Didi Rojas on Her Statement-Making Sculptures and Style Philosophy

BYRDIE︎ 2022
A version of this story first appeared on byrdie.com in June 2022

Brooklyn-based artist Diana "Didi" Rojas loves looking at things. "Maybe for a little bit too long," she adds. Still, Rojas's perspective is refreshing.

It's a blustery spring day when I visit Rojas at her studio in Greenpoint. The artist pokes her head from the building's entrance and beckons me inside. Tucked away in a tiny sliver of the Group Partner studio, Rojas has found creative refuge here for nearly six years—and upon closer inspection, I can see why. There is a warmth to her workspace that warrants slowing down and looking around.

Above Rojas's worktable, a shelving unit is lined with various materials. My eyes land on a couple of miniature ceramic hot dogs on the lowest shelf. These tiny objects are part of a thousand that Rojas created at Pratt Institute. "I became obsessed with the idea of quantity," Rojas says of the project. (She also kindly gifts me one of the hot dogs before leaving.) To my left, a pile of smiley-face ceramic buttons rests between a few of Rojas's older pieces. Even though we're both wearing masks, I can't help but smile back at the scene. These details are minute but, in many ways, play a part in the culmination of Rojas's ceramic art practice, which most notably features her celebrated shoe sculptures.

Born in Cali, Colombia, Rojas moved to New Jersey with her family as a young child, and her proximity to New York City ultimately led her to Pratt in 2012. There, Rojas studied Communications Design (with a focus on Illustration) but unexpectedly found a ceramic studio during her freshman year. Rojas followed her curiosity and grew excited by the prospect of creating ceramics that weren't solely functional. (She mentions Alice Mackler, and Peter Fischli and David Weiss's Guggenheim exhibition How to Work Better as early inspirations.)

In many ways, Rojas's stylish sculptures were born out of her talent for looking closely. After constantly wearing her pair of Nike Air Force 1s, Rojas noticed that the shoes appeared as though they were made out of clay. She became inspired to create a shoe that was ceramic but still retained realistic features. Since then, these sculptures have become a mainstay in her rotation. While Rojas finds a shoe's silhouette visually inspiring, there's more than meets the eye. "They're basically like a self-portrait in many ways," she says. "They all serve the same function—but just the fact that they can say so much about a person, I think, is really meaningful."

Over the years, Rojas has worked with revered brands like Adidas, Gucci, and more. She credits social media as an essential role in the exposure of her work and as part of her broader examination of the value we place on these items. But off-screen, Rojas maintains that her favorite part of the process is the actual sculpting of each piece. "It allows me to look at a photo or at the actual shoe, and then use my hands to kind of translate that amount of detail—and be as giving as I want to be in terms of detailing—so that then you can see the artist's hand in the work."

This level of intention makes its way into Rojas's latest solo show, Felt Cute, Might Delete Later (on view at LAUNCH F18 through June 11th, 2022). The exhibition includes the artist's shoe sculptures and the introduction of textile pieces that feature shoelaces woven onto canvas (the latter works have been in progress since early 2021). Rojas began thinking about "shoes and different materials that were very significant in shoes and shoemaking." Naturally, shoelaces factored heavily in this exploration. "There was something about laces and their softness and how people tend to be a bit creative with them as well," she adds. "And the way that you tie them really drew me in."

Aesthetics aside, vulnerability is a driving factor in this body of work. "I feel like this is turning a new page and continuing to take myself more seriously [and] hold my own space," Rojas says. "As an artist, fashion at times feels a bit exclusive, and art at times feels a bit like a boy's club. I feel like it's difficult to be in this space where you want to be able to hold your own and feel comfortable with yourself doing that."

As our conversation unfolds, it's hard not to reflect on my own relationship with these ideas. Standing in the middle of Rojas's studio, wearing my tried-and-true Veja sneakers, I think about where these shoes have taken me in the world—and going through life at my own pace, step by step. Energized by Rojas's work, I ask if I can take a "shoe selfie" with some of her pieces. She encourages it. And as I snap a photo, I'm reaffirmed of a simple truth: Rojas's shoe sculptures may stand still, but that doesn't mean they won't move you.


Is there a way you want people to engage with your work online than in a gallery setting?
Definitely. I feel like [with] the work online, I see it as exposure for my practice. I think it has to do with the importance we're now putting on brands and designers and what that says about us. Just seeing how people interact with the specific shoes or why we're drawn to specific ones, why a sneaker can cost over a thousand dollars but can also cost twenty bucks—they're probably all made out of the same materials. So, just seeing why some of them tend to hold this weight versus others. I'm curious about people's connection to specific ones.

