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SEMO by Alvaro Azcarraga

Aligned Identities

Cal grad finds harmony at the nexus of art and science.

Alvaro Azcarraga ’18 discovered two passions in high school. “I found myself drawing in science class and doing science homework in art class,” he recalls.

As a citizen of both the United States and Mexico, he was accustomed to a binary life — from differences in language, food, and social norms to the homes he had lived in: wood frame in America, clay brick in Mexico.

He carried this dualism to UC Berkeley, not expecting to find a bridge between his worlds. “Art practice allowed me to bring art and science together in a cultural context, relevant to my personal experiences,” says Alvaro, who graduated with a double degree in molecular and cell biology and art practice. “I had planned to be a doctor but found I was happiest doing science-related artwork.”

He also found success. His provocative undergraduate thesis project — an installation and performance piece set in a fictional corporate research lab called SEMO — earned him a coveted spot at a San Francisco art co-op and a graduate fellowship to UCLA.

SEMO, which means “seed” in Esperanto, explores the growing dissonance between traditional ways of subsistence farming and high-tech commodification and control of food systems. Corn is a recurring symbol in his pieces, and he mixes natural materials, such as clay, with 3D-printed components made of plastic to reflect the hybrid forces at work across cultures and spheres.

“I have never fit into a specific category,” says Alvaro. “But at Berkeley, I grew comfortable with my dual identity.”

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