GlenOak Artist, Juliana Castro, Creates to Expose Social Norms


 Many GlenOak students pass the upper B wing with curiosity as they observe the art posted on the glass. 

They may see a piece showing three men with expressionless faces that make a student feel discomfort. They may also know the work depicting a man with a bubble over his head with feminine features that may upset some students and faculty. However, the most famous piece shows a figure with an androgynous, spiral head, a boxy suit and feminine legs with stockings and heels. 

This work had inspired confusion and some dislike by students for its perplexing nature. However, it is much more meaningful for GlenOak students and faculty to understand these works. 

Juliana Castro, a junior IB art student, created these pieces as a student in the art program. As far as her art is concerned, she feels a specific way about those who perceive her art as untraditional. 

“Art is not intended to be beautiful, and instead to challenge the status quo,” Castro said. “If we were to look at a multitude of artists that today we consider to be the most talented and masterful, most of them were shunned to have stepped out of the traditional and to have included new and promiscuous concepts and techniques, such as Van Gogh, Picasso, Duchamp, Goya, Wassilsky and many others.”

The “status quo” for Castro often includes controversial topics for many that reflect on herself. 

“The messages that I want to send with my artwork are centered around mental health,” Castro said. “ In my pieces, I also frequently explore societal expectations of gender, particularly with women and the unfair scrutiny and objectification that we face. I want to make an impact on my viewer and I want to make them feel the emotions and pains of sexualization, paranoia, trauma and anguish through my artwork. It’s a form of expressing my own emotions and memories and a way to sort them out to understand and accept them, and I want my viewer to do the same.”

One of Castro’s most known pieces across GlenOak High School is Eye Candy at Work, which others criticize for not being as picturesque as other artworks. Castro, however, makes it clear to her audience the meaning behind the work. 

“I wanted to make a statement regarding discrimination based on sex in the workplace,” Castro said. “I was inspired by the shoulder pad trend of the 80s where women wore shoulder pads in order to be perceived as stronger and more masculine figures in order to be treated the way that a man is treated at work. The sharp and angular silhouette was a powerful symbol in the feminist movement and rejected traditional notions of femininity. 

Castro wanted to contrast the heavy suit with promiscuous legs and heels coming towards the viewer as well as the implied head to demonstrate how women have been perceived as only sex objects and inferior to men in the workplace. The artist also claims that the lack of a head in the work is meant to show how women weren’t considered for their personality or intellectual beauty, but instead are catcalled and dismissed as powerful leaders because they are “merely” women. 

However, Castro does not only focus on gender stereotypes in women. In two of her works presented in GlenOak’s halls, Castro focuses on male gender issues. 

“In my work Man of Venus, I wanted to challenge the gender expectations of men and how they are always expected to never show emotion, never soften, never feel weakness, and to be “manly” and “macho,” Castro said. “I decided to challenge these expectations by merging masculinity and femininity into one piece, where the two energies collide.”

Castro chose the title the work Man of Venus because Venus is considered a symbol of femininity, and therefore an interesting juxtaposition is created between planets and gender.

While discussing gender roles for men and women is a common theme for Castro to create, the artist also focuses on mental health. Specifically in Shy Boy, Skinny Boy, Scared Boy, Castro focuses on the mental impact of assumptions that are placed on men.

“  Men are less likely to seek help for their mental health issues, which leads to a higher suicide rate in men, and I wanted to bring light to this issue as I feel that mental health in men is rarely addressed or is pushed aside because of the preconceived expectations of who a man is,” Castro said. 

The artist wanted the three figures in the work to symbolize the men of the world struggling with themselves due to being put to many unrealistic standards of attitude and appearance. 

The bottom-rightmost figure, according to Castro, is looking down in a feeling of shame due to his shyness and internal struggle. The leftmost figure is jumping back in fear, which is not accepted in society and the topmost figure shows a skinny male that struggles with body image and disordered eating. 

According to Castro, these figures would be considered taboo in society and that these males are looked down upon because of their perceived weakness. 

“I wanted to collect these figures in an emotional and dramatic composition that demonstrates the humanity in these hurt people, which sends my message of the need to direct mental health services to men as well,” Castro said.  “ The figures are faceless because of their lack of identities internally because of their struggles; they cannot relate to the perpetuated image of what a man should be and look like.”

Art teacher Jill Balderson has had Castro for three years and admires her ability as a quick thinker in her portfolio work… 

“Her research in her visual journal [sketchbook] has expanded her knowledge-base on art history, which she uses to inform her own art making ideas and methods,” Balderson said. “Now that Julianna is in IB, the research she is asked to do with her selected art genres and work is furthering her approach to her art.”

As far as a career, Castro has expressed her desire to pursue a career in the arts. 

“Disney’s cartoons have always been my favorites, and I enjoy rewatching their old Mickey Mouse cartoons, but I also adore all of the Disney movies; they have always been a source of comfort for me and have always deeply inspired me because of their incredible artistry,” Castro said.

While impressed with her critical thinking in art skills, Balderson is also impressed with how humble and modest Castro is.

“While she is most-assuredly exceptional in art, she wants to receive critical feedback and accepts with grace. She is well-respected by her peers, for this reason,” Balderson said.