Damali Abrams Shares Self-Healing Strategies as a Radical Act of Resistance

Hope-Lian Vinson speaks to Damali Abrams The Glitter Priestess about creating spaces for healing and transcendence as site for liberation.

Damali Abrams is a Guyanese-American artist whose work engages with self-help as a radical means towards self-healing in response to the sociopolitical forces that undermine Black wellness and preservation today. Using performance as a vehicle for herbal remedies, Abrams promotes self-care as a ritualistic act, bringing together Afro-Caribbean mythologies and Black American pop idols to inspire sites of  joy, celebration, and collective healing. Abrams’ role as the Glitter Princess challenges audiences to take part in alternative and even transcendent realities where the threshold between realism and idealism blur. In a community where tragedy takes precedent, the use of the Black imaginary functions as a tool for liberation for the Black community and its survival today.

And She Lived Happily Ever After by Damali Abrams image courtesy of the artist.

And She Lived Happily Ever After by Damali Abrams image courtesy of the artist.

HOPE-LIAN VINSON: In the oversaturation of violent media depicting police shootings, what has been your process in promoting self-healing as a response to social ills in your artistic practice?

DAMALI ABRAMS: In addition to offering healing remedies through GlitterPriestess.com, I am also offering workshops at community organizations and I have created a performance piece where I share herbal remedies to soothe anger and anxiety, which was performed at the opening of ¿Qué Pasa, USA?. My approach is to share what works for me in my own self-care and healing practice. All of my art is about healing as well.

Glitter Priestess Mad Tea Party by Damali Abrams image courtesy of the artist

Glitter Priestess Mad Tea Party by Damali Abrams image courtesy of the artist

HLV: Since its popularity in the late 20th century, self-help is criticized as an industry which survives off the ineffective methods and misleading claims of self-sufficient practices. As an artist whose works revolve around self-help, what role do you see your performances having in relationship to the global movements of today, specifically with black empowerment, liberation, and healing?

DA: I see my work as a contribution to those contemporary global movements. My work incorporates a critical eye towards mainstream self-help while simultaneously acknowledging its revolutionary possibilities. When I was in grad school, performance artist and faculty advisor, Faith Wilding, guided my research towards the roots of contemporary self-help culture; going back to movements in the 1970s like the Black Panther Party and feminist consciousness-raising groups.

Any political movement can only go as far as the individuals involved in it. If we have low self-esteem or low self-worth and feel undeserving of progress due to internalized oppression, it is very difficult to move forward individually or collectively. Similarly, if we are afraid to be vulnerable or have unresolved emotional issues, it becomes difficult to work with others. That is why I focus so much on self-healing. Being healthy is a radical act for groups of people who have to fight for the right to exist, now and historically as well.

GO by Damali Abrams. Image courtesy of the artist.

GO by Damali Abrams. Image courtesy of the artist.

HLV: Your current work brings together pop celebrities, mythology, and Afro-Caribbean folklore to create fantastical sites that invigorate the imagination. How do you see these sites manifesting and evolving over time?

DA: My intention is to create immersive environments where we can completely transcend our current socio-political and personal realities; I want those environments to be spaces for healing, dance parties and meeting spaces. I have spent the past few years applying for residencies and funding for immersive video installations. LMCC (Lower Manhattan Cultural Council) approved the project for their Governors Island residency, but the space was not conducive to that work and instead inspired me to create the collage and video installation That Old Black Magic (Happiness Spell #1) which is in the exhibition ¿Qué Pasa, USA?. I am still looking for a space for the immersive installation.

HLV: What are the limits and possibilities of imagination in your work? Looking at your Youtube channel, some of your performances—whether it be self-help videos or a demo for glittery shoes, reminding me of Dorothy and her teleporting slippers—ask audiences to participate in  virtual reality, or at least in a transcendent one. What role does optimism or transcendence have in your past or current work?
DA: My work is totally about transcendence. Thank you for noticing that. I think the only way real change can happen, whether on a personal level or a societal level, is by transcending our perceived limitations so that we can begin to imagine alternative realities. If Harriet Tubman never had visions of freedom, she would never have thought to escape, let alone go back for hundreds of others. The intention with this work is to create a space of liberation for the imagination. A space where we can transcend tragedy and injustice in order to begin imagining alternative futures, then manifest them!

Informal Studio Visit: Anna Van Gheem’s Ongoing Discovery

Maddie Murphy met with Anna Van Gheem — a 2017 BFA candidate in the Kansas City Art Institute’s Fiber department to discuss her playful and larger-than-life collection  from the 2016 West 18th Street Fashion Show, Wild Summer, and her current thesis work.

First hearing about the annual Kansas City fashion event from a classmate, Anna Van Gheem remarked, “I thought, [the show] is outside of school, I can reach a larger audience. I recommend that anyone do it, it’s such a huge platform. I sort of had to be a secretary for myself. It took so much time planning. I had never made enough items for a collection before.  To make five really coherent looks was difficult at first. I probably changed my mind at least ten times for each look. Sitting in the [KCAI Fiber] gallery, staring at and playing with different combinations. I asked anyone and everyone walking by what they thought, and those outside perspectives helped.”


Anna Van Gheem’s Studio. Image courtesy of the artist.

Perusing her Instagram account, then glancing at Van Gheem’s studio space amidst a pile of sparkly fabric swatches, she embodies an enchanting and refined sense of style. Her past work hangs neatly on a rack, while materials and more tests were found piled on her studio desk, overflowing the long-arm quilting machine. Mood boards and scraps of inspiration collaged the wall behind. Van Gheem’s work is a more extreme version of her philosophy, a juxtaposition of silly and satirical but still seriously invested in and responding to current fashion.

“[Aesthetically] I have been always been inspired by Valentino. Last year, Marry Me Jimmy Paul. was huge for me, these super gaudy Dutch designers… this year it’s more Prada, Miu Miu specifically, because it is super quirky and girly.”


Van Gheem design. Image courtesy Ryan Swartzlander 

Her process of making is pretty unique. “I have to be working on twenty things at once with ‘nests’ everywhere so I can see it every day. A mood board is the most important thing in my practice. It’s a subconscious thing, those colors and influences are burned into my brain and find their way into my work.“

In terms of material choices Van Gheem gravitates towards the hardest; enjoying the challenge of mastering vinyl and pleather. She believes the point of her undergraduate education is to foster experimentation, noting she doesn’t take herself too seriously but is ready to build a business.

“Last semester pushed me to think about who my client was and to be more relatable. So much was in my head that was hard to express with words. It was a challenge to be more inclusive, and not just make my work a personal diary of my feelings.”

I asked if she could change anything about her work, what would it be? She thought for a moment, and replied, “Craft is the biggest struggle. Patience is a huge thing that I struggle with, taking the time to do things, versus being impulsive.”

When asked what advice she has for Kansas City artists interested in pursuing fashion, and she replied, “There are lot of independent artists here interested in fashion, so Kansas City is unique in that way. Art is well supported in this community, so a lot of local fashion has a basis in fine art. That being said, don’t be afraid to move on and expand your horizons, if you can be more successful somewhere else.”

Van Gheem has begun working on her senior show, which is planned for April. She is planning sizes, focusing on equality and diversity of models, as well as meeting with collaborators, including photographers, graphic designers, accessory designers, and videographers. “I want to work with as many people as I can, make it a huge thing,” She expressed excitedly, “I have my own little bubble, but there are people out there with bigger bubbles.”


Michelle Lee Examines Familial History Through the Process of Photography

Isabel Vargas talks to Michelle Lee about using photography as a medium, material, and process to excavate and examine complicated familial history through a feminist and intersectional lens.

Michelle Lee is an artist who primarily works in photography and written forms as a way to extrapolate on specific personal experiences with a larger phenomenon. Lee’s work utilizes the idea of ephemera to set an undertone of nostalgia for some of the images and objects she uses. In turn, this acts as a catalyst for the psychological and familial mode of Lee’s work. A lot of the images Lee deals with, are personal or seem personal. In some of her works, Lee uses pictures of a mother figure, alongside different types of ephemera to reflect on maternal relationships. Her command over personal feminine narratives, is introspective and displayed for others to see, which aids in closing the empathy gap when it comes to the way women navigate the world.

Token Of Gratitude by Michelle Lee. Image Courtesy of the Artist

Token Of Gratitude by Michelle Lee. Image Courtesy of the Artist

ISABEL VARGAS: You utilize personal images throughout your work. How comfortable are you with your role in that image’s history? Does your work aim to heighten the history behind them?

MICHELLE LEE: I think most images an artist chooses to share are personal in some form or another. What the audience gets to see may not reveal that. Whether the image is a photograph they made, found in the street, or pulled from the internet, if the artist is choosing to share an image they have made the choice to do so. When I rediscovered my childhood photo album (which has become a very important resource for my work) I began looking for an unshared history, I wanted the photographs to speak for themselves, to reveal their magic to me. I realized I will never find those answers. If I ask my family questions about these photographs, their response is always skewed. If I use a photograph from that album, I am using it because it has made an impression and I choose to share that sentiment with others.  