Do you apply the same level of intention to your personal style? How does style free you creatively?
I would say so. When it comes to dressing, I think so much of personal style comes from how you style what you wear more so than what you're wearing. Clothes can carry so much meaning and history, and although I don't necessarily wake up and feel the weight of what I pick out to wear every morning, I do make intentional choices. My day-to-day outfits have to feel true to me, which includes being active in my studio practice as well.

I love collared shirts, but I love mixing those with crew-neck sweaters. I love denim jeans, but I love styling them with my Mary Janes. I embroider things onto my sweaters and love wearing the color red because of my last name. I tend to always match my socks to the collared shirts I wear under my sweaters. Recently, I've been wearing a lot of hair clips.

What's something beauty or wellness-related that activates your five senses?
I'm not sure if this qualifies as a full beauty ritual, but I always have to have smiley faces painted on my fingernails. I normally just use black nail polish and a small painting brush to paint them on. Seeing the smileys on my hands is a reminder that things are okay. There's something soothing about painting the faces on; the smell of nail polish tends to wake me up a bit, and I've been doing this for so long now that if, for some reason, my hands don't have the smileys on them, they don't feel like my hands. Sometimes, people ask me if I Sharpie the smileys onto my nails. I think it's funny because it makes me feel edgier than I actually am. I like that they appear Sharpied on. There's something nostalgic and very school-girl about it.

Do you have any advice for tapping into art as a form of self-care or wellness? If you're not an artist, where do you start?
I would say to do the things that feel good. A lot of the time, I feel like we tend to stop ourselves from following through. So I think another thing might be, if you start something, try to finish it; if it's giving you calmness. Sometimes, we tend to get discouraged or quickly step away because we're like, "Oh, this is taking too much time," or we don't have the patience. But if you can work through that, it'll feel really good.

I want to make sure we discuss your show, Felt Cute, Might Delete Later.  Is there a piece that you think best captures your artistic identity ?
Yeah. It might be the one right behind you with the dirty shoelaces. It was one of the first ones [I made]. I think the title for that one is: "Entertaining The Idea That I May Be the Love of My Life." [Laughs] It's really special. I think a lot of people sort of strive for this perfection. That one in particular—showing the dirty shoelaces and having it be the first larger one I was making—means a lot to me.

I love your use of language in the naming of the pieces and the show itself. It's like a play on a meme or culture. Does that come naturally to you?
I feel like it's a way that we all connect with each other, and everyone tends to understand a meme and its simplicity, but also how complex it tends to be at times. But for me, it's also almost like these are the thoughts in my head and how I feel people relate to one another and become more at ease. So yeah, I tend to have a lot of fun with it. Right now, I'm in the process of assigning everything its title for this show, and I'm pretty excited about it.

I saw a couple of pieces online: one is titled "My OK threshold keeps shifting." I read that and was like, "Yeah, same!"
I think a lot of people have recently also been [talking] about the current vibe shift and what's that like. I'm just like, "Okay, well, stuff is definitely changing," even just within each of us.

You're addressing some pretty heavy themes if you zoom out or away from the humor, but I think that's what draws me to your work: it's accessible. It's an invitation into that conversation rather than something that might be exclusionary.
Exactly. There's part of it that obviously does feel very personal, but it's also me, in a way, being vulnerable and able to have that conversation with people. I'm naturally more of a shy person, so this is kind of my way of putting my voice out there and being able to relate to someone who might also feel the same way.

I feel like it's so important not to have it be something that just goes over everyone's head. I think my title for the show, specifically, Felt Cute, Might Delete Later, speaks to that, too. There's a certain level of importance that we put on something—especially, let's say, when people normally use that [phrase], they're usually posting a selfie. So I feel like this is sort of my way of posting a selfie saying, "Hey, this is important for right now." Or I think it's important right now. I'm giving it a certain level of importance that I feel it deserves—but at any point, we change.

That's really poignant. So, are you more motivated by beauty or conversation?
I would say conversation; I think it's hard. Everyone's got their own way of thinking of what is beautiful and what isn't. Sometimes it's hard to say things aren't beautiful, even if they don't look like the definition of something that would be beautiful.

What's something that changed your mind about beauty recently?
I feel like people in general. When you go out into the world, you can see things as being negative or have a positive outlook. I tend to be more of a glass-half-full-versus-empty person—an optimist. I don't see necessarily why I would be negative when it seems like there's so much negativity out there already.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.