US artist and teacher celebrates beauty in artworks

Writer: Cao Zhen  |  Editor: Zhang Chanwen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2022-12-26

Maria Elena Botello Mogas

Sheet masks are always on the shopping lists of many women, especially in this year-end sales season, but U.S. artist and QSI International School of Shenzhen art teacher Maria Elena Botello Mogas (also known as Lotus) has other use for sheet masks — creating art.

Lotus, who has been in Shenzhen for six years, took note of many brands of sheet masks with various ingredients in China. Since she is fascinated about beauty and issues related to women, she came up with a list of questions for women, such as “How do you feel about the way you look,” “How do you feel about getting older” and “If you have to choose being smart or beautiful, which one would you choose?” Then, she invited her Chinese female friends to write the questions and answers in Chinese on the sheet masks.

A sheet mask written with a set of Q&A on women and beauty is part of another artwork series created by Lotus. Photos by courtesy of the interviewee

The masks later went into hot wax many times, forming hard shapes. Lotus told Shenzhen Daily that when she has enough masks written with the Q&A, she would display them at an exhibition. “I want them to hang from a ceiling, to meet your face and you can read what is written on the masks. I want the masks to speak; this is very symbolic,” she said.

Lotus usually reflects a feminine quality in her artworks and her other series is also inspired by an important Chinese fashion item and symbol — cheongsam (qipao). For the series, she put a child’s qipao with floral patterns into hot wax and applied varnish on it to make it hard.

“I will make 20 or more adult qipao dresses like this and display them as an army of women, because women are powerful and beautiful. My works are mostly about femininity and strength, and bring attention to women and their qualities,” Lotus said. “When you engage in your artwork, you are true to yourself and you are being honest, discovering things about yourself.”

            A kid’s qipao is part of Lotus’ artwork series. 

Lotus, who comes from Texas, holds a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) with a concentration in sculpture and a master of education in curriculum and instruction. Before landing her job at QSI in 2021, she taught at EF and Xinzhou Middle School in Futian District. She said her colleagues in Xinzhou “treated her like a family” and in 2020, when she was stuck in the U.S. for nine months due to travel restrictions during the pandemic, she was eager to return to China.

Lotus’ drawing “Lone Rose” is inspired by yellow roses in her hometown in Texas, the U.S.

In response to this experience, Lotus created a series of four drawings, titled “Continuum.” Using pen, pencil, color and all three combined, respectively, each drawing features 77 rotations for a total of 308 rotations equating to the 308 days she was stuck in the U.S. “Back then, I was upset because I wanted to be back to work. The rotations on the drawings represent how I felt, like I was walking in an endless circle,” she said.

Part of Lotus' drawing series "Continuum."

Lotus also co-chairs International Shenzhen Artist Forum (ISZAF), a local artist collective and community founded in 2016. ISZAF, with over 200 members, holds artist and community events, such as life drawings, artist challenges, forums and pop-up shows. She brings together artists and professionals to provide insight to their works.

Lotus speaks at a previous ISZAF forum held at Jardin Orange Artist Residency in Nanshan District in 2019.

Lotus learned about Chinese history and culture through documentaries and traveling around China. Sometimes, she also learns from her students, who are from international families but were born and raised in China. She also practices Wing Chun at a club in Longhua District as a hobby which she has been developing since she was in Texas. “In Wing Chun, you have to feel the oncoming force and respond to it. The force leads to what you do next. You have to feel your way through it,” she said.

Lotus (R) practices Wing Chun with her sparring partner in a club in Longhua District.

Even if Lotus has never received formal training in Chinese language, she loves to watch Chinese TV series without English subtitles. “I know body language well and I can figure out what’s going on from people’s expression,” she said, who also uses this method for communication in her daily life in China.

Lotus, who is living in Shekou, always recalls her time in Luohu and Futian. From old parks, shopping malls and the train station in Luohu to the modern downtown and uplifting architecture in Futian, everything in Shenzhen is “exciting and meaningful” to her. “Even if I live in Shekou, I still pay visits to Futian shops I used to go to. I was a Futian girl. I feel that wherever I go, I form a relationship with people I meet.”