Excerpt from Aye Mama by Michelle Lee. Image Courtesy of the Artist

My photo explorations started off in a vein of documentary work. For Aye Mama, I photographed my mother and simultaneously used photographs from our archive of her to understand her transformation as a person over time. Within that work there is another direct comparison of my bedroom door, it shows the door as it existed, and the last image documents a note my mother left me with nail polish. When I Was Your Age takes a image from my childhood album, a sonogram of myself inside my mother, and compares it with a future pregnant me that has a before and after. Not only am I comparing personal histories, but also how the printed material has changed over time. The 1990 sonogram is a polaroid, and my 2015 sonograms are thermal prints.

I’ve used photography to document performative acts. For example, in Penelope I give my mother the agency to dress, style, and photograph me. It’s an exploration of an alternative self; myself as my mother would want me. I view it as a role reversal from the photographs I made of her in Aye Mama. Que Sera helped me break away from a strictly 2D space and it allowed me to mimic the movements my mother has made with photographs while in a manic state and experiment with display. Just in Case Pero Ojala Que No, which is in ¿Qué Pasa, USA?, also allowed me to explore the photograph as a material/tool for something else, in this case it was a contextual material in order to create a 3D object.

Penelope by Michelle Lee. Image Courtesy of the Artist

Penelope by Michelle Lee. Image Courtesy of the Artist

IV: There is an overarching personal narrative in your work, does this connect to a universal theme or idea? What material uses or processes are you using to explore that?

I believe art making is a personal process, no matter if the work is focused on internal/external narratives, material explorations or more collaborative social practices.

A majority of my work reflects upon my life which involves several political narratives. Having a mother, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mother who was not born in this country, being a person of mixed cultures, being a person who has had an abortion. I often rely on images to help me unpack these ideas, as they can be documents, hold time, or be representations of them. In regards to the work in ¿Que Pasa USA?, for Just in Case Pero Ojala Que No (2016) I used an image I made, printed it on cotton and sewed it into a hospital gown. The transformation of this photograph that existed in negative form to a three dimensional object was rather intoxicating. The photograph is of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s taken where my mother lives, and it is an image and idea that brings her peace. Since she first moved out to the East Coast our lives have been relatively stable, this piece was born out of the idea of anticipating what might happen if I disrupt that stability. With, I MADE A FRIEND TODAY (2016), I rely on the reader’s imagination to create the image of the woman behind the zine with the context that I have provided. I’m making more of an effort to use the idea of image in other ways of working to help unfold these ideas.

Luis Camnitzer says, “art is a way of organizing and acquiring knowledge, and not just making things.” I use the process of art making to try to understand what I don’t fully or what I want to understand more. For now, I have used it to come to terms with my own turmoils in life, while I’m sure I will continue to use it that way for ever, I am ready to explore other concepts of my own personal curiosity.

IV: In your work, through your use of images of your mother, there seems to be a narrative that is reverent toward your mother, a mother, or the idea of the mother. How do matriarchal relationships play a role in your work? Does it play a major role?

The relationship I have with my mother plays a major role in my work. For most of my pre-18 year old life, I grew up an only child living with my single parent mother. My mom attended a university from 1992 to 1998, when I was between the ages of 2-8 years old. I would go to class with her and sit in the back and draw. Once I was older, and because I was better at English, I would help her with her papers. I don’t think I understood that my mom had bipolar disorder as a child. My mom was my hero, I was spoiled, she was awesome…and then one day I had to call 9-1-1 on her. Both of our lives changed dramatically after that.

Most people reach an age where they understand that their parents are flawed, only because they are human. I worked through those ideas from ages 8 to 10. As I got older, the narrative got more complicated as I started to understand life more. I have been interested in matriarchal relationships within my work, but more as a way for me to connect with my abuela who died before I was born. I have never done any research in regards to matriarchal relationships. I don’t think the work I do with my mother fits the matriarchal description. There has been a lot of role reversal where I have had to be a mother, provider, caretaker. I haven’t really questioned it, it is what it is, but I do think it’s special.

While I was in college, I started photographing my mother. I used the camera in a literal way, as a lens to understand her. She was not who I remembered as a child, she had changed, I thought American culture had changed her. In many ways, we had become opposites. At some point I realized that this is something we had both done before, when I was a child we would dress up and take turns photographing each other. For a long time photographing my mother is how I rebuilt and reconnected with her when I felt like it was hard to connect in other ways.


Photograph taken by Michelle Lee in 1996

In and out of college, I have struggled with making work that is so personal. I didn’t want to be labeled as an artist that only makes work about their mom. I moved to the east coast after college, away from my mother, not knowing what was going to happen to her or my future. Of course, she drove out here in a U-Haul truck, I’m pretty sure it was the farthest she’s ever driven. I thought she was going to die on the winding PA Turnpike. She was homeless, living in motels for a while. She got drugged, she was hospitalized, she settled on an island in New Jersey. She’s a fighter and a survivor. She followed me out here and at that point I was like, well I guess I have no choice.

Since she has moved out here, I’ve collaborated with my mother three times. I suppose if I include When I Was Your Age it would be four, but she doesn’t really know about that piece and I am in no rush to present it to her.

Hold Tight by Michelle Lee. Image Courtesy of the Artist

Hold Tight by Michelle Lee. Image Courtesy of the Artist

IV: Thinking about the premise of your zine I MADE A FRIEND TODAY, these stories, that are personal and intuitive, are they a platform to get readers to empathize with the person who is telling them? Inspecting this work in a larger context, is this a platform to get a general audience to empathize with, or in some cases relate to, the experiences these women are sharing?

Every so often I would get a text from my mom, “I met so and so on the bus and he wants to take me to dinner, should I do it?” I am protective of my mother navigating Atlantic City by herself, so I follow up on these stories. There has been moments where she has kept the results of these confrontations a secret from me. I do live in fear of my mother being raped or murdered, and when I have those thoughts it feels so extreme. I MADE A FRIEND TODAY doesn’t go that far, but it highlights some of the complications of being a woman and reveals some of the systematic networks of how this specific person navigates through the world.

I MADE A FRIEND TODAY came out of a sense of urgency and necessity. I’ve learned that the more time you sit with and share the uncomfortable moments of your life the easier and more light hearted they become. By sharing these incidents, there is room for the reader to empathize with the narrator, relate to the narrator, feel uncomfortable with narrator’s decisions, and feel uncomfortable with the motivations of the men depicted. More than anything, I think it emphasizes the fact that morality is complicated, and existence is complicated.

This interview was edited and commissioned by the 2016-2017 Charlotte Street Curator in Residence, Lynnette Miranda, in collaboration with Informality‘s for Issue 2: Digital Studio Visits and the exhibition  ¿Qué Pasa USA? at la Esquina Gallery (1000 West 25 Street KCMO) open from November 18, 2016 through January 7, 2017. This interview was originally published on http://collectivegap.info/

Dominique Carella Questions Identity Constructs By Reclaiming Language

That Awkward Moment When by Dominique Carella

That Awkward Moment When by Dominique Carella

Camile Messerley talks to Dominique Carella about pointing to the absurd social constructions of gender, race, and ethnicity by reclaiming language in her text-based installations.

Dominique Carella is a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Visual Arts. For the exhibition ¿Qué Pasa, USA?, Carella, created a large scale vinyl text piece entitled That Awkward Moment When… (2016), which is accompanied by a postcard sized take-away, I am Only Boricua When (2016).  She analyzes the societal structures of race, gender, and ethnicity primarily through the use of language and text as medium. In this she is also calling awareness and attention to the microaggressions and oppressive language Women of Color experience everyday. The exploration of these ideas comes first from personal experience growing up in San Francisco, and uses this environment which she has lived in since childhood in her practice. Carella’s practice has been impacted by graffiti, urban slang, and pop culture as a whole. Due to these influences, her work ranges from the sharing of very personal accounts, to looking at institutionalized forms of oppression through visually stimulating large scale installations.

As Carella continues to work with text in a variance of mediums, the progression and extrapolation of her subject matter and the issues she faces and works with will be key in the political state of the country post-election. To quote Carella “my work is very much a reflection of my daily interaction with the world around me, and I know I’m going to have a lot to say in the next four years.” Being that as it may, I look forward to the calls from Carella that hold the capacity to further community engagement and interaction of not only in her home base that is the bay area, Being that language can be shared at the speed of Google Fiber, this work has the ability to travel as is it did to ¿Qué Pasa, USA? in Kansas City, Missouri.


I Am Only Boricua When by Dominique Carella

CAMILE MESSERLEY: Your work in ¿Qué Pasa, USA? is all text driven, pulled from a personal response, feeling, or reaction to oppressive language directed at people of color, more specifically women of color. These works follow ridiculous and hyperbolized social constructions for race, gender, and ethnicity. Can you expand on your use of language as a medium, and further your use of language as a critique of these oppressions?

