Emma Drew introduces the Egyptian artist Asmaa Elmongi , whose work, featuring animal and human bones, reflects on what she calls "the deterioration of human ethics", and calls for:
'An Ethics of Coexistence'
Awash in the vivid hues—of blush pink, yellow aglow, and aquamarine—and soft textures—of pastels and fabric dyes—reminiscent of a slow sunset, that is, of placid resplendence and impressive feats of light, Asmaa Elmongi paints bones.
Shaded with charcoal's subtleties and diffuse washes of gouache that dissipate into nonexistent backgrounds,
Elmongi draws tubes and machine gears. Although she has favored darkly surreal and sci-fi tropes (and lays claim to Max Ernst and H.R. Giger as influences),
she enjoys the buoyancy of her media; although she has come to often refer to themes involving brutality and violence—“the deterioration of human ethics,” according to her artist's statement—Elmongi bases all of her work, simply, around her forms.
“It was just about joining bones and muscles of animals and humans, just to make forms,” she recalls. “I made sketches of human bones and hands and legs connected to machines and weapons but it wasn't actually about [those parts]. Visually it was more related to animation and movies.”
Currently, as a Master's student in Painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Alexandria, where she completed her undergraduate degree, her interest in sculpted space and animated forms is taking to the fore. “I always felt that my forms are more like 3D forms,” she notes, “when I paint I feel that I want to make it more like a 3D object.”
Moving through painting and drawing to video work to experiments with projected images, Elmongi is planning her final project around the use of three-dimensional holograms. “I want to make something to affect people, to [impact] those people who never even follow art exhibitions,” a goal which has now become a formal concern. “It's not only just a painting on a wall, that nobody can touch,” she says. “A 3D hologram is more accessible and more authentic for the audience to watch; [they can] move around it and coexist in the painting.
A major hurdle as of now, however, is finding someone to help her with the computer programming and tech-heavy aspects required of holograms. In the meantime, and in preparation, her work has begun to combine 3D objects with projections, an effort to explore the notions of perpetual motion and the immersive experience in which she is interested.
For her current project, a stage in her Master’s development, four projectors, in four corners of a room, cast painted images onto a cube that is constantly turning on one axis, itself covered with a connected combination of different parts of the human pelvis and backbone; the images that are to be projected on the box are small organic elements moving in an irregular pattern through the slots of the bones, going in and out of them.
The hope is that such a construction, particularly working with space and moving elements, will help ease the transition to full hologram. As with earlier works, the images remain organic, body-based and bone-like, but with the same forms come different ideas: Elmongi has focused this project on an idea of the search for self, one that brings us into contact with questions of self-perception, bodily needs and spiritual desires, the personal and relationships. “During our eternal search for ourselves, we may not know how, or where we can find it,” Elmongi writes in her preparatory materials.
“If I have the chance to implement a 3D hologram artwork, it will be better to exhibit it in the street to fulfill its purpose,” she explains. “It is for people to interact [with the artwork] and to be more affected.”
Regardless of explicit theme or content, the experience for the audience remains paramount, and a dedication to media and form in tandem—expanding, not abandoning, what painting and drawing can do—continues to drives Elmongi's work in new, important directions. She is excited, and ambitious: “I want to provide another way of seeing painting; I want to add something different to painting.”
Asmaa Elmongigraduated in Fine Arts, Painting Department, from Alexandria University, Egypt, where she is now a Master's student in Painting and Art History.
Emma Drew is currently completing her MFA in Art Writing at the New York School of Visual Arts, New York, US. She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
The conversation between Emma Drew and Gina Goico continues, moving now to #ATABEY, a project founded in 2013 by Gina and Imán Muñiz. [Scroll down to see Part One]
[See Spanish translation below]
#ATABEY has become Gina’s form of address. Beginning as an assemblage of Internet-based projects (riffing on the popular #ilivewhereyouvacation meme to expose the less-than-photogenic sides of Dominican life), favorite readings, essays, and rants, #ATABEY evolved to encompass new work produced by Goico and her friend and collaborator Imán Muñiz. Their process is symbiotic: Muñiz, a social worker focusing on sexuality, provides the content, Goico the means to interpret and share it. Working on a project in which she interviewed women in the Dominican Republic about their relationships, Muñiz collected hours of stories, of testimony, important information to be processed. “I said; Give me your data,’” Goico remembers. “Imán gave me her raw data, and I would process it and create artwork; then she would see the artwork, and that would help her understand the data.”
Muñiz would send documentation of her process; Goico would send hers back. Their feedback became so constant and integral that the two ended up using the same colors in their individual coding systems as researcher and as artist. The final result of this exchange was Goico’s Baila Mamiperformance and video, wherein she narrated, essentially verbatim, the histories of violence recounted by the women interviewed, while dancing to a playlist of popular Dominican songs. “I don’t want to address only people who go to art shows. I don’t want to be just creating commodities,” Goico says. “I am a political being first.”
