My Artist Residency in Puebla, Part 5: Conclusion: Finding the Monsters
Thus far you've read about how my residency challenged me as an artist and as a person. I was pushed to be intentional about the colors I use. I was also forced to face the shadow in my art-making, which was controlling my paintings for the sake of beauty. All the while learning that my reasons for making art have bubbled up out of my own experience with anorexia and battling with a body that I hated.
This residency was absolutely challenging from an artistic perspective, but also from an emotional one. There's more about this in a fantastic interview with Francisco Guevara, my mentor at Arquetopia, on Hyperallergic. Read it here.
But one of the lessons shook me to my core.
My Artist Residency in Puebla, Part 5: Finding the Monsters.
I grew up in the Southern United States, so I'm quite familiar with racism, sexism, and homophobia, among other things. I've tried to distance myself from all things southern because, to me, the south drips with these hateful things. People paying thousands of dollars to get married on plantations that were once sites of slavery. Boys not coming out as gay until they get safely away to college. People calling me a dyke when I cut my hair short.
I know this doesn't characterize the entire south; but I've been running from it as soon as I got my license. But it wasn't until the election of Donald Trump in 2016 that my nice little white bubble was popped and I realized that it wasn't just the south that was so abhorrent. So I signed up for Arquetopia, an artist residency that was supposed to shake things up for me and inform me in a way that I was clearly ignorant.
I did not expect to learn about monsters.
A guest lecturer, Emmanuel, educated us about the Franciscans and their unimaginable effect on New Spain. Through Emmanuel's lectures I began to understand that people project their anxieties onto "the other," and that people must understand "the other" in order to use their technologies against them. Then, they reverse the process and make themselves out to be the victim. This is the use of people for a purpose.
Think about how that can apply to our world today - especially in the United States.
Utopia always needs a savage.
So how does that horrible fact relate to making art? Well, visual culture reinforces myths. In every step of the process there are challenges to tackle. Why do we choose one part of the story to tell and not the other? Why do we choose the colors, the composition, the figures? What do we think about while we create? What do we listen to? Read? All of these decisions hold weight, no matter how small.
There are certain benefits, of course, to what we ultimately choose. Making a painting for the sheer purpose of selling it, perhaps. Or a painting to make a statement. And THAT, the decisions that benefit me, THAT is where the monsters lie. I discussed the important concept of intention in another blog post here. Intention is linked to power.
I told Emmanuel that I didn't think I would ever be able to sleep again with all of that pressure. His reply?
It's paralyzing, and that's good. It's important to sit in and to feel.
In one my last blogposts I discussed how when we publish paintings (or blogs, FB posts, Tweets, honestly everything), it becomes a text. So the trick is getting our work to ask questions instead of making a statement. See, the work is never solid - it operates throughout time in different ways, it will mean something to different viewers. So the intention can never be solid. It's got to be a question.
How do we do that? I don't know. I'm still searching for that answer with my own work. But let's have a conversation about it. Think about this question that Emmanuel gave me:
How do you participate in the process of creating monsters in your work?
An example from me? When I first started to create paintings of women's bodies, I did so in order to express my own issues with my body. But I unintentionally made a statement about other women's bodies. I created a monster out of women, reducing them to their sexual parts without faces to be objectified.
So how do I take that back? How do I retract?
I can't. Instead, I have to move forward with the experience and the knowledge. Now that I know there are monsters in what I do, do I choose the monsters now? Do I strive against monsters?
These are questions that I don't have the answers to yet. This blog post raised more questions than it answered.