UMass Boston

Maria Servellón ’12: Living in the Hyphen

10/20/2020| Vanessa Chatterley

Whether it’s through film, drawing, music, theater, or dance, Maria Servellón ’12 has always been creating art in one form or another. But it wasn’t until her sophomore year at UMass Boston that she considered turning her talents into a career.

Close-up of independent filmmaker Maria Servellón as one of four versions of an artist creating her own identity
Close-up of Independent filmmaker Maria Servellón as one of four versions of an artist creating her own identity

“ ‘Living in the hyphen’ [refers to] people who juggle and find their own identity within multiple identities. ”

An independent filmmaker explores self-identities that bridge cultures.

“I originally pursued psychology, but I decided that I wanted to connect with people in another way. I wanted to connect with people who appreciate art, and I felt like psychology wasn’t working for me in that sense,” said Servellón, who changed her major to studio art with a minor in Japanese. “I felt like it was my calling to keep creating and connect with audiences in a much more visceral way.”

Now the award-winning filmmaker is connecting with people through one of her latest and most successful films, Hyphen. As a multimedia artist, Servellón often uses several art forms to explore a story or topic. The 21-minute film is a poetic journey of memory and fantasy told through the eyes of four versions of an artist as she creates her own self-identity. Each character learns to use art, dance, and music to realize their dreams, fears, and achievements. Through the power of creativity, they are able to overcome different challenges to create identities that transcend cultural and gender expectations.

Independent filmmaker Maria Servellón ’12, behind the camera, sets up a shot for one of her projects.

As a Salvadoran-American, first-generation, female artist from Boston, Servellón said she has a range of identities that shape the voice in the work she creates.

Hyphen comes from the phrase ‘living in the hyphen’ or ‘straddling the hyphen,’ which means people who juggle and find their own identity within multiple identities regarding culture, history, religion, sexual orientation, or gender,” said Servellón, who was inspired to create the film after working with students in the Boston Public Schools.

“The film came from those previous experiences of connecting with different students and people who have been in my shoes. Hyphen comes from the short stories that I’ve heard throughout my life that are buried within the burrows of Boston and the neighborhoods around.

“The film ultimately relates to growing up with parents who sacrificed everything for their children, wanting to fit in during high school, dealing with the stresses of being a college student, and trying to make your mark in the world but not being sure how to do that yet,” she continued. “It deals with traveling elsewhere, being out of your comfort zone, and finding your foothold in it. I think those are the more universal topics that this film and my other work represent.”

Since its debut in 2018, her film has been featured at the Boston Latino International Film Festival, the Official Latino Short Film Festival in Palm Springs, the Central American International Film Festival Los Angeles, the Oaxaca FilmFest, Portland Underground Film Festival, NewFilmmakers New York, and Grrl Haus. In April 2021, Hyphen will be screened at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Servellón also saw a surge of online support for the film from celebrities in the Latinx community, such as actress America Ferrera, comedian Anjelah Johnson, and blogger Perez Hilton.

“I wasn’t expecting some of these people to take notice of what we’re doing, but if they are noticing, then this is creating a bigger impact than I had intended,” said Servellón. “It’s been about making these waves and people jumping on board into our little ship that’s sailing the seas of independent filmmaking. It started catching some eyes.”

Servellón is currently an adjunct professor in the College of Professional Studies at Northeastern University. In addition to being an educator, she has been an arts advocate, connecting with and inspiring those in the arts and Latinx communities. In 2018, she was named one of El Mundo Boston’s “Latino 30 Under 30.” She also recently won the Latina Leader Award in Arts and Education by Amplify Latinx. Servellón serves on the Arts and Business Council of Greater Boston’s Creative Entrepreneur Fellowship, as well as on the MASS MoCA’s Assets for Artists grant for 2020.

“Being an artist is not easy, but it’s been about how can I do and continue the work that makes me happy—the work that makes me connect with others,” said Servellón. “I would want people to think about their own concept of identity and how they can embrace it, research it, break it down, and do healing if they need to. Thinking about who you are in your core self. And I think through my work I’ve been able to discover more of that as time goes on.”