#ATABEY has united her worlds of art and politics, an intuitive union for Goico; it has also brought her work into the realms of theory and policy. Goico and Muñiz have given lectures at prestigious universities, regularly conduct workshops for professionals and community-members alike, are involved with health-based initiatives in the Dominican Republic, and ultimately hope to make #ATABEY a non-profit organization.
Taking cues from Karl Marx, Paulo Freire, and Audre Lorde, and recalling Latina thinkers and activists Mama Tingó, Rita Indiana and Gloria Anzaldúa, Goico and Muñiz are working to “rescue our story, our perspective in the island, not as nostalgia and not under the measures of the Western academy.” Word-of-mouth tradition and qualitative intelligence will be recognized; imagery will inform ideas, and vice versa; privilege will be checked. By including within #ATABEY voices from the Dominican Republic as well as from the diaspora (the latter of which often receives a greater focus largely because of its stronger ties to and sites within the West), Goico hopes they can reflect the multitudinous realities of Dominican women.
“All experiences are valid “ she notes, realizing that as an educated, urban Dominicana in America, her reality is much different from that of some of the women her practice hopes to reach. “These are things you need to think about when writing and existing in both places.”
Gina Goico recently relocated her multidisciplinary practice to Los Angeles, and continues to work with Dominican culture and politics in diaspora and the Dominican Republic.
Iman is currently living in the Dominican Republic. Most of our work is done remotely through Skype meetings and whenever I travel back to the DR we meet in person, or if Iman comes outWest, we have intense work sessions.
La conversación entre Emma Drew y Gina Goico continúa, ahora abarcando #ATABEY, un proyecto fundado en el 2013 por Gina e Imán Muñiz.
#ATABEY se ha convertido en el medio en que Gina comunica. Comenzando como una colección de proyectos que existen en línea (tomando del popular hashtag #ilivewhereyouvacation para exponer otros lados no tan fotogénicos de la vida en Dominicana), lecturas, ensayos y “rants”, #ATABEY abarca los nuevos trabajos producidos por Goico, y su amiga y colaboradora Imán Muñiz. Su proceso es simbiótico: Muñiz, una trabajadora social enfocada en sexualidad, provee el contenido, Goico los medios para interpretarlos y compartirlos.
Trabajando en un proyecto en el cuál ella entrevistó a mujeres en la República Dominicana sobre sus relaciones, Muñiz reunió horas de historias, de testimonios e información importante para ser procesada.
Le dije; "Dame tu data," Goico recuerda. “Imán me entregó su data sin procesar, y yo la consumía y creaba arte; ella luego vería el arte y esto le ayudaba a interpretar aspectos de la data.” Muñiz enviaba documentación de su proceso; Goico regresaba hacia Muñiz el suyo. Su realimentación era tan constante e integral a su proceso que ambas terminaron utilizando los mismos colores en sus sistemas de códigos como investigadora y como artista. El resultado final de este intercambio fue la pieza de performance y video Baila, Mami de Goico donde ella narraba historias de violencia contadas por las mujeres que fueron entrevistadas mientras bailaba al ritmo de canciones populares Dominicanas. “No quiero estar comunicando sólo a las personas que van a los shows de arte. No quiero estar simplemente creando comodidades,” dice Goico. “Soy ante todo un ser político.”
#ATABEY ha unido su mundo de arte y política, una unión intuitiva para Goico; también ha traído su trabajo en los ámbitos de teoría y políticas públicas. Goico y Muñiz han dado charlas en universidades prestigiosas, realizan talleres para profesionales y miembros de la comunidad por igual, están envueltas en iniciativas para la salud en la República Dominicana y a la larga desean hacer #ATABEY una organización sin fines de lucro.
Tomando apuntes de Karl Marx, Paulo Freire, y Audre Lorde, y por igual recordando a activistas y pensadoras Latinas como Mamá Tingó, Rita Indiana y Gloria Anzaldúa, Goico y Muñiz están trabajando para “rescatar nuestra historia, nuestra perspectiva en la isla, no como nostalgia ni bajo las mesuras de la academia Occidental.” Tradición oral y la inteligencia cualitativa van a ser reconocidas; las imágenes informan a las ideas y viceversa; el privilegio se mantendrá en constante chequeo. Incluyendo en #ATABEY voces de la República Dominicana al igual que de la diáspora (la cuál suele recibir mayor atención por su conexión y existencia en el Occidente), Goico espera que pueda reflejar las diferentes y complejas dimensiones de las realidades de mujeres Dominicanas.
“Todas las experiencias son válidas” ella observa, entendiendo eso como una Dominicana educada, urbana que vive en Estados Unidos; su realidad es muy diferente a las de muchas mujeres que su práctica desea alcanzar. “Estas son cosas que necesitas tener en cuenta cuando escribes y existes en ambos espacios.”
