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Maria Isabel Bonilla was born in Cali, Colombia. This city is known for its lush tropical environment and a dynamic, vibrant Salsa music scene. Upon her high school graduation, she moved to Bogotá -Colombia’s capital- to pursue several degrees in fine art, design and illustration. In 2011 she moved to Billings to pursue yet another degree in Equestrian Studies and fell in love with Montana. She decided to stay to continue pursuing her two passions: art and horses.


She currently holds a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts and a Minor in Design from Los Andes University, as well as a Certificate in Illustration for Children’s Literature from Jorge Tadeo Lozano University. Finally, she also holds and a Magna Cum Laude Bachelor’s degree in Equestrian Studies from Rocky Mountain College. In 2017, she founded Blue Jaguar Art, her personal studio. She lives in Billings, Montana is now actively participating in local Art Shows and Exhibitions. She is currently working as a freelancing artist, graphic designer, illustrator and equestrienne.

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My work is mainly influenced by an intense sense of nostalgia for my homeland, as well as a constant search of identity. What does it mean to be a Colombian? What defines being a Caleña? This search has led me to I seek inspiration in diverse elements, both from Colombia and abroad.  Such sources of inspiration include prehispanic art, Salsa music, native flora and fauna, and childhood memories.

I consider my artwork “Tropical Surrealism with a hint of Salsa music” and favor a flashy, psychedelic aesthetic that combines traditional mediums like acrylics and watercolors with more unexpected materials like bones, glitter, sequins and gemstones. I find joy in creating intricate, lavish images where explosive color, bold lines, geometric shapes and seductive shimmer play an essential role in mesmerizing the viewer. I strive to celebrate “The Colombian Spirit” through my art.

Growing up in a complex country like Colombia had a huge influence in my career as an artist. Not only is it immensely bio diverse, but also boasts of an incredibly rich and diverse history, due to the convergence of European, African and Aboriginal cultures. Such merging is especially evident in Salsa music, which originated thanks to the contributions of a myriad of artists from diverse backgrounds throughout the years. Salsa music holds a special place in my heart, since it became a constant source of joy and a vehicle for constructing my identity as a Colombian and Caleña. The latter term refers to a person hailing from the city of Santiago de Cali, known internationally as the Salsa Capital of the World. The concept of Salsa not only refers to a musical genre, it has evolved into a culture, a lifestyle and most importantly, into an aesthetic.  This particular style is vibrant, energetic and exotic, luring the spectator into a primitive, frenzied dance invoked by Conga drums, trumpets and animal calls.  This dynamic visual movement has become a main catalyst for the development of my current work. 

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