Inocente shares life, art

Sep. 14, 2013 @ 04:54 PM

The joy of living in her own place after years of homelessness came across when artist Inocente (Izucar) spoke by phone recently. “It’s been great having a place of my own,” she said. For about a year, she’s been in the small apartment she shares with pet “bunnies” Lunar and Bun-Bun. At 19, her life as an artist got a real boost earlier this year when “Inocente,” a documentary about her, won an Oscar for Best Documentary Short. She had tears in her eyes when she joined the film’s directors, Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, onstage for the award presentation.
Audiences here will have an opportunity to see the documentary in a free, public screening at 7 p.m. Monday at the White Lecture Hall on Duke University’s East Campus. The artist will be there to answer questions afterwards.
In the documentary, Inocente tears up when she talks about her life just five years ago, when she lived with her family, homeless in the San Diego area. “Not having a home is like not having somewhere safe to go to,” she says in the 40-minute film. She speaks of how her art helps her survive as she begins each day by painting. “… when I paint, I feel happy … and what better place than my face,” she says. A close-up shows the curlicue black lines around her eyes as well as the bright paint and glitter she’s put on her face.
When contacted earlier this week at her home in the San Diego area, Inocente talked about how Oscar fame has helped her. “It’s really exciting and it’s opened up a lot of doors for me and ARTS,” she said.
ARTS : A Reason to Survive, a nonprofit center founded by artist Matt D’Arrigo,  became a refuge for Inocente when she began going there at age 14. “ARTS was a place where I felt comfortable,” she said. She had freedom to do her art and felt supported by D’Arrigo and other adults there.
In a phone interview, D’Arrigo said he knew from the minute she walked in the ARTS Center’s door that she had promise. “It was how she carried herself,” he said. She exuded self-confidence, which may be why filmmakers chose to open the documentary with Inocente looking into the camera and saying, “Dear people of the world … Just because I’m homeless doesn’t mean I don’t have a life because I do have a life … I think my life depends on me being an artist.”
“She had a good head on her shoulders. We knew that eventually, she would get to a place where she would be successful,” D’Arrigo said. But he had no idea -- or as he puts it “never in my wildest dreams” -- that her career would get such a big boost when “Inocente” won the Oscar.”
As a result, she’s been able to sell more art and get paid to speak at screenings of the documentary and support herself entirely from this, he added. At the screening here, she will have small, signed prints of her work for sale.
D’Arrigo said he is helping her manage the business side of her endeavors as a way to make her future more secure. He also, through ARTS, books the screenings and speaking engagements in which he and Inocente work as a team.
“It’s given us recognition and national attention,” he said. The exposure benefits ARTS because it helps D’Arrigo fulfill a dream to share, on a national level, what ARTS does to help at-risk children find their voices. The new, 20,000-square-foot ARTS facility, which opened last year near San Diego, expands the art offerings to include fashion design. The center will also offer training for people interested in setting up similar centers, he said.
He knows firsthand about the healing power of art, which is why he started ARTS in the first place. At age 19, when both his sister and mother had been diagnosed with cancer, he came home from college to help. To help himself cope, especially when his mother died, he painted and listened to music.
Inocente said her determination to use her art to create a better life helped her get through those years of homelessness. And, her outlook on life will continue to help her deal with struggles in the future. “We can only do what’s right today – living in the moment and doing what makes you happy,” she said. That’s why she continues to create paintings with bright colors and cheerful subject matter. “If I paint sad things, it would make me sadder,” she added.