Dominican Artist M. Tony Peralta Is Using Art to Help Us Get Through This Pandemic

Since the pandemic hit, many of us have been desperately looking for ways to keep our spirits lifted amid the COVID-19 crisis

Tony Peralta

Photo: via Tony Peralta

Since the pandemic hit, many of us have been desperately looking for ways to keep our spirits lifted amid the COVID-19 crisis. We’ve been looking for healthy escapes to relieve us of our isolation, whether it be filling our evenings with happy hour Zoom calls with close family and friends, picking up new and creative hobbies, or developing chef-like skills in the kitchen. The nature of a pandemic is to isolate us collectively but NYC-based artist and illustrator M. Tony Peralta is using his art to bring us hope and help us feel more connected. 

Peralta is most famously known for his “Rolos and Icons” series, which was turned into a hit gallery exhibit in 2015. The images consist of iconic Latinas including Frida Kahlo, Selena Quintanilla, Celia Cruz, the famous Mirabal sisters, and even Dora The Explorer rocking a set of rolos on their heads. It’s the Dominican artist’s way of paying homage and earlier this month he developed the idea of doing a “Enfermera Con Rolos” series after being inspired by all the health care workers on the front lines of this pandemic. 

“The quarantine life is second nature to me since I’m a homebody by nature. It’s been really productive for me. I’ve been able to do stuff I’m [normally] too busy to do around the house. I’ve been cooking a lot and trying different recipes I find online. A lot of ideas have come to me through this time, including the “Enfermera Con Rolos’ image I posted on social media a couple of weeks ago,” Peralta tells HipLatina. “Every morning I watch the news to stay informed on what’s going on in the world and I’ve seen a couple of stories on how overwhelmed these health care workers have been through this pandemic. I’ve seen one video of a nurse crying that almost had me in tears. I think the empathy that I felt is what inspired the image and I wanted to do something that showed my gratitude towards the work they are doing.”

Not only are the images Peralta’s way of showing his gratitude to these shero/heroes on the front lines, but it’s also been one of the many ways he’s been doing his part to give back. “Enfermera Con Rolos” was later made available in prints and in three different T-shirt sizes, with 30% of the proceeds going to the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund, which supports health care workers, local businesses, displaced hourly workers, and vulnerable New Yorkers. 

 “It feels really good to do my part in being able to help others during this pandemic,” he says. “I’m not a rich person and I wish I can donate more but being able to create something that folks have a positive reaction to during this time brings me joy. I’m really grateful that I have a strong enough following to be able to do something like this.”

In fact, weeks before releasing “Enfermera Con Rolos,” Peralta collaborated with Brooklyn Poet, Writer, and Producer Lemon Anderson on the “Peralta X Lemon Gran Manzana Tee.” 

“It’s something that happened sporadically,” he says. “Lemon is a friend and he texted one morning something he wrote down on a piece of paper: ‘I HEART ÑY.’ And was like the city needs this. I agreed and asked him to write a poem and that’s how the T-shirt design came about. I researched some orgs and decided that the NY Food Bank would be perfect to have the proceeds go to.”

Peralta and Anderson managed to sell over 400 T-shirts in just one weekend, which helped bring food into the pantries of those who have been hit hard by COVID-19.  

“It actually felt pretty overwhelming. I did not expect that at all,” he says. “Again, I’m very grateful that I can even do something like this. The cool part is not only did it go towards a good cause but it also helped me and my staff. My business is solely dependent on online sales.” 

In an effort to get folks more connected while they’re isolated at home, Peralta and DJ Pam Jones hosted a free virtual gathering on Saturday, April 25th called “Sancocho for the Soul.” It was a cozy, communal cooking experience via Zoom. All you had to do was sign up via Eventbrite and cook up a sancocho — or any dish or your preference — and be willing to share the experience with others. It was chill, comforting, and cathartic all at the same time.

Peralta also recently designed and released a series of face masks that sold out in minutes. Each mask was inspired by Latinx cultural references including a Bodega Cat Face Mask, an ÑY City Face Mask, an Afro-Pick Covering/Head Band, and a colorful Covering/Head Band with the words Afro-Latina.

“I did not anticipate the face masks to sell out so quickly. We sold out in less than an hour,” Peralta says. “I wasn’t even sold on the idea of making face masks. A few people were tagging me on social media asking if I was gonna make masks. I came up with a couple of ideas and posted them on Twitter to see how people would respond to the design. The feedback was positive so it gave me the confidence to move forward and produce some face masks.” 

Peralta plans on restocking soon and he’s even been working on some new designs which he’ll be releasing any day now — so keep an eye out this week! 

“The day the masks sold out I had sent out new designs to be produced. I had to contact my supplier and add a few more that night cause we sold out so quickly. I should be receiving this soon. Hopefully by the end of this week,” he says. ‘One of the new designs will be my “SE HABLA SPANGLISH” design, which I’m excited about because the letters would be embroidered.” 

But he’s not stopping there. As a gesture of appreciation, Peralta recently converted the “Enfermera Con Rolos” into a line drawing and is offering it as a free coloring page for kids and adults. Download the images here and tag Peralta on social media IG and Twitter @peraltaprjct so he can see it. He plans on posting them in a future blog post. 

Peralta also shared with PIX11 News that he plans on making a mural of “Enfermera Con Rolos” on a brick wall in Washington Heights in honor of all the healthcare workers risking their lives in NYC. He’s still in the process of looking for a wall. 

While some may not consider art a necessity while the world is stressed out by coronavirus, it’s actually more needed than we realize. Americans are overwhelmed with panic and concern about either getting seriously ill, dying, or losing someone from COVID-19. As non-essential businesses remain closed, markets fall, and millions of Americans continue to become unemployed, many fear a very possible global recession. It is during times of difficulty that we need art to unify us and remind us to stay hopeful. 

“We are living in a very bizarre and uncertain time and it’s affecting us globally. I have never experienced this in my lifetime. As a native New Yorker, I was around during 9/11. During the Black Out in 2003 and Sandy,” says Peralta. “During those times I was in a different place in my life. I was not in a position to be able to put something out that can reach [how] I have today and be able to make money and help contribute to a bigger cause. We are all in this together. When this is all over, I am happy and proud to say that I did my part in helping some folks live through my art. Art is not a necessity in this time but art is something that can help soothe and hopefully spark some joy for folks.”

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