Walking around her 1937 Richard Neutra-designed apartment in L.A.’s Westwood hills, interdisciplinary artist, designer, teacher and ArtCenter alumna Rebeca Méndez (BFA 84 Graphic Design, MFA 97 Media Design Practices) is a flurry of energy.
Amid her many plants and collection of Mexican art, she points to a photo of former First Lady Michelle Obama presenting her with the National Design Award in
Méndez’s projects, ranging from design campaigns to photography, 16mm film and video installations, explore environmental issues, identity, women’s rights and immigration. A UCLA faculty member since 2003, she directs its climate change-focused CounterForce Lab studio. She’s exhibited at museums worldwide, worked as art director at Wieden+Kennedy and was creative director at Ogilvy & Mather.
"I've chosen to be an artist and a designer with my nerve endings open, so that means I feel everything. Much of my work and teaching is about breaking down boundaries,” says Méndez. Born and raised in Mexico City by chemical engineer parents, Méndez grew up painting. After training as an Olympic-level gymnast, she immigrated to the U.S., then went to ArtCenter.
“The same determination I had when I was a gymnast I put into design,” says Méndez, whose instructor, alumna Sharon Aki, was a mentor. Méndez later became the design director in ArtCenter’s Design Office while getting her MFA and teaching at the College.
Her silk-screen poster Exceso de Identidad, for 1992’s “America Now, 500 Years Later”-themed International Biennial of the Poster, features her bare belly (representing “the most vulnerable and strong part of us”) and a wallpaper print of Columbus’ ships. In 2004, she boldly rebranded the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women as Peace Over Violence.
In her living room, Méndez’s Circum/bi/polar 1—photos of a soaring Arctic tern, preceding her 2013 video installation CircumSolar, Migration 1—hangs above a cloth mat for meditation. Méndez won a 2010 residency aboard a sailboat in Norway to document the seabird’s migratory patterns. “In a symbolic way, I’m addressing that unless we embrace migration, humankind won’t survive,” she says.
Next for Méndez? She’s writing a book, alongside appearing more in her own films. “I have the capacity to use all my might as a graphic designer, filmmaker, photographer and performer,” she says. “You never stop figuring yourself out.”