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Ryan Parra: Vivarium


Artist Statement

This show will consist of 12 to 16 framed photographs from my Vivarium portfolio. These works will consist of still life photographs and digital composites of medicinal plants growing throughout the Southwest, presented in the gallery with descriptions of each plant’s unique ethnobotanical uses. These photographs will be presented at a size of 16 by 24, 20 by 30, and 24 by 36 inches.



Ryan Parra is a photography and video-based artist and educator living in Phoenix, Arizona, who has spent the past ten years extensively researching medicinal flora growing throughout the Southwest and beyond, as means for ethnobotanical documentation and artistic expression. This botanical research began shortly after he completed his Bachelor of Fine Art degree from the University of Oregon in 2012, where Parra became particularly interested in the unique intersection of culture and nature. After spending just one year documenting medicinal plants, he soon realized the potential for the new work and decided to use it in his application for graduate school at Arizona State University. Not only was Parra accepted and invited to conduct his Master of Fine Art research beginning the fall of 2013, but his new portfolio of plants also won him the Arizona State University Dean’s Fellowship Award, consisting of a sizeable stipend to support his proposed research on medicinal plants native and invasive to Arizona.


Since graduating, Parra has been selected to participate in the Joshua Tree Highlands Artist Residency, while also being awarded a stipend to support his project proposal documenting edible and medicinal plants native to Joshua Tree National Park.  He has continued working in this same vein – creating digital botanical illustration composites of edible and medicinal plants growing all throughout Arizona, photographing flora in Saguaro National Park, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and the Sonoran Desert National Monument. Most recently, Parra spent a month in Costa Rica teaching photography as part of the Mesa Community College study abroad program, while also conducting his own research creating digital composites and videos of medicinal plants native to the country. He has been a visiting artist for James Madison University, including presenting a solo show and an artist talk about his research.

Lastly, in the fall of 2020, Parra received the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson Night Bloom Artist Grant Award, which has funded the continuation of his Vivarium research documenting useful plants growing throughout Arizona. Today, he continues to work on this Vivarium project, constantly surveying the rugged southwest desert for new plants.


CONTACT US: If you want to know more about this project, how to support the work of this artist or how you can contribute to supporting our programs by e-mailing us at



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