DOMINIQUE CARELLA: Often, I will produce dozens of ideas or phrases and only end up using one. The phrases that I choose come to me very naturally, I believe the more I over think, and edit and rearrange a single phrase, the less organic it seems, so I usually stick with the first wording that comes to mind.

My process begins with my inspiration, with an encounter, a conversation, a music video, a magazine headline, really anything that pisses me off. I then take my experience and put them into words that the public can understand, often through humor, or pop culture references. Like I said, my process is very organic, the more I over think my work the less effective it is. I take my anger and turn it into something that will start a conversation, I add a little humor so that people can digest it, but I also make sure that it has that raw and honest element masked beneath the humor that starts the conversation.

CM: Can you talk about your editing process? How are grammar and syntax part of your practice?

DC: Editing comes into my practice by a process of elimination, I may start with dozens of phrases, but it comes down to picking the phrase that is the most thought-provoking, the most eye-catching, the most likely to ruffle some feathers and to start a discussion. [it] is also dependent on the space I will be presenting the piece in and who the audience is. Text-based pieces can draw a lot of attention, so it is important that it works with the space—some pieces work better in some environments than others, that is just the nature of the work.

Grammar is incredibly important to me in my work. A lot of my work stems from my experiences as a woman of mixed heritage, I am pretty much 100% of the time perceived as a completely white woman. I am a first generation college student, and to me, my education is one of the most empowering things I possess. I believe that I am taken more seriously because I am perceived as a white woman—my successes are never questioned because of my whiteness. I believe it is crucial for my practice, that my knowledge, and my successes as a woman of mixed heritage become apparent through my use of grammar. I love pairing proper grammar with pop culture references for example that hint towards my age, my ethnicity, and my experiences as a woman of mixed heritage.


50 Simple Things Americans Can Do To Save The Planet by Dominique Carella

CM: What is the relationship between That Awkward Moment When… (2016), the large text installed in vinyl letters, to I am Only Boricua When (2016), the postcard sized take-away texts that were below the wall piece. How did you conceptualize and decide in terms of the physical manifestation of the work? Furthermore, what do you think about the relationship between accessibility and scale in your work?

DC: To me, the bigger the better. Whenever I do a show I like to know what kind of space I am working with. My work is very adaptable, it can be large, it can be small, it can fit in many different kinds of spaces, but if it were up to me I would have my pieces take up entire walls. I like the size of my shorter text pieces to be dramatic and overwhelming. I often produce my shorter pieces with stencils and spray paint, but for this show the vinyl was crucial in creating a clean aesthetic that worked really well with the take home postcards.

The scale of my work is really crucial in understanding where my work stems from. My shorter text pieces, like the large vinyl piece on the wall, are often less vulnerable, they stem from moments of anger, and they are appreciated by the masses even if it does piss a lot of people off. The larger works really illustrate my anger or frustration, literally [through] the size of the work. In comparison to my take away piece, my longer in depth writing is much more vulnerable, it stems from very personal experiences and moments of sadness, grief, change, and strength. I feel like the personal element of the writing works very well with the take-home notion of the work; you can take the piece home, read it, love it, hate it, resonate with it, whatever it may be, but the second I put the text on a wall super large for the public to digest, it changes the piece.


CM: In terms of the next step, where do you see yourself in this work and where it might be going? How do you plan to further this concept? What are you working on in your studio currently?

DC: My work has changed pretty drastically in the last year, I went from producing pretty large-scale site-specific installations, to text-based works that come from my personal experiences, as opposed to addressing much larger societal issues. I believe my work will become more vulnerable the more I produce, and eventually I will have a collection of longer text pieces that address a variety of personal experiences. I definitely plan to continue with this concept, there is a lot to work with when your practice stems from your personal experiences and digs deep into your relationship with the world around you, especially in this moment in time.

Right now I am working on developing more text pieces, and producing them on different mediums, and experimenting with different sizes and how that changes the piece. In between larger projects, I love putting my work on stickers and other mediums that stem from street art and graffiti. I write a lot in black books as well, and am currently exploring new ways to include my black book work into my contemporary art practice.

CM: I saw that you’re a recent graduate, do you have any thoughts or hopes and dreams for the near future? How has the election affected your practice and what you are currently working on?

DC: For many, many, days following the election I was definitely in shock and very depressed, that was the general consensus in the communities I occupy, alongside anger, and the desire to create change. The election will definitely affect my work—my work is very much a reflection of my daily interaction with the world around me, and I know I’m going to have a lot to say in the next four years.

This interview was edited and commissioned by the 2016-2017 Charlotte Street Curator in Residence, Lynnette Miranda, in collaboration with Informality‘s for Issue 2: Digital Studio Visits and the exhibition  ¿Qué Pasa USA? at la Esquina Gallery (1000 West 25 Street KCMO) open from November 18, 2016 through January 7, 2017. This interview was originally published on http://collectivegap.info/

Victoria Martinez Highlights the Energy of Urban Sites Through Pattern, Color, and Site-Specificity

Olivia Clanton speaks to Victoria Martinez about the undiscovered value of urban environments through a deep consideration and investigation of the re-purposed materials used in her site-specific installations.

21st Place Mural, repeated revelations by Victoria Martinez. Image Courtesy of the Artist

21st Place Mural, repeated revelations by Victoria Martinez. Image Courtesy of the Artist

Victoria Martinez brings attention to urban environments that are often overlooked through vibrant fiber installations, that create moments of chance interaction with forgotten architecture in Chicago. Martinez’s process begins with her own discovery and collection of unique, discarded objects. These objects are material for large compositions realized through collaging, stitch-work, printmaking, and painting techniques. The materials respond to their new environment and inspire reflective moments on the relationship between place, personal experiences with forgotten urban landscapes, and the undiscovered stories they are holding inside. Martinez has exhibited at Northwestern University, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago Cultural Center, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, and Chicago Artists Coalition. Upcoming projects include group exhibitions at the National Museum of Mexican Art, Heaven Gallery, and the Franklin in Chicago.

Between Movements by Victoria Martinez. Image courtesy of the Artist

Between Movements by Victoria Martinez. Image courtesy of the Artist

OLIVIA CLANTON: The materials further the narrative of their installation site. They tell the story of the space, and symbolically, they help us imagine how its residue can be used for its future, and how its history is necessary to understanding it. Once it all comes together, what is the relationship between the materials you use in your work and the space you install in?

VM: The materials that I utilize in my site-specific projects are from local establishments, thrift stores, or variety shops in close proximity of the artwork. At times, since I’ve created a relationship with certain people in the Pilsen community, where I grew up in Chicago, some of these materials are also gifts. I use vibrant textiles and soft, household items that relate to the spaces I work within order to channel the inspiration granted from my neighborhood. I take many walks in Pilsen to study patterns that exist on the concrete walls, glass, and advertisements. For me, it’s also exciting to combine this kind of stimulation with my personal writing and poetry along with past travels to Latin America. These are observations and studies of pattern and mark making that make it into my projects through combining paint with fabric and other two-dimensional found materials. I thoughtfully collage and stitch these objects together, remembering the things I’ve learned from the urban environment and I try to deliver works of art that potentially allow the audience to experience pleasant remembrances that are reminiscent of the everyday magic I find.


Untitled by Victoria Martinez Image courtesy of the Artist

OC: How do you use fiber and collaging processes to create visual narratives and what do these visual narratives mean to the history its installed site? How do your processes and your chosen materials lend itself to the interruptions you create for others?

VM: In terms of the weaving I have created in the past, I incorporate materials including grocery store plastic bags that say “Thank You”, vibrant yarn, strips of patterns I painted on plastic tablecloth, which was inspired by nature, and scraps of my thrift store purchased shorts. The weaving I’m referring to is sacred to me because the materials relate to my beliefs of highlighting community spaces, moments of mystery, intuition, and desire of learning about textile methods and history that inspires me to produce art. I also recently visited Peru where I practiced weaving and dyeing techniques in the Sacred Valley this past summer. I brought back the yarn wool that I dyed with flower and herbs and plan on creating site-specific projects with the material.

OC: Thinking about the presence and roles of murals in Chicago, how is your work informed by this? What connection exists between the objects you are using to the disruption you create in public spaces? 

VM: Some of my inspiration relates to Pilsen murals and graffiti because of its history, organic forms, enticing color pallets, celebratory energy, and monumental scale. Although fibers and public art are different media, I flirt with the idea that they coexist and work poetically together. Fabric is a universal material that works well in most spaces and is a significant resource in society.

I don’t see my artwork as an interruption. My artwork is an extension of the emotions associated with memories related to the sites I respond to. Therefore, I buy materials near the spaces I choose. I value soft and two-dimensional materials, which are accessible and adaptable. These allow me to build dimension by stitching them together, often ending up with a lot of texture and reminding me of the past histories I am honoring. My projects are fragments of skin; raw in memory, nostalgia, and with the attempt of preserving my reasons for being an artist. I work with domestic and feminine items that relate to my Mexican identity because I love to explore and conserve the beauty of my culture and how significant it is to society.