Gina Goico recientemente trasladó su práctica multidisciplinaria a Los Ángeles, y continúa su trabajo con cultura y política Dominicana en la diáspora y la República Dominicana.
Imán vive en la Republica Dominicana. La mayoria del trabajo suyo y de Gina se realiza a través de reuniones de Skype y cuando Gina visita la D.R. o si Imán viene al oeste, tienen intensas sesiones de trabajo.
EAS contributor Emma Drew recently visited artist Gina Goico in her studio/apartment in Manhattan, where Gina talked about her artistic practice as well as her experience as a Dominican artist in the US.
[See Spanish translation below]
In the drawings, the pellizas hang heavy, thick carpets cascading down the wall and on to the floor, a deluge of colored fabrics. These are plans for an upcoming project; the pellizas already realized, which drape the walls, the furniture, the back of a chair, the radiator under a windowsill, in Gina Goico's living room, are getting there. In her undergraduate years—not that long ago—the hand-made mats, fashioned out of a stretch tarp or burlap and strips of fabric (all elements likely previously used), carried a defiant message, or a scantly-stylized image of a vagina—“a raising of my finger,” she qualifies with a smile, to art school small-mindedness. Today, no less charged with feminine testimony, they bear the stories, told in the time and space of their making, of scores of other women.
The pelliza project, wherein Goico invites people to join her in weaving by setting up in public settings (previously featured on EAS, see here), was conceived of as the creation of not just a traditional, decorative if utilitarian object, but of a place for women and a space for conversation.
When performed in bodega-cafes in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, her hometown, those conversations often turned to personal matters, relationship-talk, and stories of domestic violence. “It came out naturally,” Goico says, of the shared experiences of everyday violence from spouses, lovers, and male family members. The Dominican Republic, she noted, has one of the highest rates of femicide—the targeted killing of a person because she is female— in the region; in not-so-distant years it has placed in the top ten worldwide. In providing just the opportunity to talk, Goico wants “to guide the [larger] conversation around safe spaces for women.”
Besides the pellizas, Goico's New York apartment-cum-studio is adorned with other evidence of her practice: sketch-filled notebooks, paintings from her days at Parsons School of Design, and posters advertising her socially-minded performances, one with the pitch-perfect imagery of the Dominican clubs she critiques as sites of machismo and female exploitation. Looking from wall to wall traces the components and steps of the larger, longer process of establishing #ATABEY, a research initiative, community outreach program, series of installations, performances, and discussions, and all-around platform for addressing the politics of womanhood and intersectionality—that is, of being a woman and many other things—in the Dominican Republic and abroad, in diaspora.
What has become quite conceptual in nature and aspirations was initially a countermeasure to such ways of thinking about art in the first place. When Goico moved to New York City to finish her BFA at Parsons School of Design, the conceptual strain of art espoused by professors and duly followed students felt in stark contrast to the traditional fine arts school she had attended in the Dominican Republic, where, for example, hyperrealistic drawing and polished beauty took precedence. The transition to the New York art world often meant a confrontation between ideas and imagery, a false dichotomy to which Goico admits she responded strongly. Her work at this time, including the first pelliza, was “a little bit reactionary in regards to what I was [being] faced with, starting with the question of why do I make pretty things,” and leading to the “question of being the other; of portraying myself, sometimes naked, and how is it feminist.” In response, Goico doubled down on the feminine and craft-based aspects of her work, producing the aforementioned 'Pelliza Total' (with cunt).
These questions tended to become cast in a cultural light as well. “One of the issues that came up was the idea that really crafty things was a dumbing down,” she recalls. “When you are a conceptual artist craft is look down, like 'Ugh, why do you waste your time on it?', and that's what I always felt—the judgment that these people from the Dominican Republic are all crafty-dafty but they don't have the brains.” Goico's answer was a pelliza with the notice “Your truth is not mine” woven in the middle.
“Let's just make imagery,” she remembers thinking to herself. She turned to a self-described naif style of painting, using imagery from both Voodoo sources and Catholic saints, and using rescued pieces of board. “I was trying to decolonize my own artistic upbringing,” with its emphasis on Western art practices and fine finishes. “I wanted to divorce myself from that, and bring myself back to those non-Western concepts of what is pretty, what is visually appealing, what are the colors that we use.” Her Parsons thesis was on syncretism, religious practices of Taino people (the indigenous culture of the Caribbean and Florida), and sexual narratives—“that was my fuck you, Conceptual art.”
Bright colors, self-portraits, and Goico’s ethnicity often led to Frida Kahlo references, a lot of them. “All the time,” Goico says, not unflattered but aware of the reduction of her work such a comment reflected, rather than a critical assessment or real compliment. “I knew this would be the tough part of my art-making, getting past the first thing: I'm a Latina artist, doing self portraits mostly and doing ethnic things. My practice was disregarded; it became, “Oh yeah, you're talking about your culture, got it, we've already dealt with that.” Latina, feminist, naif, political, social practice—the labels swiftly applied to Goico’s work and to her, mounted, defining, otherizing, while shaping her own view of the art world. “I don’t mind anymore,” she says, “I’ve understood here that unfortunately you will be put under labels, not matter who you are, where you’re from—unless you’re a white cis heterosexual man. That is the only way you won’t be categorized.”
