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This New West artist's works explore her Hispanic Heritage

Fiesta braids, Day of the Dead and El Salvador's National Bird Torogoze feature in New Westminster-based artist Clarissa Banos' artwork that reflects her Latin American roots. Meet the artist at a free ‘Art and Storytime’ series for children starting October.

A majority of Clarissa Banos’ artworks feature Indigenous Latin American women in traditional garbs — one such garment being an intricately-woven woman’s blouse called Huipil

“It’s like a business card,” said Banos. “What village they (the women) come from, what their age is, if they're married, if they have kids, and what is their level of dexterity… all that information is recorded in the embroidery.” 

Banos did a thesis on pre-Hispanic iconography found in ancient textiles of Mexico, Central and South America, and ancient symbolism as part of her Masters of Fine Arts Program from University of Illinois, USA. “Every village has their own symbols, their own colours, even their own pigment that they use to dye the fabrics.” 

“I just find that so fascinating,” she added.

Taking inspiration from ancient textiles of South America

Symbolisms related to astrology — images of the moon, the sun and the stars — are quite common in ancient Latin American textiles, she said. What's also predominant is the chevron symbol, and the use of red, black and white colours, she added.

They have a recurring presence in Banos' works too — some of which will be on display at the Latin American Arts Exhibition, at Ocean Artworks Pavillion on Granville Island, as part of the Latincouver Latin Heritage Month celebrations.

Her artworks usually serve as a launchpad for kids to understand her Latin heritage — “To me, it's a great chance to explain a little bit of why I paint what I paint, and what the symbolisms mean.”

Banos, a graphic design graduate, used to teach university students back in El Salvador. But about five years ago, she transitioned to teaching art to kids. She has collaborated with the Arts Council of New Westminster, worked with the New Westminster School District and taught at an art school in Coquitlam. 

“I always liked to be around kids. I love teaching kids!”

This passion led her to start an initiative called Artful Kids (in collaboration with the New Westminster School District and the Anvil Centre) through which she could teach art to children from vulnerable families free of charge. The project, however, had to be shut down during the pandemic. 

Free Art and Storytime for kids in New West

Banos plans to relaunch it in Spring 2023. But in the meanwhile, she will be part of an 'Art and Storytime' series organized by Kinder Books and Arts Council of New West.

At the community event, which is set to happen every Sunday starting Oct. 2, Banos and Coquitlam-based artist Nicholas Brancati will plan art projects based off of storybooks. “We’ll create a specific art project that is based on the books that the owner of Kinder Books Anne (Uebbing) read that particular day,” she said. 

Banos will introduce kids to the different elements of art — like texture, colour, space, pattern, line, shape and so on — and teach them “how to make markers look like watercolours or how to make oil pastels look like oil paints,” she said. 

Banos grew up watching her mom create watercolour paintings, and her grandmother do embroidery.

All of her art, she said, comes from a sense of "nostalgia" of her home country, which she left 23 years ago.

“Sometimes, you take your place of origin for granted. But then, when you're far away, and you don't have access to it anymore, you miss your friends, family, the food and the places.” 

For Banos, in the initial years after the move, the “dark, gloomy and rainy” months here made her yearn for the “tropical, sunny and bright” weather back home. Though miles away, she found that one way of staying connected to her distant home was through art.

So Banos did just that.

She started painting — "painting everything that I was missing,” she said. 


The first of the 'Art and storytime' series will be on Sunday, Oct. 2, at 9.30 a.m. upstairs by the Vancouver Circus School, 810 Quayside Dr.