Untitled by Victoria Martinez Image courtesy of the Artist

Untitled by Victoria Martinez Image courtesy of the Artist

OC: At times your work involves collaborating with people who live near the spaces you create interventions for. In what ways do you involve participants in the gathering of materials and the making process? 

VM: Recently, I worked on a collaborative project titled “Traveling Minds,” with Benito Juarez Community Academy youth, their art teacher Ms. Paulina Camacho, two elementary schools in the Pilsen community, a youth center, and a group of mothers from the high school. We created an 8-foot by 20-foot outdoor fiber installation at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. I joined Ms. Camacho’s class as a Visiting Artist and together, as a collective, we practiced fiber techniques including weaving, sewing, and embroidery. One way I approached material selection in this project included surveying the group of high school youth about what type of colors and materials they believed best represented them and their community. I wanted the participants to deeply connect to the work and I believed that a series of conversations about materials would make it a vibrant experience. When it comes to making work independently for the public, I carefully study the colors and patterns that exist in and on the urban environment. It’s one of my favorite things as an artist because I see this process as a way for me to authentically respond to and create work for accessible sites in the neighborhood.

This interview was edited and commissioned by the 2016-2017 Charlotte Street Curator in Residence, Lynnette Miranda, in collaboration with Informality‘s for Issue 2: Digital Studio Visits and the exhibition  ¿Qué Pasa USA? at la Esquina Gallery (1000 West 25 Street KCMO) open from November 18, 2016 through January 7, 2017. This interview was originally published on http://collectivegap.info/

Kayla Quan Challenges the Model Minority Stereotype Through Sincerity and Humor

Drea DiCarlo talks to San Francisco-based Kayla Quan about the complexities of race and ethnicity in her lighthearted and facetious illustrations, prints, and zines.

Kayla Quan is a Filipino and Chinese third-generation American artist based in San Francisco, CA. Her work takes the form of prints, drawings, collage, and text-based images, and uses ironic humor to comment on people and situations in her life. Often adopting an informal DIY aesthetic, her work is very personal, like a look into one’s diary. She uses her art as a means of coping and emotional expression. The vulnerability in her work invites her viewers to validate their own feelings. Quan also uses her work to explore issues of race and the Asian American experience of being exotified and othered. Her drawings and prints make heartfelt statements on navigating loss, identity, and coming of age.


Too Many Tired Mamis by Kayla Quan. Image Courtesy of the Artist

DREA DICARLO: Your sketchbook drawings use little poetic phrases that are playfully naïve, ironic, and assertive, used as a means of articulating difficult thoughts and feelings. As a collection, these sketches convey a sense of sincere hurt or melancholy. What is the role of text and language in your work?

KAYLA QUAN: I’d prefer to view my work as wry or tongue in cheek. I think discerning the vocabulary used to describe my work changes the tone of how viewers perceive it. With that being said, language and text play a large role in my work. Most of my ideas for pieces stem from words that I’ve jotted down, are strewn together, and eventually they take visual form. I keep ongoing lists in my phone’s note section of short phrases, often reflective of passing thoughts or pangs of emotion. My work is reflective of my current emotional/mental/physical state of being; it’s often a platform for me to unload or express something that I feel necessary to convey as means of coping. I strive to make things that are relatable, yet in a way that feels real and vulnerable, while simultaneously making fun of myself.

DD: What is the process of choosing phrases and other texts? What is your relationship with writing as a visual artist?

KQ: Much of my work is developed during bouts of sadness, not because I wish to exude an overall depressive mood, but simply because it’s my way of expelling negative thoughts. It’s my way of saying, “hey, sometimes I’m sad (or lonely, longing, nostalgic, hurt, etc.) and I bet all of you are too, and that’s totally ok and human.” Sincerity is important to me in everything that I do. I’ve never really thought myself to be really good at anything besides being sincerely genuine in my interactions with humans. My work conveys a sense of melancholy because I let myself be raw with my words and thoughts to interrupt those feelings. My overall mentality is to let it all hang out, and let others relate or connect to it in ways that hopefully combat sincere hurt.

As far as my process for choosing phrases and text goes, there is no real formula. Like I mentioned earlier, I keep a back stock of words on my phone and sometimes I’ll refer back to the list and I’m prompted to make something visually from them or vice versa. I’ll see visual inspiration somewhere and then will create something that just so happens to synchronize with a phrase I wrote months before. The text I use are often short in length, primarily because writing lofty pieces makes me feel out of my element and honestly, pretty cheesy. It isn’t that I don’t care about what I’m saying; I do and that’s why I reject the notion of being flippant. I’d like to see my work as being the opposite of apathetic or disrespectfully avoidant because I’m being open with my feelings and earnest in the only way I know how to be. I like to make things that are humorous, yet telling and relatable on a real level, for example this drawing of Lil Jon (please read caption & comments).


Lil Jon Sketch by Kayla Quan. Image Courtesy of the Artist

DD: Visually you experiment with various modes of mark making and transferring of images through printing processes and drawing that acknowledge the presence of the hand. What is important about the presence of the hand in your work? What is important about the presence of the hand in your work? What is the relationship between altering photographic images and your drawings and illustrations?

KQ: I’ve developed a style that is distinctive and imperfect, but true to myself. For a long time I made all of my illustrations in one go, just pen to the paper and no pre-plans. Drawing this way made me develop a greater sense of artist intuition by allowing myself to work off of happy mistakes.  I guess that’s kind of how I see all of my art: it’s all a bunch of happy mistakes that somehow work in my favor.  Not until recently did I start drawing with pencil first. I’m constantly developing as an artist, but I do feel like I have a concrete style that I don’t ever steer far away from.   

Adding my hand in old family photos give the photographs new life in the context of my current life. Pictures speak for themselves, but I wanted to do a little extra by telling my family narrative from my perspective. Adding text and illustrations on top of these photos let viewers know that my hands worked with the photos—it’s like leaving visual traces of my essence on snapshots of distant pastimes. Like most of the things I make, this illustration and photo process is just my way of making sense of my world. And by sharing my work with others, it’s my way of welcoming people into my brain. It’s your ticket into seeing things from my perspective.


So I Creep by Kayla Quan. Image Courtesy if the Artist

DD: In your work, you alter photographic images, recontextualizing nostalgic memories with energized interventions from the present. Similarly, handwriting visually and conceptually interjects each work, welcoming the viewer into a subjective space of introspection. Through your distinct making process, how do you hope the work connects with viewers?

KQ: A handful of people have actually asked me about the meaning behind my print So I Creep~Ya (2014) because they all thought that “creep” was directed toward my dad.  The original photo is a Polaroid of my dad, my sibling, and myself wearing my dad’s Ben Davis work shirts. I used to always smile in that funny square-mouthed grin like a lil’ creep. I doodled a bunch of faces in the background to represent visual personifications of my active imagination as a child and presently as a young artist.  

DD: In your zine What the Fuck Kind of Human (2015) there is an excerpt that ends “I’m my own person, not defined by race.” This yearning to be recognized beyond the construct of race, seems in contrast to the phrase you use in another work “Yellow Voices must be heard,” which emphasizes the drive to center and organize around Asian American voices. Can you expand on the complexities of race and identity for yourself as an artist? How do you reconcile this conflict and in what ways do you see these working together?

KQ: So by definition, “community” entails inclusivity and a means of constructing identity as a result of sharing common characteristics or interests. However, “community,” also implies exclusivity as much as it does inclusivity. Race is often a place where people align themselves in a community. Race is visual characteristic. For me, it’s often the first thing strangers ask me questions about: “What are you?”—always a dreaded question—“Where are you from? What’s your racial background?.” Race is and can be a defining characteristic, but I don’t want to be pigeonholed into racial stereotypes—which are more often than not untrue, hurtful, exotifying, essentializing, tokenizing, and demeaning.

That excerpt, where my friend says “I’m my own person, not defined by race,” is a true feeling of being fed up with people making assumptions about your personhood based around the confines of “Asian” stereotypes. This statement is a response to being multifaceted, but never being fully recognized as anything more than just “an Asian girl.” It sucks when people place perimeters around who you are or should be.  

I thought a lot about using this term, “Yellow voices must be heard.”  Using “Yellow” in regards to race is often deemed derogatory. However, as a person who identifies as being Asian American I feel it fair and in my right to reclaim this word. For me, it was an appropriate unifying term that seemed the most inclusive to me. It’s a response to looking Asian but also feeling excluded from not being brown enough and not being white either. It’s my way of place making for my skin color and my identity as a Chinese and Filipino American female. “Yellow Voices:” it’s a contentious phrase that I’m willing to debate; for me, it’s a rallying cry intended for my community and not to be misused by others.