That kind of realization has allowed Goico to strive for different goals within her practice: “I don’t feel that the problems of the art world are that relevant to me. I know there are so many problems in being a person of color in the art world, but I think there are so many issues outside of the art world that I would rather address. It is the outside where people are getting killed.”
(to be continued...)
Gina Goico recently relocated her multidisciplinary practice to Los Angeles, and continues to work with Dominican culture and politics in diaspora and the Dominican Republic.
Emma Drew is currently completing her MFA in Art Writing at the School of Visual Arts. She lives and works in Brooklyn.
La contribuidora de EAS, Emma Drew, recientemente visitó a la artista Gina Goico en su estudio/apartamento en Manhattan, donde Gina habló sobre su práctica artística y su experiencia como artista Dominicana en los Estados Unidos.
En los dibujos las pellizas cuelgan pesadas; alfombras gruesas caen en cascada desde la pared hacia el suelo, un diluvio de telas coloridas. Estos son planos para un nuevo proyecto. Las pellizas ya realizadas están llegando allí; cubren las paredes, los muebles, la parte de atrás de una silla, el radiador bajo la ventana en la sala de Gina Goico. En sus años en la facultad- no hace tanto- los tapetes hechos a mano, en tela de saco o lona plástica, y pedazos de tela (todos estos usualmente siendo reutilizados), llevaban un mensaje desafiante, o la ilustración estilizada de una vagina ---”sacar el dedo del medio,” ella califica con una sonrisa, a la estrechez de mente de la escuela de arte. Hoy en día, aún cargadas de testimonio femenino, estas capturan historias contadas en el espacio y tiempo que se realizan, de otras mujeres.
El proyecto Pelliza, donde Goico invita a otras personas a unirse a tejer cuando esta se localiza en lugares y eventos públicos (previamente destacado en EAS: Aquí), fué concebido no sólo como la creación de un objeto tradicional, decorativo o utilitario, sino más bien como un lugar para la mujer y espacio para conversación. Cuando se performó en un colmado en Santo Domingo, República Dominicana, su ciudad natal, estas conversaciones pronto tomaban un tono personal; pláticas sobre relaciones e historias sobre violencia doméstica. “Salían naturalmente,” Goico cuenta, sobre las experiencias cotidianas de violencia por esposos, amantes y hombres en la familia. La República Dominicana, ella observó, tiene uno de los más altos índices de femicidio --(asesinato de mujeres por razones de género)-- en la región; no hace tanto el país ocupó los primeros 10 lugares en el mundo. Proveyendo la oportunidad de hablar, Goico quiere “guiar la conversación sobre los espacios seguros para mujeres.”
Aparte de las Pellizas, el apartamento-estudio de Goico está repleto con otra evidencia de su práctica: cuadernos repletos de bocetos, pinturas de sus días en Parsons La Escuela de Diseño, y carteles promocionando sus performances de carácter social, uno con las imágenes de los clubes Dominicanos los cuales ella critica como espacios de machismo y explotación femenina. Se ven de pared a pared rastros de componentes y pasos para el establecimiento del largo y gran proyecto #ATABEY (Hashtag ATABEY), una iniciativa de investigación, programas de alcance comunitario, instalaciones, performances, discusiones y plataforma para discutir las políticas de feminidad e interseccionalidad - esto es siendo una mujer y muchas otras cosas- en la República Dominicana y sus diásporas.
Lo que se ha convertido en algo bastante conceptual en naturaleza y en aspiraciones fué inicialmente una contra mesura a esta manera de pensar sobre arte. Cuando Goico se mudó a la Ciudad de Nueva York a terminar su Licenciatura en Bellas Artes en Parsons, la línea de pensamiento conceptual ejercida por los profesores y debidamente seguida por estudiantes se le presentaba a manera de alto contraste en comparación a la tradicional escuela de Bellas Artes a la cuál asistía en la República Dominicana donde, por ejemplo, dibujo hiperrealista y belleza pulida eran prioridad. La transición al mundo del arte en Nueva York muchas veces significaba una confrontación entre imágenes e ideas, una dicotomía falsa a la cuál Goico admite ella respondía fuertemente. Su trabajo en este momento, incluyendo su primera Pelliza, era “un poco reaccionario en cuanto a lo que estaba enfrentando, comenzando por la pregunta de porqué hacía cosas ‘bonitas’” y conduciendo a “cuestionamientos sobre ser el otro; de estar retratándome, a veces desnuda, y como esto es feminista.” En respuesta a esto Goico extremo en lo femenino y en el aspecto artesanal de su trabajo, produciendo así la anteriormente mencionada Pelliza Total (con coño).
