanda illustrates a Puerto Rican girl who was a 'gangsta' but started visiting the museums and started studying arts. The girl wears doobies and large hoop earrings. Rihanna had been seen wearing such earrings in 2013 American Music Awards. Wanda's message is using contemporary art to embrace culture and norms.
In an attempt to bridge the gap between contemporary art and the Latinos, Wanda teaches art to people who may not know much about it. Wanda got an opportunity at the University of Central Florida to teach in the School of Arts and Design. Though Wanda never had the idea of standing in class to educate people, she later realized how much value is there in education especially for a woman of color. This was not until she crossed paths with African-American postmodernist artist Emma Amos in 2005. From then, Ortiz considered applying to Rutgers University where she graduated in 2008 with a Master's degree in fine art. This opened the door to her at the University of Central Florida. Wanda has got time to teach as many students as she can on the power of art in different communities. Ortiz is happy that there are many Puerto Ricans in Florida as they see Florida more appealing. Wanda is excited to be in Orlando, a city in Florida with the most extensive Puerto Rican community. Wanda is excited because art is growing day by day; therefore, there is a great deal of valuable skill for professional artists.
Wanda still has many more projects ongoing regarding Wepa woman project and also Reinas' project which has more chapters remaining. Wanda's illustrations are reflections of modern art and the power it holds in an attempt to change the lifestyle of the Puerto Ricans and other Latino communities. Her contribution towards improving the perception of art in Latino community is beyond questioning. She is passionate towards sustaining her culture and respecting the norms of the literature.
Benjamin, Genocchio. "Angry, Funny and Concerned About Identity." Art Review, The New York Times, Feb. 2009, http://www.bronxarts.org/documents/021309ArtReview-Wanda-NYT.pdf Accessed 8 May. 2018.
Carmen, Corchado. "How an Artsy Girl from the Bronx Became a Transnational Reina (the Spanish word for queen)." Centro Voices Magazine, May.2015, https://centropr.hunter.cuny.edu/centrovoices/arts-culture/how-artsy-girl-bronx-became-transnational-reina Accessed 8 May. 2018.
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