Race is a social construct that I’m constantly trying to unpack and deconstruct in terms that feel good for my own personal growth. I spent my early childhood in the Bay Area where a large majority of my classmates were Chinese or Filipino. I felt proud to rep my roots. Then, I moved to Orange County from middle school to high school, and this is where I first became aware of my race in a negative way. I’d never had people yell racial slurs directly at me before. I’d never had people laugh at me just for being Asian. I grew up in Orange County being the “skater Asian girl” or the “cool Asian;” I was never described without my Asian identity yet I don’t even speak any other language besides English. I was born in the United States and so was my father, and so was my father’s father. I had never even been to the Philippines or China until this year. So, why must I constantly be othered strictly off the basis of what I look like?

For a long time, I grew up in the suburbs where I felt like being Asian was an embarrassing quality, and that “White” was what I was supposed to strive to be like. Art has become an outlet and a platform for me to ask these big questions and grapple with the complexities of race with others. It feels good to make things and to be comforted by other people’s narratives.  


Siem Reap by Kayla Quan. Image Courtesy of the Artist

DD: Your woodcut Silence is Violence (2015) follows a tradition of activist art that includes the visual artwork of Emory Douglas, the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, and  1960s United Farm Workers of America. In contrast to protest artwork of the 1960s and ‘70s, the girl and woman coded figures depicted in Silence is Violence are passive in their postures and gaze; they do not confront the viewer directly. What were your intentions behind this imagery?  Do you believe that you are enacting a type of “soft” resistance, a type of resistance where individual Asian Americans defy the model minority stereotype? How does the phrase “Silence is Violence” particularly apply to the Asian American community? How do you see your role as an artist within this narrative of activism and resistance?

KQ: The “Silence is Violence” woodcut was born out of a poster assignment. I immediately took to alluding to traditional activist art and studied poster artwork from the 60’s and 70’s—propaganda, UFW, [and] anti-war (during the Vietnam War) posters of that era.  The 3 figures depicted in [this work] convey the transformation from inaction to action, from passive silence to engaged presence. For me, the process of personal transformation from dismissive or timid of conflict, to being willingly vocal and demanding of my needs is, and has been, a slow but organic process. In total, my work takes on a “soft” quality to it because my overall demeanor as a person isn’t one that is outwardly aggressive.

Activism doesn’t have one distinctive look. Activism can look a lot of different ways, and the way one chooses to protest can reflect a lot about their cultural self. There is no linear path toward healing.

“Silence is Violence” is typically a slogan used in anti-rape and sexual violence activism, but I felt it applies specifically to Asian American communities because there’s an overwhelming trend of silencing our struggles and pain to appear as “model minority” citizens. In cultures that pride respect and honor, adversity is something that must be handled quietly and swiftly. Silencing someone’s pain and not discussing personal or community struggles is violent. I can say that I come from generations of familial dynamics that do not encourage transparent communication about personal issues. My parents are well-intentioned people, but I grew being told not to be so sensitive all the time; my sensitivity was seen as a sign of weakness.

I know a lot of my Asian American friends have either a hard time or zero experience with discussing personal mental health with their families as well. A lot of people think that model minority stereotype is a compliment, but it’s actually harmful to pan-Asian communities due to its silencing properties. Overall, I think my community benefits from hearing messages that encourage [one] to speak honestly and to be politically active. I think art and activism are important. Art is an effective vehicle for making your message accessible and visual to broad audiences.

As far as how I view my role as an artist of activism and resistance goes, I’d say it’s just something that is. I start projects based out of necessity for myself, and then secondly for what I think could benefit others to see, hear and share. I get really excited when I see other artists, educators, or activists that look like me or have similar cultural experiences.. I also find a lot of joy in receiving comments from fellow Asian Americans that are stoked about my work, or when they express that it’s relatable or needed in our communities.

 This interview was edited and commissioned by the 2016-2017 Charlotte Street Curator in Residence, Lynnette Miranda, in collaboration with Informality‘s for Issue 2: Digital Studio Visits and the exhibition  ¿Qué Pasa USA? at la Esquina Gallery (1000 West 25 Street KCMO) open from November 18, 2016 through January 7, 2017. This interview was originally published on http://collectivegap.info/

Silvia Beatriz Abisaab Uses Portraits and Conversation to Uncover Personal Stories


Sam Stevens speaks with Silvia Beatriz Abisaab about intimately connecting and collaborating with her subjects through photography and conversation, and more recently, sharing the untold stories of of individuals existing and surviving on the fringe.

Silvia Beatriz Abisaab explores the appearance and experience of race through interviews, photography, video, and performance. One of Abisaab’s recent bodies of work is loosely organized under the title of Cultural Exchange but is part of an ongoing practice of documentary-based works. Two years ago, the artist began to document  the spaces of contemporary artists and art students around Kansas City, Missouri, where she received her BFA at the Kansas City Art Institute in 2016. She takes full portraits of each artist framed by their studios, depicting the beauty and the toil of art making as well as one’s relationship to personal space. Abisaab shoots frank photographs of her subjects and in a way participates in a personal exploration of a community to which she belongs.

Likewise, the Cultural Exchange series presents images, as well as voices, of friends, acquaintances, and strangers who have some connection to the artist—each voice describes experiences of racial discrimination and feelings of alienation. With her camera, Abisaab captures vivid encounters, street scenes, and lively shops along with dignified images of the people she is interviewing. This project serves as a platform to represent the voices of marginalized individuals and challenge the viewer’s perception of race and ethnicity, grappling with the paradoxes around physical appearance and representation. Her photographic process is a tool for confronting stereotypes, playing with the perceptions of and definitions around identity, and expanding the relationships between people across cultures.

Julio C. Mortera Rodriguez by Silvia Beatriz Abisaab. Image courtesy of the artists

Julio C. Mortera Rodriguez by Silvia Beatriz Abisaab. Image courtesy of the artists

SAM STEVENS: Silvia, in your past work you interview people directly and document their spaces, using photography and audio recording. In these multi-disciplinary pieces, you orchestrate an experience rather than crafting a specific image. How did you move from the process of photographing to the process of interviewing? And who do you consider your audience to be?

SILVIA BEATRIZ ABISAAB: I find it interesting when you state that I orchestrate an experience rather than craft a specific image. From my standpoint, I feel that I am doing both simultaneously. I personally feel that the experience that I am having with the individual allows an idea to be crafted that will then be captured. That is ultimately what my practice is doing at the moment.

My practice consists of engaging in conversations with individuals to learn about them and encompass that moment and/or experience using photography, video, and sound. Specifically speaking about the artist’s studio portraits, it is very important to do more than capture. I interact with each participant in a deeper way because I find that the more I learn about their studio practice, thoughts on life, and/or political to cultural perspectives, then the more attentive I was in making sure I can represent them respectfully. However, I definitely feel that by speaking with them, it allows for our time spent together to be great and valuable. That mindset allows me to create an interesting transition from photographing to dialogue.

Now as for my audience, I would love for the whole world to be my audience, however that usually doesn’t happen. Yet, I am starting to see that those who are interested in simply gaining more perspective and insight in the arts while learning more about someone else is my kind of audience.

Collaboration with Brandon Kintzer by Silvia Beatriz Abisaab. Image courtesy of the artists

Collaboration with Brandon Kintzer by Silvia Beatriz Abisaab. Image courtesy of the artists

SS: Last year you worked with a fellow KCAI alum, sculptor and architect Brandon Kintzer to create a series of abstract images. These works showed arrangements of bodies, shapes, color and line in an indefinite space. What is the connection between the work you were doing with Brandon and your documentary work? In a different way the documentary work is also an exploration of appearances and bodies.

SBA: The work that Brandon and I collaborated on came from an interest in bodies engaging with sculpture and space, and utilizing aesthetically minimal elements to see how the body and those elements can infuse with one another to create another sculptural form and perspective. Though it was a great experience, I can’t seem to find a current connection to the work that I am doing now. However, I could say that I am more thoughtful on how I connect with and capture the individual. Not to say, that the people I worked with on this project with Brandon weren’t thoughtfully captured, because they definitely were. However, I must be more thoughtful with the subjects I work with now because I am in their space, an intimate space that has depth and meaning to them, from personal to creative experiences.

SS: Your photographs toe the line between conceptual and direct. Could you speak about this relationship in your work? How do you choose your subjects?

SBA: My work is more direct because I aim towards a personal and informative narrative. Being direct allows the participant to understand my motives. I want to learn and hear about their creative explorations, thoughts, and opinions—any information and experience that I can utilize and translate through digital media applications and/or through conversations with others. I connect with either close friends, classmates, or anyone in the art community who I find interesting based on the current studio work or simply because I am interested in connecting with them. Facebook and Instagram are great tools in following what my peers are doing and it helps me seek and ask if they are interested in getting their portrait taken and potentially having a conversation. The reason for this direct act is that the chosen subjects, whoever they may be, are people that should be celebrated because of how amazing they are at what they do. My fascination with my subjects can lead to new opportunities for them, from being showcased on a different platform to being contacted by another person to find commonality with them.

Beky by Silvia Beatriz Abisaab. Image courtesy of the artists

Beky by Silvia Beatriz Abisaab. Image courtesy of the artists

SS: When building a body of work that deals with the tension and reciprocity(exchange) between individuals and communities, where do you fit as an artist and what is your relationship with your subjects? Does a distance exists and remain, or does closeness with a community develop throughout your process? What is the importance of collaboration for you?