Estas preguntas solían cargar consigo un tono cultural también. “Una de las cuestiones que surgieron era la idea de cómo objetos que requerían trabajo era un embrutecimiento,” ella recuerda. “Cuando eres un artista conceptual, la labor manual es menospreciada, como ‘Ay, por qué estás perdiendo tu tiempo en esto?’, y así fué como me sentía- el pensamiento que esta gente de la República Dominicana poseían el artificio pero no el cerebro.” Goico respondió a esto con una pelliza que lee “Tu verdad no es la mía” bordada en el medio.
“Vamos a hacer imágenes”, ella recuerda pensar para sí. Ella comienza a hacer pinturas auto denominadas naif, usando imágenes de santos de origen Católico y Vudú, y reusando pedazos de madera. “Trataba de descolonizar mi propia educación artística,” con un énfasis en prácticas artísticas Occidentales y terminación refinada. “Quería divorciarme de eso, y traerme de vuelta a esos conceptos no-Occidentales de belleza, lo que es visualmente atractivo, los colores que utilizamos.” Su tesis en Parsons fue basada en sincretismo, prácticas religiosas de los Tainos (cultura indígena del Caribe y la Florida) y narrativas sexuales- “ese fué mi vete a la mierda, arte Conceptual’.
Colores brillantes, autorretratos, y la etnicidad de Goico frecuentemente llevaban a referencias de Frida Kahlo; muchas. “Todo el tiempo,” Goico dice, no sintiéndose ofendida pero consciente de la reducción a su obra que comentarios como este reflejan, más que una crítica o cumplido. “Sabía que esto sería la parte difícil de crear arte, poder pasar esa primera barrera: Soy una artista Latina, creando mayormente auto-retratos y haciendo trabajo con contenido étnico. A mi práctica se le hacía caso omiso; se convertía en un ‘Ah sí, estás hablando de tu cultura, entiendo, ya hemos lidiado con eso.’” Latina, feminista, naif, política, práctica social- clasificaciones rápidamente aplicadas al trabajo de Goico y a su persona, montadas, definiendo y exotizando, mientras definian su propia visión del mundo del arte. “No me importa tanto ya,” dice ella, “He entendido que aquí lamentablemente siempre vas a existir bajo estas etiquetas, sin importar quien eres, de donde eres- a menos que seas un hombre Blanco cis- heterosexual. Esa es la única manera que no serás clasificado.” Esta realización ha permitido que Goico se esfuerce por otras metas dentro de su práctica: “Yo no siento que los problemas del mundo del arte sean relevantes para mí. Sé que existen muchos problemas en ser una persona de color dentro del mundo del arte, pero creo que hay tantos problemas fuera de este que yo prefiero discutir. Es allá afuera donde se está matando a gente.”
Gina Goico recientemente trasladó su práctica multidisciplinaria a Los Ángeles, y continúa su trabajo con cultura y política Dominicana en la diáspora y la República Dominicana.
Emma Drew está actualmente completando su Máster en Escritura Artística en the School of Visual Arts. Ella trabaja y vive en Brooklyn.
Rea talks here about her Filipina-American experience, and how her work reflects on the Spanish colonial heritage in her home country and challenges the stereotypes about 'ideal female beauty and status'.
The work exhibited here is very compelling, evocative, and most original. Can you tell us what in your life led you to become an artist and what inspired you to produce this remarkable series?
I loved art as a child but didn’t have the privilege of being exposed to it very much growing up. In college, I was initially a business major at the University of California Riverside. It wasn’t until I attended the City College of San Francisco, where I took art classes on a whim to fulfill requirements, when I rediscovered my passion for art. My painting instructor saw some potential in my early work and encouraged me to pursue art. The CCSF art department nominated me for a scholarship, which enabled me to transfer to the San Francisco Art Institute. That’s where I gained further foundational skills, and found catharsis and more meaning in art; it helped me deal with the displacement and familial disconnect I experienced from my immigration to the United States from the Philippines at age fourteen.
I see my ‘Retaso’ 2015-2016 series as a further developed extension of my ‘Filipiñana’ series, which I worked on in 2014-2015. Many events inspired me working on these series, including experiences and memories of: growing up in the Philippines, attending an all-girl Catholic school, moving to the US, returning to visit my native country over the years, reconnecting with family while recognizing the resultant disconnect, and how all of these converge and interplay with my everyday life of being an immigrant in the US. Along with these factors, as a Filipina-American artist, I am curious how Filipinas are viewed, expected to act, and their historical ties with colonialism and patriarchy. In the ‘Retaso’ series, I reference the iconography of 'Maria Clara' (1) as it has been an embodiment of the ideal Filipina for more than a hundred years.
