Latinx AF Interview: The Macabre Miniature World of Brujerias Shop Owner Kirsten Castaneda-Wolniewi
Enter the hauntingly beautiful and bewitching worlds created by orgullosamente Mexicana Kirsten Castaneda-Wolniewitz- creative force behind Brujerias Shop- and be entranced. Kirsten creates decor like nothing you've ever seen before- she employs all the care and attention to detail of the craftsmen of traditional Mexican miniatures- but with an undeniably gothic twist. Tiny spellbooks and tarot cards, scrolls, pointy hats, witches brooms, cauldrons, skulls, crystal balls... Her dioramas are home to everything from Harry Potter characters, to Victorian spiritualist seance rooms, to ofrendas to Santa Muerte. Portraits of Edgar Allen Poe, Frida Kahlo, Sirius Black, Vlad the Impaler as well as her own illustrations- all no bigger than a fingernail ornament her lovingly crafted walls, and palm-sized coffins.
How long have you been making dioramas as Brujerias Shop? What is your earliest creative memory?
Brujerías Shop actually started as an outlet for my sketches of womxn and brujas 3 years ago. It wasn’t until October of 2018 that I started making dioramas and themed coffins for sale. However, growing up I created dioramas and sets for my barbies and dolls. I imagined my dolls were in a theatre production, mostly tragedies. I’d hand sew their costumes from fabric I cut from discarded t-shirts and would spend hours researching architecture of whatever time period I was pretending to be in at the time and recreate my own version.
Were you always interested in the macabre, paranormal, occult etc.- do any of your family share this interest with you?
Absolutely! I didn’t have many friends growing up. I was a really weird kid who lived within my imagination and would role play with myself so understandably no one really interacted with me. I found solace in books and as soon as I found my first Stephen King novel Salems Lot at age 10, I was hooked on anything supernatural. My family never understood my morbid fascinations and tried limiting my exposure to anything occult or “dark” as they referred to it. My mother even forced me to go to Catholicism classes twice a week. I had to sneak Stephen King and Anne Rice books under my covers at night or watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer at my only friends house.
Do you have any personal experience with the paranormal?
I just spent the last 10 years of my life living in New Orleans which, in my opinion, is THE most haunted city in the US. I lived in the French Quarter and Tremé, worked in one of the most haunted bars downtown called The Dungeon which held several paranormal entities and definitely saw/experienced my fair share of paranormal activity. Bottles from the bar would fly off shelves as if someone had thrown them and I even saw an apparition appear at the foot of my bed.
I know you are a devout follower of Santa Muerte- can you go into that relationship a little and what that worship and offering entails?
My relationship with Santa Muerte started about 10 years ago when I started rejecting the patriarchal tones and machismo present in the Catholic Church. Santa Muerte is sympathetic to those who feel as outcasts or different and as a queer womxn of mixed heritage, I never felt as if I truly fit in anywhere within the church. Since my family is very conservative and somewhat traditional, Santa Muerte has allowed me a safe space to cultivate my relationship with my spiritual faith, as opposed to forced archaic and oppress religious beliefs. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned through Santa Muerte is to not judge ourselves too harshly because that in turn leads us to judge others. She never judges; she just follows through and expects you to do the same, otherwise there are consequences, just like in life. She taught me that integrity is a sign of loving myself.
How did growing up in Mexico City inform your creative spirit?
Mexico City and the culture in itself is art. The history is so rich and mixed, how can you not be inspired by what interwoven stories the centuries have told overtime? From the archeological genius of the pyramids to the different centuries of architecture sprawled across the city itself, I grew up sketching my favorite landmarks or everyday parks. And while I myself am no longer a believer in Catholicism, I’m enamored with the blatantly opulent decor of Catholic Church. I still go to the cathedral in the middle of Coyoacán and admire the violent imagery adorning the walls depicting Jesus’s crucifixion. A lot of my earlier work and the new collection coming out for new year was influenced by my fear of The Book of Revelations stemming from my forced Catholicism days.
What would you say to any who might criticize that any of your interest doesn't fit in with Mexican culture? How would you educate them?
Miniatures are surprisingly a huge thing in Mexico for some reason. You can go to any street market and they’ll be selling miniature calaveras (cadavers) for Dia de los Muertos altars or little dioramas of Mexican kitchens to hang on the walls. As far as the Brujerías aspect, there are traces of supernatural even in Aztec and Mayan Folklore. Mexican culture is also incredibly superstitious. You have stories such as La Chupacabra or La Llorona. Or old wives tales on how to get rid of a fever (one coat of mustard on the sole of each foot and cover with sock for entire night.) I believe magick has roots stemming from every single culture worldwide, regardless of whatever name they choose to call it.
Where did you pick up your very specific, unique, and enchanting skills? You must have incredibly steady hands! Does craftmanship and creating run in your family?
On my mothers side, absolutely. Both my bisabuela(great-grandmother) and abuela (grandmother) were phenomenal artists, and my abuelo (grandfather) a jeweler who handcrafted his own creations, so I guess I would say it definitely runs in the family. As far as learning my skills, I’m self taught and this year have spent endless hours on research/watching other artists tutorials on YouTube or learning from books I’ve bought on woodworking, faux finishing, etc.
What are you three biggest influences?
I grew up spending my summers in Europe visiting my aunt who moved to Spain. I was very fortunate and acknowledge the privilege to have been able to stay in multiple haunted castles throughout Europe during my childhood and definitely credit those experiences as my biggest influence. Stephen King would have to be my second choice. He’s the one who introduced me and kept me hooked into the macabre and horror world; who honestly gave me the courage to explore my imagination without feeling “weird” for not fitting in. And J.K. Rowling would have to be my third biggest influence. As the creator of the Harry Potter universe, her ability to breathe life into what started as her imagination is inspiring in itself. Mix in there the details of Harry Potter books and movies, and definitely inspired my first collection of miniature dioramas that I continue to make today.
P.S. - Shop with Brujerias Shop right now until the 20th of April for 20-30% off! Stay home, Shop Latinx, and Support Small Business!