I think of my role as a “socially engaged artist”, interacting and engaging with a lot of different individuals and communities through listening and sharing respectfully. When you show the individual participating in the artist’s work as not just a subject, but a person with value, that makes the work and relationship stronger. Even without the “artist” title, it is important to understand that if a person who is seeking to build, grow, or gain a relationship with any individual they must be considerate. I’m not seeking to gain profit out of anyone that I work with since it is not my focus. Instead what I try to convey is that there exists many people that are extremely talented and worthwhile. If you encounter someone with unique viewpoints, reach out and connect with them. Furthermore, you should be really thoughtful since you won’t only have a great experience, but also gain new knowledge from someone who you may not share a common background with and yet, channel the same interest or learn  something you never knew about. It is that moment where I gather a sense of who they are and more perspective from them that allows us both to work simultaneously to capture their image. While there are times that can be distant, is not something I intend to happen and we just continue our daily doings. However, I continue to brainstorming potential ideas that could lead into another collaboration.

This interview was edited and commissioned by the 2016-2017 Charlotte Street Curator in Residence, Lynnette Miranda, in collaboration with Informality‘s for Issue 2: Digital Studio Visits and the exhibition  ¿Qué Pasa USA? at la Esquina Gallery (1000 West 25 Street KCMO) open from November 18, 2016 through January 7, 2017. This interview was originally published on http://collectivegap.info/

Enzo Antonio Moscarella Examines Cultural Assumptions Through Satirical Simplification

Camile Messerley discusses materials, process, and ephemerality with Enzo Antonio Moscarella, who assembles new icons out of everyday materials, such as rice and beans, to examine stereotypes and cultural assumptions.

Enzo Antonio Moscarella is an artist originally from Miami. He has since split his time between Miami, Boston where he obtained a BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston from which he now holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and now New York where he currently resides. Moscarella’s work ranges across mediums and references current popular culture as well as 1990s New York and Miami graffiti culture. His work also quotes sociopolitical history through using icons such as the coiled rattlesnake from the Gadsden flag, featured in his latest piece Don’t Tread on Me. He merges symbols from both of these realms, pop culture and history, to examine the connections between the two while questioning the objective and the subjective.

For ¿Que Pasa, USA? Moscarella has designed the site-specific installation Don’t Tread on Me— three life-size floor drawings that merge the commonplace emoticon happy face and the coiled snake from the Gadsden flag using dry rice and black beans. The artist draws influence from mandalas in Buddhist culture, recontextualizing this practice through his chosen subject matter and materials. The work juxtaposes the play that occurs between satirical simplification of subject matter and the delicacy and ephemerality of its quotidian domestic material, which has a culturally specific connotation. The artwork’s scale and precarity challenge the viewer to engage in a heightened level of awareness—a viewer could potentially ruin the floor drawings by taking a wrong step. The piece evokes a kind of meditation through daring the viewer to tenuously walk around and observe the pieces within the gallery space.  

One of Moscarella’s overarching goals is to bridge the gaps between personal identity and cultural interpretation. The artist addresses this in Don’t Tread on Me through his use of materials and subject matter—personal to the artist and his family yet, not unique to only him. His accessible materials offer a personal access point into the work, the viewer to a place, a cultural tradition, a specific history, or even being raised consuming the grains which make up this piece. And it is this simplicity which allows the mind to wander and meditate on the connections in the piece and find connections of our own, even if through instantly sharing the same space.    


Calvin and Hobbes Ephemera Floor Drawing by Enzo Antonio Moscarella. Image courtesy of the artist.

CAMILE MESSERLEY: The icons used in your work interestingly quote historical political events and individuals while also commenting on popular culture, in your artist statement you mention a previous work where you merged Castro’s face and the confederate flag. The work that will be featured in ¿Que Pasa, USA? at la Esquina merges a coiled eastern diamondback rattlesnake from the Gadsden flag combined with the universally known image of the yellow smiley face. Can you tell me a little bit about this relationship and your relationship to these images or icons?

ENZO ANTONIO MOSCARELLA: This work comes from an interest in mandalas and their construction using colored sand to create intricate patterns and motifs. In Buddhism, the creation of a mandala is an exercise of spiritual mediation, representing the Universe and the belief of radial balance. I have appropriated and recontextualized these by shifting the material from colored sand to black beans and long grain white rice. I have also reversed the complexity of design to graphic gestures. I use symbols from popular culture to explore my personal identity as a Colombian immigrant. I’m interested in [investigating] stereotypes and assumptions based on race and ethnicity.

The drawings that make up this series of works goes back to the margins of my middle school notebooks. These held a large amount of visual information that started as small thumbnails of the lesson being taught, but would quickly merge with much simpler doodles of cartoons or tags. My introduction to visual art began via early 90’s New York and Miami graffiti culture. The writer* painting pieces** often added characters within or next to their work. Concurrently many of the writers at this time were prolific bombers*** and produced much faster, abbreviated versions of their tags as two color throwups****.


40 oz Pour by Enzo Antonio Moscarella. Image courtesy of the artist.

CM: In your work, specifically the pieces made using grains (long grain white rice, black beans), there is an extreme attention to detail that compliments the simplicity of the iconography used in the piece. Can you describe what the process of installing and producing these pieces is like?

EAM: When producing the floor drawings in the rice & beans series, I think about the concept of the throwup and how that functions as a visual marker within a time and space. I think about its impermanence. Because of its illegal nature, the throwup exists for a limited amount of time, the only record of the piece is a photographic one.

The materials I use in the series of floor drawings—long grain white rice and dried black beans—are very familiar to me. These were not only part of my family’s diet but also a staple in the Hialeah, Miami Cuban cuisine. Before this work, I viewed these as sustenance, and now I use these as I would any other material available for me to work with. The subtleties in the colors, when massed together are also very attractive.

Installing the work begins with thumbnails and sketches until a design or composition is finalized. I use chalk to sketch the outline of the piece on the floor and begin to fill sections with material while on my hands and knees. I gather small amounts together between my hands and push sections of material towards each other to create dimensionality and give the work a uniform thickness. It takes several hours of work depending on size and complexity of design. There is no glues or gels holding the material in place. I‘m aware that viewers may come into contact with the piece and possible step on it or kick a section. While, I do not encourage these actions, I do not necessarily feel that the pieces are sacred objects.

CM: I’m particularly interested in the play that’s happening between the delicacy and ephemerality of the floor drawings and the subject matter (and the play with satire) and the awareness that the viewers take on by walking around the pieces as meditation on the subject matter of patriotism and emotional signifiers. In addition to this meditation what are your hopes for the viewer in terms of what they may take away from this experience?

EAM: The work does not and should not live in a vacuum, and any interaction that results in the alteration of the piece becomes part of that pieces life cycle. With the work being displayed on the floor, it forces the viewer’s gaze down, making being in the space a much less passive experience. No one wants to be the person who steps on the “Art.” There is also that captivating moment when you watch the viewer come across the piece and realize that the materials are so simple; the installation is so simple. The moment when it finally hits them that a person was on the floor for an extended amount of time doing this, there is an element of labor and production that is very tangible.

There is a great satisfaction when completing the installation of the rice and beans floor drawings because of its large size and the hours involved in making the work. These force very deliberate choices since I am putting my body through a large amount of stress while on my hands and knees. I usually listen to music during this process and fall into a pseudo-meditative state.

The Gadsden flag is a historical American flag depicting a coiled eastern diamondback rattlesnake ready to strike on a yellow field. Below the illustration is the phrase “DON’T TREAD ON ME.” The flag was designed in 1775 and is named after for Colonel Christopher Gadsden of the Continental Army. Recently, the flag has seen a resurgence in its use as a symbol of American patriotism.

With Don’t Tread on Me, I am combining the coiled snake motif of the Gadsden flag with the ubiquitous happy face. Repeating the shape three times, I shift the happy faces upturned smile to a straight line and then finally to a turned down sad face. I am captivated by the simplicity of how the angle of bend in a line can completely alter the emotional reading of the drawing. The triple replication of the snake as well as the multi-directional placement challenges the weight of the original symbol. I would like the viewer to contend with the time and effort in creating the three images in relation to their impermanence. The piece is a meditation on patriotism, emotional signifiers, and temporality.


Iced Out by Enzo Antonio Moscarella. Image courtesy of the artist.

CM: What projects are you thinking about for the future and will you be continuing the process used in the work for ¿Que Pasa, USA?

EAM: The next step in the rice & beans series would be to take these objects outside of the gallery setting and continue to push the textural boundaries of the material. I feel that moving them out of the relatively safe space that is a gallery or studio could have very positive or negative results, which of course can only be beneficial to the furthering of the series.

*Practitioner of the art of graffiti.

**A graffiti painting, short for masterpiece. It’s generally agreed that a painting must have at least three colors to be considered a piece.