What can you tell us about the fabric remnants themselves? Where do they come from? How did you gather and select them? Do they have individual stories that you are aware of?
Conceptually, I think of the remnants as these abstract, resilient ideas or beliefs, which continue to linger in existence no matter how times have changed or how much has been appropriated or colonized. Specifically in my work, remnants also symbolize lingering stereotypes of the ideal Filipina. I am drawn by the materiality of the synthetic organza (organza as an ingredient in the 'Maria Clara' dresses, woven with piña fiber) and its subtle, sheer beauty, amidst its haunting/ghostly, and mysterious qualities. I focus on the synthetic to emphasize its fake-ness, echoing the expectations of the Maria Clara embodiment in Filipinas. In addition, I select colors that evoke skin tone variations to highlight the spectrum of brownness to 'Maria Clara'’s preferred whiteness as a mestiza, which has been equated to the ideal female beauty and status in the Philippines.
The diffusely layered works invite multiple readings and interpretations from the viewer, but they also invite the question, “How did you do this?” What are the techniques that produce mysteriously beautiful layered image transfers?
In my work I am drawn to specific materials that carry symbolic meanings. Doing the image transfers and layering them obsessively emphasize the displacement and dissociation of specific images. When I photocopy actual 'Maria Clara' dresses, I take them out of their context and make a copy from the original. I then transfer the copied images onto various synthetic organza remnants using acrylic medium. When dry, I tear the paper and rub the remaining paper pulp off the fabric laboriously (in a way echoing the labor-intensive way the artisans extract piña fibers off of pineapple leaves, a distinct ingredient woven with organza in the 'Maria Clara' dresses). I then cut the synthetic organza with image transfers into pieces, re-position them, and layer them together to form new compositions and possibilities. At times, I layer them over ghost monoprints I’ve created, inspired by the 'Maria Clara' dresses, to create more depth and complexity.
In “Spliced”, “Cloaked” and “Streaked” you use a dripping technique. What are your intentions with this?
The dripping technique resulted from varied experimentations. In my 3-dimensional work Piña Offerings, the fluidity of the drips is reminiscent of when the wax pieces were still in liquid state. I am intrigued at how the drips can freeze the memory of change. The cyclic nature of how wax starts as solid, melts into liquid, pours into new assimilative forms, and the possibility to melt it again, is fascinating. I wanted to see what it would be like to incorporate and layer these changes into my 2-dimensional work. Using a technique in acrylic media, I specifically choose exaggerated colors that remind me of skin tone variations and pour them together.
Now let us turn to readings, interpretations, and meanings... You say that you use the tactility of specific materials such as synthetic organza and image transfers to repudiate the ideals and stereotypes of 'Maria Clara' ideal of female beauty and deportment. Can you comment upon these ideals and stereotypes? What makes them particularly Filipina/o? What makes them universal? And what is the nature of the repudiation embodied within the ‘Retasos’?
The ideals and stereotypes embodied in the 'Maria Clara' include: chastity, demureness, grace, martyrdom, passivity to patriarchal power, religious piety, and beauty equated to having light skin. When growing up in the Philippines, I soon realised that those having lighter skin tend to be deemed more attractive and desirable. Many skin-whitening products such as glutathione injectable, skin-bleaching treatments, soap, etc., are widely accepted and used to achieve this ideal whiteness. When I visit the Philippines, I am immediately bombarded with images—billboards, signs, television commercials— advertising these products with mestiza models. The majority of Filipina celebrities and representatives for beauty pageants tend to be mestiza. I find that this phenomenon is also present in many other Asian countries. What makes them universal is that the media representation of beauty, desirability, and status in women tend to be Western/Euro-centric, as this is what I saw on TV and in US fashion magazines I leafed-through as a teenager, when I was trying to assimilate to my adoptive culture.
In my work I repudiate these ideals and stereotypes by emphasizing the artificiality of it all, by using synthetic instead of real organza, by copying the original dresses, duplicating the images, and transforming them into something else, by displacing these ideals into a different context, a different possibility, layered in complexity.
What is the over-all artistic, socio-political message you would like your viewer to take away from this compelling series?
I want the viewer to question the stereotypes we’ve just discussed, to think about unbalanced power structures and hegemony in colonized cultures. I want my work to empower Filipinas and inspire them to stop bleaching their skin and injecting glutathione. Shades of brown skin are beautiful and in no way shape or form inferior to whiteness.
Where do you see yourself going in the future with the issues raised in ‘Retaso’, or do you see yourself exploring new issues, new directions?
I want to focus more on issues of skin whitening. I want to challenge myself to be bolder in expressing these concepts and metaphoric repudiations. As of now, however, I don’t have a specific plan on my next endeavor. I like to let my materials and experimentations inspire me as I move along in my art.
Do you think artists need “critics”, or should images stand for themselves? If yes, what do you feel is the role of critics in art?
