Though he’s a native of Colombia and a resident of Naples, local artist Juan Diaz considers his citizenship on a global scale.
“My father always told me that you have to perceive yourself as a citizen of the world,” he says.
“The whole planet is our home. We categorize ourselves as different things to make sense of it sometimes, but we’re all from this same world. We’re all together.
Thinking that way has always made me eager to explore, to discover what was similar and what was different.”Now 31, Diaz fled his homeland’s capital city, Bogota, when his family’s ceramics business began feeling the effects of a tumultuous economy. Given the options of relocating to New York or Naples, his father—Alfredo Diaz—made the decision to bring the group to Southwest Florida.
“Living in Bogota was very hard and very raw,” he says. “We had friends in New York who asked us to move there, but my father decided it didn’t make sense to move from raw to more raw. So our friends went to Naples and they told us, ‘You’ve got to come here, we’ve found paradise.’”
He arrived at age 13, ultimately attended Naples High School and spent his formative years reaping the benefits of both his artist father’s worldly viewpoint and the more traditional and grounded attachment to native Colombian culture of his mother, Virginia Hernandez.
And while Diaz and his two younger sisters, Carolina and Maria, transitioned to their new homeland without incident, he still takes it upon himself—both through art and in everyday life—to help make sure other immigrants have the same seamless shift.
Carolina works locally as a dental assistant and Maria is entering medical school.
“It’s easy for people who’ve been exposed to others to understand their own reality,” he says. “But I don’t believe you have to be exposed to be able to think that way. We were lucky. We had a very supportive environment, which a lot of people in that situation don’t have.”
Diaz has been mentored since 2006 by international artist Jonathan Green, and his work has subsequently been included in both group and solo exhibitions in Naples, Fort Myers, Marco Island and Cape Coral, as well as Charleston, S.C.
“In my work, it’s a priority to be very diverse,” he says. “It’s the message of my work. To those making a transition, I’ll share anything that I know.”
— Lyle Fitzsimmons