***To go out writing. Prolific painting or marking with ink. To cover an area with your tag, throwups, etc.

****Over time, this term has been applied to many different types of graffiti. Subway art says it is “a name painted quickly with one layer of spray paint and an outline”, although some consider a throwup to be bubble letters of any sort, not necessarily filled. Throwups can be from one or two letters to a whole word or a whole roll call of names. Often times throwups incorporate an exclamation mark after the word or letter. Throwups are generally only one or two colors, no more. Throwups are either quickly done bubble letters or very simple pieces using only two colors.

This interview was edited and commissioned by the 2016-2017 Charlotte Street Curator in Residence, Lynnette Miranda, in collaboration with Informality‘s for Issue 2: Digital Studio Visits and the exhibition  ¿Qué Pasa USA? at la Esquina Gallery (1000 West 25 Street KCMO) open from November 18, 2016 through January 7, 2017. This interview was originally published on http://collectivegap.info/


Jacquelyn Carmen Guerrero (Re)discovers Her Afro-Caribbean Roots through Spirituality and Ritual

Amy Hixson talks to Jacquelyn Carmen Guerrero about reclaiming a space for queer bodies of color through her ornate fiber installations and experimental performances.

Jacquelyn Carmen Guerrero (a.k.a. CQQCHIFRUIT) is a DJ, musician, performer, and visual artist based in Chicago. Guerrero has performed and exhibited across the U.S. and internationally in Cuba, Mexico, and Canada. Guerrero is a second generation Cuban and Puerto Rican American originally from Miami, FL, a multicultural city that is home to many diasporic Caribbean communities, who keep their social and cultural practices alive and visible. The driving force of her practice is rediscovering her heritage as a second-generation American and through DJing, experimental performance, and immersive installation. Through these processes she reclaims her queer Afro-Cuba-Rican identity in all of its complexities. Guerrero fosters safe spaces for the personal expression of People of Color and queer-identifying people, using her practice as a DJ, an artist, and an organizer of Chances Dances—a queer dance party and collective in Chicago—to create a home for “The Other.”


Jacquelyn Carmen Guerrero performance documentation image courtesy of the artist

AMY HIXSON: You mention that your work “revolves around (re)discovering and (re)claiming [your] cultural, spiritual, and artistic heritage as a queer Afro-Cuba-Rican from Miami.” Will you elaborate and expand on what you mean by rediscovering and reclaiming in your work?

JACQUELYN CARMEN GUERRERO: My intentions of rediscovery and reclamation stem from my personal need to reconnect with my cultural heritage as a second-generation American, and how that need has evolved into my artwork. My parents immigrated to the Bronx from Cuba and Puerto Rico, and then relocated to Miami, leaving most of their immediate family behind. I grew up disconnected to the aspects of traditional, non-Christian, Afro-Cuban and Puerto-Rican culture. And I also definitely wanted to be white for at least part my childhood. As a result, much of my work now revolves around rediscovering and reclaiming the parts of my heritage that were inaccessible to me early in life, while simultaneously undoing the internalized racism and misogyny that has stemmed from oppressive forces like colonization, assimilation, and Christianity.


Glitter Beach by Jacquelyn Carmen Guerrero image courtesy of the artist

AH: There are many references to Santería deities particularly Yemaya, the Mother Goddess of the Ocean, and ritual practices specific to Afro-Caribbean religions and spirituality. What is your consideration for the viewer, and those who might not have any background knowledge of Afro-Carribean practices?

JCG: My work references a few orishas to those who know what they signify, and the ritual explorations in my performances derive from my interpretation of and inspiration from traditional rituals (of which I admittedly have a limited understanding). However, I am not a practitioner initiated into Santería or any other religion. And although this is a part of my heritage that I am very interested in engaging with spiritually. Artistically, I can’t speak as a representative of that spiritual culture to people are unfamiliar with Afro-Caribbean spiritual practices. The presence of these spiritual systems in my art practice has organically blossomed as a product of my processes, and I am now embracing spirituality as a focus of my work.

For example, my fixation on sequins started as a product from my days in the burlesque, dance, and theatre world. For ¿Qué Pasa, USA?, I gathered garments that will eventually be used to create the tapestry that will be in the exhibition. It wasn’t after I was already creating this work that I learned beadwork is an important part of the Yoruba and Taíno traditions, and that some of my family members continue to practice this religious art. That was a truly amazing discovery to me! Since then I have given much thought to the function of art as a spiritual practice, and the relationships between artists, shaman, and healers over time. I hope that my work finds a way to bridge those gaps, and viewers come away with a conscious or subconscious connection to natural and divine entities such as water, a goddess and/or the sky.


Trqpiqueer by Jacquelyn Carmen Guerrero image courtesy of the artist

AH: Your work is based on your lived experience based on your heritage, your hometown, and your gender identity. How do you approach and conduct research? How does your family and those in your community directly influence your artistic practice and daily life? What other artists are you looking at?

JCG: I conduct research through a variety of methods. I am very much into academic & scholarly research, for example reading books such as TAíNO: Pre-Columbian Art and Culture from the Caribbean (El Museo Del Barrio, 1997) and Los Bailes Y El Teatro De Los Negros En El Folklore de Cuba (Fernano Ortiz, 1981) have had a huge influence on my art practice. I am interested in oral history and begun to more intentional about collecting stories from my abuela and other family members, specifically digging deeper into my family history and stories about immigration, culture, and spirituality. I have pursued traditional knowledge from learning to play the conga and other Afro-Cuban percussion instruments and taking Afro-Cuban dance classes and workshops. And, I plan on traveling to Cuba and Puerto Rico to continue my research on folkloric and indigenous traditions.

My family, and those in my community, definitely motivate me to continue in the direction I am going in, which is preserving and honoring my culture through art. As I undergo these investigations, I am lucky enough to have my sister Jasmin Guerrero and her partner Enzo Moscarella, who are also artists, close to me. I look to a combination of artists from the past and artists of the present: ancient Taíno Indian artisans, traditional performers such as Celia Cruz, La Lupe, La India and Celeste Mendoza, visual artists such as Belkis Ayón Manso and Frida Kahlo, musicians such as Las Muñequitos de Matanzas and Yoruba Andabo, traditional folkloric dancers and artisans of the Yoruba, Vodou and Native American cultures, and contemporary performers such as Hattie Mae Williams, Keijaun Thomas, Sofia Moreno, Nic Kay, Rashayla Marie Brown, art and social justice collective such as For The People artist collective, and so many more.

AH: DJing is an important part of your practice and a way in which you build and deepen community. How do you approach your DJing practice as part of your artistic practice? Can you elaborate on the relationship between the two?

JCG: DJing has grown into a part of my public practice partly because I learned to DJ when I was blossoming as a performer in Chicago’s underground queer nightlife spaces. Going out dancing became (and still is) a very important part of my life because I was encouraged to express myself in a number of ways (looks, dance moves, etc.), which lead to more artistic expression. DJing became a way for me to experiment with energy; music and sound are important tools to create energetic vibrations in a space and set the stage for a potentially transformative experience. I was able to channel Miami and other places I felt the need to connect to, and share aspects of my experience that I didn’t see in Chicago. I have even gone so far as to DJ during a performance, singing over the tracks in my first incarnation of Glitter Beach. I think my DJ and artistic practices feed off of each other because DJing is a performance of its own, and when I DJ I definitely bring drama through my dress, glitter, and other visual aspects of my practice. I am able to achieve drama and narrative through manipulation of the sounds, and I immediately see the effects on the dance floor. I live for being able to offer moments of joy, release, and other deep emotions to my audiences.


La Pina Coronada by Jacquelyn Carmen Guerrero image courtesy of the artist

AH: How do you keep yourself moving forward in your practice? How do you create prompts or new projects for yourself? What other projects, performance, and events are you currently working on?

JCG: Being invited to perform and show work is a huge part of how I stay moving forward, as well as applying to residencies and other opportunities. In other cases, research inspires me: a thought or image pops into my head and I pursue the investigation. My main projects are TRQPITECA, a nightlife and art event that features artists working with queer and tropical aesthetics, and my own art practice. After ¿Qué Pasa, USA?, I will be spending time in Miami creating sequin-embroidered pieces, and continuing my study of folkloric music and dance. I definitely hope to share my studies in the future!


This interview was edited and commissioned by the 2016-2017 Charlotte Street Curator in Residence, Lynnette Miranda, in collaboration with Informality‘s for Issue 2: Digital Studio Visits and the exhibition  ¿Qué Pasa USA? at la Esquina Gallery (1000 West 25 Street KCMO) open from November 18, 2016 through January 7, 2017. This interview was originally published on http://collectivegap.info/

Melissa Leandro Constructs Narratives of Hybridity Through Experimental Textiles

Natalie Spicker speaks to Melissa Leandro, based in Chicago, about dissecting and fusing cultural identity through abstract narratives and experimental textile processes.