I believe critics are important. I think of all viewers as critics. Without viewers, art would be pointless. For me art is the exploration and expression of ideas and concepts that I find important, reflecting significant issues in contemporary times. As an artist, it is invaluable to receive critical feedback, to learn of the affect my work has on viewers, to hear of their insights and perspectives. The resultant sparks in conversations, questions, debates, or emotions make the work much more powerful than the art object itself.
Note (1): 'Maria Clara' is a mestiza (half Filipina and half Spanish) character from Jose Rizal’s novel 'Noli me Tangere', and has become a metonym for traditional dresses woven from piña fiber and organza. Influenced by Spanish colonization, the character of 'Maria Clara' embodies Philippine ideals of female beauty, equated with light skin, and accompanied by stereotypes of chastity and demureness.
An eclectic artist who draws inspiration from a large variety of improbable sources, Prasanta Ghosh studied art at The Indian College of Arts and Draftmanship in Kolkata. He then pursued his artistic work at the University of Baroda, where he graduated with a Master in Fine Arts in May 2016. He has been an active member of the Emergent Art Space community since its inception four years ago.
When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?
I never ‘decided’ that I wanted to be an artist, but yes, art is the power of my life. I always loved art, and had confidence that I could work with a diversity of media throughout my work. It is always the process of scribbling that persists; and perhaps this is what helps me to continue to create art in my life.
Your work uses a variety of media. How do you choose your media and surfaces?
From the beginning, I have done whatever worked. I always liked to create several layers of surface, each of which holds its individual significance. The layers I choose depend on various aspects of the work: how I want it to look, whether translucent or opaque, its character, and also the context. Depending on these aspects, I start choosing my materials and media. The choice may also be time related: a certain time, in a certain space, what I am thinking at that time, and how my thoughts relate to my surroundings.
The surface becomes a very important part of my work. In my last series, for example, most of the works were created using tracing paper. It is a series about discarded objects, those that surround us in our daily life and play an important role in our existence, yet go unnoticed. Rejected or hidden, used or unused, these objects are a very sensitive part of our lives. I feel as if they have become translucent in the course of our life. That means that they are present, yet in a haze. The best way to represent them, I felt, was through the medium of tracing paper.
You have very strong social commentary in your work. Where do you draw most of your inspiration from?
I cannot say that I was inspired by any specific person, but I think that neglected events and overlooked issues are often reflected in my work. It may be political issues, social issues, or very intimate personal issues. The series of my works that uses sex leaflets distributed on the streets (we take and throw them out without looking) refers, for example, to the historic Kamasutra paintings. Those are leaflets that talk about sex diseases or problems in sex life, with the contact information of a funny named doctor. I see that people have different attitudes towards these leaflets. Most don’t even look at them before throwing them away. A sense of shame, shyness and dilemma work on their minds... I thought of creating some fake sex leaflets, where by displaying them I compel people and viewers to look at them without escaping. It is as in the Kamasutra, where sex is shown boldly, although through a divine perspective, but nobody could ignore what is been shown. In my most recent series, the objects rejected by our bodies are given the importance that I believe they deserve.
How much of your work has been shaped by what you have seen in the papers and the news?
Newspapers definitely have had a role in my work. It was through images and quotations from newspapers that I could express irony. Many social incidents are projected in different ways through the random selection of newspaper words.
As I look at your work, I am reminded that art transcends language. How do you think viewers from different backgrounds see your work?
I think viewers play an important role, as varying perceptions by different viewers add more layers to the works. I can project my thoughts in my work but I cannot restrict the ways it is seen by others. I enjoy and appreciate viewers coming up with different perceptions and interpretations, which they can relate to their lives.
At the ‘Translations’ exhibition in Kolkata you have presented two very different works. Can you tell us something about them? In particular, what attracted you to work on the reinterpretation of the ‘still lives’ by the Italian artist Giorgio Morandi?
Firstly, I would like to say that I don’t believe in any specified style, so all my works come up looking very different from one another. In the exhibition ‘Translations’ I had one video accompanied by drawings, and a series of paintings which reinterpreted Morandi’s still lives. The video, “Time and Space”, related to the time, space, and memories of the some parts of my studio in Baroda. When I started my Master’s program at the University of Baroda I was given a studio, where I found innumerable holes throughout the partition board that separated it from the next space. There were also many nails and worn out material in the room. It was then that I realized how memories were embodied within that board, within those holes. Those holes were certainly used for the displays of the works by numerous previous students who used to work there. Maybe their work, their thoughts, were nailed over there. Thinking about it inspired me to create a video along with the scribbled drawings.
My other work was “Reinterpretation of Still Life by Giorgio Morandi.” From the beginning, certain characteristics of Morandi’s work inspired me: the minimalism, the overlapping and repetitive use of the same objects, the depersonalization. It was the repetitive character of Morandi’s works which led me to think about reinterpretation as creation. I thought of doing this using a different medium, and I chose wash painting. As the technique of wash painting involves various layers of work, I felt that the various layers of history would in the same way be embedded in it. The time transition may be another reason why I was attracted to reinterpreting Morandi’s work.
