Artist and alumna Carolina Rubio-MacWright ’03 is a graduate of the College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts who went on to become a lawyer specializing in immigration law. Her work in Brooklyn, NY, which bridges her two passions, was featured in ELLE magazine on March 12, 2019:
At a Brooklyn Pottery Class, Immigrant Women Mold Clay—And Learn Their Rights
–By Madison Feller, for ELLE
It’s 10 a.m. on a Wednesday, and Carolina Rubio-MacWright is sitting at a long table inside a Brooklyn pottery studio, laminating small three-inch cards by hand. They’re “Know Your Rights” cards that she plans to give out to the handful of immigrant women who will soon be populating the same table where she sits. On one side are a few affirmations written in Spanish. On the other, in English, is a declaration of rights to be given to the police. One side reads, “Soy guerrera poderosa” (“I’m a powerful warrior”); the other starts with “Hello, Officer.”
These are the two messages Rubio-MacWright, 37, an artist and immigration lawyer, is trying to impart during her free Wednesday morning class at Bklyn Clay, a class that she’s crafted and created for immigrant women. It’s intended to be an environment for learning, where she can demonstrate how to turn a pile of clay into a bowl or a mug, but it’s also where she can teach them what to do if they’re detained. When they walk away from class, she wants them to feel like they have power, like they are seen. And she wants to get there by using clay.
“Clay has incredible properties,” she tells me, as we sit at the counter of a pie shop in Prospect Heights, the studio’s new neighborhood. “You’re working with your hands, which really almost untriggers you or relaxes you. It has that therapeutic feeling to it.” She continues, “It has a lot of allusions to life, the idea of destroying the clay and restarting. Also, this idea of ‘I built something. I didn’t expect anything from this, and now I’ve created something.'” She says the transformation is not only with the clay, but with the women who come to her class. “Some would immediately start telling really private things. We saw others that, through the class, left their abusive husband or knew what to do if ICE showed up.”
This particular Wednesday happens to be the day after President Trump’s annual State of the Union address, where he spent part of the night speaking about “illegal aliens,” “criminal aliens,” and the need for a steel barrier to be placed at the border of our country. It is also the day when the women in Rubio-MacWright’s class will finally see the pieces they’ve been working on for weeks. Rubio-MacWright has placed gold lamé fabric over the top of the art, so she can pull it off in a flourish. She’s brought coffee and apple pie (very “Americano,” she says) for the six women who were able to come that day. As they talk about the work in Spanish, one woman begins to cry. Later when I ask Rubio-MacWright to translate, she explains that she became emotional after seeing her finished piece, saying, “I never thought I could do something like this.”
The class itself is something Rubio-MacWright has been working on for years; she’s done similar ones with survivors of domestic violence and other groups of men and women. She’s found that art is an equalizer, a task that immediately puts everyone at the same level, and because clay is a part of so many cultures, it’s an easy entry point. Her classes typically include an intimate 10 to 13 people so that conversation can be open and honest.