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From Us in Charcoal: Melissa

Meet Melissa Hurtado, a transfer student from Florida and a photographer for Charcoal. Melissa is an artist who has been inspired by her move to Boston and whose medium is photography and digital art. If you want to understand Melissa go ahead and listen to Solange’s Interlude “Can I Hold the Mic”. Melissa’s favorite line? “ I can't be a singular expression of myself.”

“I want to put out in the world my true self and not a tainted version of my experience"

Melissa started her education at a community college in Florida, she decided to apply to Boston University because of their Anthropology program and committed because of the amount of financial aid she received. She faced a cultural shock since she went from being surrounded by a majority Latino community to a majority white community. By accepting the offer from BU, she became one of the first in her family to move far away from home. Her family was struggling with having all their children far from home but they constantly make it known how much her accomplishments mean to them. “My cousins like going around telling people how their cousin [Melissa] is an archaeologist, even though they don’t know what I do”

Melissa’s journey as a photographer didn’t start until recently, “I started four years ago but it was never serious.” A year ago she photographed a band from Miami who had a show in Boston and the majority of people in the audience were from Miami, making it feel just like home. “The shots were pretty good and the band liked them, so I thought, wow maybe I should do this, like seriously.” Later on, Gladys recommended applying to Charcoal and Melissa did, becoming a staff photographer, “with nothing in my portfolio but pictures of my friends.” Being a part of Charcoal has given Melissa a space where she has the freedom to express her creativity while working with many other creative minds. “Being part of Charcoal forced me to get into my art, which I like”

When it comes to Melissa’s art, “I want to put out in the world my true self and not a tainted version of my experience. I mix a lot of sadness and memory because I want people to feel my emotions while I am creating my art. I make sure the audience gets something out of it.” Even though Melissa enjoys sharing her true self it’s often frightening because she has to constantly analyze who she is. Recently, Charcoal allowed her to share her artwork through its Gallery Showcase this past November. Melissa’s digital artwork called “La Creación De La Virgen” was a visual representation of a moment in her life where her family gathered in honor of her virginity. The moment, immortalized in a photograph, happened back In Medellin, Colombia.

“I was about 11 when I got my first period, deeming me both desirable and destructive in the eyes of my family. One day I was led into a room where family members were ready with sorrowful and hopeful eyes ready to pray over me. They prayed over the sacredness of my virginity and gifted me a “promise ring”. A promise that I would stay pure. That day I became La Virgen.”

Melissa’s inspiration came from the Frida Khalo movie and her art piece called ‘Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair’, which led her to share her art and experience. “After I watched the movie and saw the Charcoal gallery post I told myself I wanted my first piece of art to be daring.” At the Gallery show, she recalls a moment, “I stood in the corner all shy but it was so cool seeing people engage with it! It just validated why I made it.” When she went upstairs to see the smaller version of her piece she overheard two people remark, “this is so sad but I love it.” validating her bold move. Despite not showing her art to her family, the way it has captivated other people’s attention has made her embrace her creative side.

“I am an artist, a creative, a scientist...I am colorful

Melissa’s experience in Boston and in spaces like Charcoal reassure her of her accomplishments, much like the words from Solange, Melissa shares “I am an artist, a creative, a scientist...I am colorful”

Make sure to come back to read more, From Us in Charcoal