How have your recent studies at the University of Baroda affected your work?
Many things affected my work during the Master's program in Baroda. Previously, the wit of my images and the irony of reinterpretation used to repeat themselves in my works, but then I started to pay attention to the objects, their characters, and the space around me. Now, while working, I realise that I have an integrated relationship with the images and the surrounding objects. Thanks to a different environment and experience, I have become much more aware of my surroundings. I think this will greatly help me delve deeper into the subjects I am dealing with. I hope to continue to work through the process of experimenting with different forms and practices.
Kim Marra is a young artist living and working in Ridgewood, Queens, New York. She is originally from Long Island. Kim graduated with a BFA in painting from State University of New York New Paltz in 2013. She now works full time at a wallpaper company in Manhattan, assisting with production and design.
When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
I don't think there was ever a moment or a decision. I grew up drawing a lot, particularly Disney characters. I had these "Learn to Draw Goofy!" books that I would draw from all of the time, and as a young kid I thought I would be an illustrator. Somewhere between middle school and High School that turned into painting.
Do you have a preferred medium? Your work has a cohesive style despite being done with different media and on different surfaces. How do you choose your media and surfaces?
At heart I'm an oil painter. The work I've done with acrylics on wallpaper was really a decision made out of necessity. After college I didn't have a studio or a lot of money, so I worked with what was accessible. I had a job at a sign shop that had some extra stock of wallpaper so I started experimenting with that. I liked the idea of wallpaper because it coincided with my themes of home and domesticity. I created a series of paintings this way, but when it was over I really missed oils. Even so, I'm always trying to force myself to experiment. New materials are both fun and scary, because usually at first the work isn’t great. You really have to stick with it to figure out what works and that is something that I have to force myself to do.
When were you inspired to create these particular architectural series?
I started working with the idea of architectural landscapes in college. It really came about through an endless series of trial and error. When I got to school, I was painting portraits like everyone else because I didn't realize that I wasn't that good at it. One day, I decided to paint the picture of a toilet instead. Toilets turned into bathrooms, bathrooms turned into interior spaces, and interior spaces turned into abstract architecture. With architectural landscapes, I have found an endless amount of inspiration to draw from.
What does the word "home" mean to you?
What does home mean to me? I have no idea. That's where the work comes in! The places I've called home have all been simultaneously stable and unstable. That constant discomfort and sense of anxiety is why I keep asking that question. I don't know the answer so I'm just going to keep making paintings about it.
How did you choose to associate "home" with spaces and structures as opposed to material items, faces, etc.?
I'm not really sure that it was ever a choice. My work is mostly intuitive, and I never plan a painting before I make it. I usually start with perspective lines to create spaces, and just paint and repaint until something feels right. I think if I were to put figures or more literal renderings in my work it would feel forced. My goal is to illustrate the tension between comfort and discomfort that I associate with home by creating spaces that I feel also evoke this tension.
You're currently living in New York. How long have you been there? Does this particular city environment shape your idea of "home"?
I live in Queens now. I was in Brooklyn for about a year after college and have been in Queens for almost 2 years. Living in the city has definitely shaped my idea of home. Since moving here, my parents who lived on Long Island have moved for Florida, and my brother who was also in New York has moved to California. Having my family all over the country has really shaken my sense of a "home base", because I've always felt that home is where your family is. Brooklyn and Queens have fulfilled a lot of what I was looking for, but there's still a lot missing.
Your newer works take a different perspective than your older pieces. Some have a more bird’s eye view as opposed to horizontal one. They seem to make the space more deconstructed, open, and vulnerable. Did you have a particular intention?
My newer work is inspired by the aesthetic of collage. I thought it would be interesting to try and piece some imagery together while creating deeper space at the same time. My intention is to have the viewer’s eye stop short in some places and get lost in others.
What was the inspiration to expand on the bold patterns and colors as opposed to drawing into the black, gray, and sepia tones of some of your earlier pieces?
This shift really just came about through experimentation. I think the paintings I tend to gravitate towards have bright and bold colors so I started to incorporate that into my work. I think the combination of bright colors with some of the gritty visual language I use contrasts in a way that I really like.
Has your concept of “home” changed for you over the course of these three years as you have been working on these series?
I think part of me will never quite feel at home and so I’m constantly trying to reinvent what it could mean to me through my work. The unfortunate consequence of this is that the more at home I feel in my paintings, inevitably the less at home I feel in my apartment. I guess what I’ve started to learn the last few years is that home can be wherever you find comfort and stability, whether your bed is there or not.
What direction do you think your work will take you next?
I have no idea... I’m at a place now where I’m ready to start discovering new things. I am still intrigued by the themes my earlier work addresses, but I want to find a new way to express them. We’ll see what happens!