Using process as metaphor, Melissa Leandro explores her composite identity and misplaced memories by translating her collages, photograms, and drawings into weaving and embroidery. These fiber techniques slow down the active mark-making of Leandro’s sketches, transforming them into a contemplative reverie. In her jacquard woven pieces, Leandro creates a material topology flattened into a single plane. A sequence of processes creates abstracted imagery that speaks to ideas of translation and our eroding memories. Similarly, through weaving and heat-fusing non-traditional materials, like plastic and vinyl, elements are physically flattened into a unified textile. Using Ric Rac ribbons and spongy rug stoppers, Leandro creates a hybrid object composed of elements from the domestic environment that complicate their intended utility and refuse to conform to the neat grid of a woven structure.

Collaging both materials and processes, Leandro generates imagery through drawing and composing objects, recording their silhouettes with cyanotype, and weaving the soft bleed of blue through a gradient of weave structures. Leandro’s dreamy “weavescapes” depict the fuzzing and unraveling of remembered places. The dense patches of embroidery are at times connected by active, writhing lines or isolated moments of poignancy, suggesting movement and displacement. A change in weft creates a band of brilliant or neutral color that freezes the action and offers a respite of calm amongst the dense imagery. At the same time, these abrupt divisions disrupt the scene and recall ideas of fragmentation. Blobby forms vacillate between being flowers, clouds, or the work of an absent-minded hand. Repeatedly traversing the same path, lines spiral into drooping forms that call to mind rolling hills and smudged fingerprints but avoid a clear narrative, leaving the viewer with only an impression of a place.


Melting Mountain by Melissa Leandro. Image courtesy of the artist.

NATALIE SPICKER: In El Mar, smokescreen and Melting Mountain there are references to the landscape. In other work you adopt the language of mapmaking, usually used to identify and clarify, to create clouded, amorphous imagery. What do you decide to conceal and reveal?

MELISSA LEANDRO: Most of my work conceals quite a bit of the personal narrative that originally informed the impetus for the work. I prefer to give my viewer more of an opening to enter the piece by omitting many strict parameters on language or concrete imagery. However, I do use language that focuses on movements that are physical, geographical, and time-based. References to water and walking are also quite present. Water is an element that takes on multiple forms (solid, liquid, gas); it can submerge, encapsulate or wash away other materials. I use the concept of water as a metaphor for memory and nostalgia. When I recall past events, visual facts become blurred over time. A distance develops between present and past events, meaning what was once very clear in my memory, becomes submerged in assumptions. I can no longer remember the narrative with certainty, but I continually enjoy playing with this distance of time. My work aims to fill these voids of space with the use of recognizable patterns and printed imagery.

Specifically, in Melting Mountain, I used printed, plastic tablecloth of strawberries, and apples trapped in ice cubes. We understand that this imagery is somewhat comical or kitsch, but this humor separates the objects from their intended reality. We are not encountering them, apple and ice cube, in a typical, normalized setting. Reality is skewed, and so I can allow myself to metaphorically melt into the visual space of the weaving. I try to achieve this action by intermittently embedding real world, familiar objects, which remove themselves from their normal or intended purpose. Imagery of objects we consider mundane and part of the everyday like fruit bowls, chili peppers, plates and dishes, can become monumental and otherworldly. These printed plastics, often used for cheap décor in the home have the ability to take on a different cultural status. They are oversized or fragmented, colliding and zigzagging across the plane. They act more like planets and stars in space than they do to disposable home décor.


El Mar, smokescreen by Melissa Leandro. Image courtesy of the artist.

NS: In putting dissimilar materials together through processes like weaving, heat fusing, and cyanotype, you make a hybrid but unified object. How does this relate to the concepts of identity and duality in your work?

ML: I want to twist assumptions on how we perceive kitschy imagery and disposable material (plastic tablecloths, rug stopper, electrical tape, ric rac) and develop a new hybrid object. An object or substrate unified and visually pleasing. There has always been a need to combine unlike materials together in my work, natural with synthetic, refined with raw, etc. I frequently associate this drive with my upbringing in Miami, Florida and my family’s place of origin, Costa Rica. These environments are polar opposites; Miami is urban, fast-moving, superficial, while Costa Rica is rural and slow-paced. I bounced back and forth between these two cities for several years and regularly code-switched between English and Spanish. I am not a Costa Rican citizen, but ironically I do not feel a closer connection to my US identity.

Now, as I live as a transplant in Chicago, and identify as a first generation US Latina, I am beginning to understand the duality of my culture and language, and see them as another catalyst for making. My personal experience with a hybrid culture, like many artists, influences the materials, colors, and textures, of the objects I create in my practice. Through repetitive mark making, and layering of material processes (weaving, embroidery, dyeing), I can freely mix sentimentally charged materials within multiple technical processes, without reservation.

In Fracturada, Blotched Out, I utilized a plastic doily-patterned tablecloth, something usually found in a low-end general store, which was also a common and familiar part of my childhood home. I decided to cut the tablecloth into long strips, and weave them together with black electrical tape. The original image of the dollie became fractured, blotched out by black bands of electrical tape and rubber vinyl. Our eyes try to reconstruct the original pattern of the dollie, but the newly formed grid (weft and warp materials) has simultaneously dismantled and reassembled a new picture plane.

NS: Line is important throughout the media you use. In some places the embroidery is very expressive and dense, but in other areas the line is static and color is used to disrupt the imagery. Do you use line as a tool for conveying narrative or emotion? How are the concepts of memory and remembering connected to material layering and repetition in your work?

ML: Yes, I definitely use line as a means to convey narrative and emotion. Using stitched line is a method that allows me to draw back into the initial woven picture. I have time to reflect on the memory of the place that the piece originated from, and try to echo the energy of that particular moment. My jacquard weavings are frequently a translation of a cyanotype print of objects gathered in one particular place. This weaving becomes the base layer, whereby I then draw using embroidery/stitching interchangeably to obscure the ground surface. The embroidery/stitching float on top of the cyanotype weaving; each stitched element acting as a unique topographical feature that stands independent or collides with multiple other elements.

In the case of Scribble on_Tilburg, titled after a small city in the Netherlands, I reflected on the walks I took while in Tilburg. Each place has characteristics that define or differentiate it from anywhere else. In Tilburg, I noticed the winding roads, gray skies, angular homes, pedestrian street signs, and pockets of wooded areas. There was a strong presence of green and yellow colors, throughout my commutes; this would later take emphasis in the stitched piece. I usually try to sketch right after or during my commute, if on a train or bus. In this way, I can immediately capture the energy of a space as I move through it physically. The people, architecture, sounds, smells can take on an abstract narrative through the composition of the stitched image.

I would say there is no one particular emotion I try to evoke in each piece (happy, sad, excited), instead, I am concerned with the visual noise of a memory. I gravitate towards bright or neon colors for my stitching as a way to give the textile surface a visual energy. The weaving is blurred due to the natural process of translation (cyanotype to jacquard weaving) and by the weave structure itself. A woven image will never be as sharp or clear as a drawn pen line or a solid object, which suits my purpose because my memories of places, people, objects are never as crisp as I remember them.

Still, I aim to pinpoint the characteristics that stood out to me through the use of multi-colored stitching. The stitched lines change color, every inch, as they move across the different planes of the woven and dyed surface. I use this technique specifically because the lines appear as though they are vibrating on the Jacquard weaving. The lines move with their own intention and eventually wander off the woven cloth. When looking at the final image, I want my viewer to feel as though they can walk into my abstract landscapes.


Scribble on Tilburg by Melissa Leandro. Image courtesy of the artist.

NS: Although you use techniques that have linear perimeters, like weaving, your pieces bulge past their constraints. Could you speak to your process of working within and disrupting the grid?

ML: My process of working is additive. I make a substrate by hand, machine weaving, and heat fusing multiple interwoven parts. The piece may stop there, or it is stitched over multiple times until the fabric bulges and puckers. The woven grid (weave pattern) has a structural purpose; it functions as a systematic base to literally build up on. With overlaid stitching, I can record the movements of my hands and use the natural puckering of the cloth to add dimensional and compositional elements. The landscape of the cloth grows outward into space.

My work is an abstract translation of my travels in my daily life. I reflect on my personal commuting, walking, and gathering of small physical objects within those transitory environments. The accumulated marks are what build up on top of the grid, sometimes acting as coordinates on a grid, or landmasses depicted on a “map.” Although the grid is hidden by multiple layers of stitched imagery, or occasionally exposed by cutting/abrasion, it  intact. In a similar way, my practice continues to focus on reflecting and logging my travels through drawing, adding to my personal collection of abstracted symbols related to memories of people/places. Symbols I use repeatedly and intuitively to understand my body’s relationship in space.


This interview was edited and commissioned by the 2016-2017 Charlotte Street Curator in Residence, Lynnette Miranda, in collaboration with Informality‘s for Issue 2: Digital Studio Visits and the exhibition  ¿Qué Pasa USA? at la Esquina Gallery (1000 West 25 Street KCMO) open from November 18, 2016 through January 7, 2017. This interview was originally published on http://collectivegap.info/