AN INTERVIEW WITH THE ARGENTINIAN ARTIST MARIELA AJRAS
SUSANNA ALLENDE | ARTICULATE #15 | APRIL 2018URBAN ART
Hi Mariela! We are very happy for having this opportunity to chat with you. Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I'm a painter/muralist and psychologist from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I'm a Leo and quite short for being a large-scale painter.
When and how did you get interested in art?
I remember vividly two episodes in my life that had a great effect on my love for the arts.
As a child, I used to visit my grandfather, he was a butcher.So, this involved me coming to his butcher's store every Sunday and spending hours there.
As you can imagine, this isn't the happiest place for a child to be.
There's dried blood on the floor, saws used for cutting meat and bone that makes the sharpest of noises, big fridges with cow corpses hanging inside and my sweetest grandfather, whose heart was made of sugar, but his apron covered in brown stains of blood, would come to greet me and hug me every now and then to make sure I was doing alright. Quite a scene. I had a safe place, though. A high chair by the cashier, where I would sit, away from the blood-covered floor and the raw meat. One day, my aunt (who is also a painter) brought me several books of history of art.
I remember very intensely diving into these books as if they would transport me into another scenery, one more pleasant than my surroundings at that time. Magritte´s floating apples, Van Gogh's desperate brushstrokes, deep blues and sunny yellows, Dali's delusional hyper-realistic perspectives, Remedios Varo's magical world, Picasso's symbolic language, etc. I'd say this moment had a great effect on me.
It introduced me to the beautiful act of contemplation and the possibility of art as another potential world.
A few years later, I was on a school trip and they took us to see a large exhibition by Salvador Dali. This was the first time such amount of artwork had come to Argentina. I remember feeling very excited and sort of in tune with the topic in hand, art. I already felt that it was my comfy place, since I had already started drawing a lot and was being noticed by adults who would encourage me and confirm my efforts with compliments and words of support. But It was all happening smoothly until I came across Dali's "Venus with open drawers" that I felt the stroke, the lightening hitting me in the head and melting my heart forever. I couldn't believe my eyes. This enormous woman with open drawers across her body, as if her secrets where revealed and also, a sense of a body being pierced by this energy represented in the drawers. But mostly, I was amazed by the scale: this powerful, imposing woman taking up all of my attention and spirit.
The following day, my mother took me to an art workshop, where I learned to sculpt with clay, draw, make puppets and paint. Been doing some of it ever since.
Where or how did you get your training?
I studied very early on with a teacher who taught me how to sculp at the age of 6 till adolescence. Then I started drawing on my own a lot as a teenager. And finally, I took up lesson with my master for many years, he taught me a lot about live model drawing, painting and mainly, the philosophy behind being an artist. How to develop the sense of contemplation, to conceive time differently, to read light, temperature, directions and also, the spiritual quest underneath every artistic attempt, which I always need to remind myself when things get too hectic or demanding). In 2010, I took a course on muralism and learned how to produce images in a larger scale. After that, I just started painting as much as I could, around my city and in other countries. Most of my training is self-taught since I went to university but to study Psychology which took up many years until graduation, where I had more free time to paint. As the years go by, I understand more and more how these two aspects of myself are intertwined, since I draw a lot of my inspiration from topics that had my attention as a psychology student and practitioner: Love, memory, oblivion, social commands, gender role, feminism and the great question of self-awareness.
How would you define your art?
That's a difficult question.... I know by now that definitely I use art to as a way of trying to find answers to questions I have at the moment. So, I engage in the act of creating but mostly because I need to know, as a way of research...eventually, I come up with no answers, but instead, more questions, but I guess I find solace in using energy that could be only in mind and body (like sadness or happiness) take it and put it in motion, in production.
I am very interested in the question about femininity, time, memory. I try to work around topics that I feel concerned with at the time, especially if I'm painting a mural, if I have the chance, I find it very relevant to talk with the people from the community around, to see what issues are on the table and try to interpret them in a visual code. I paint mostly portraits and figurative matters.
What inspires you?
People, light, old photography, my friends, cinema, books, the ocean, a good meal, wine, facial features (I’m obsessed with noses), music, a memory, love but mostly heartbreak, color, a good chunk of oil paint on a canvas, painting, books, Sorolla, Jenny Saville, Lucian Freud, the smell of fresh bread and soaked soil, summer, anything that would trigger some sense of fantasy for a second... very random shit, really.
Do you include some kind of symbolism in your work?
I guess I've been really interested lately in image distortion as a way of producing visual metaphors for my ideas about memory, time, struggles when the context is against you and your self-realization. This could be interpreted as a sort of symbolism, but I'm not sure.
Why do you think street art is important?
Let's see...Important I think is to legalize abortion, women's equality, same sex marriage, to stop gender violence, to encourage equal distribution of wealth, to problematize :the concept of "third world countries", refugees and immigrations issues, corruption, global warming, war, child hunger, diseases spread on purpose, poisoned crops and polluted oceans, unhealthy eating habits forced by multinational companies to make everyone ill, the deliberate production of ignorant societies which subjugate to speeches of power, numbness, indifference, intolerance, isolation, issues that are important to think, talk and act on about.
So, where is street art in all of this? I think street art can be a tool to allow a way of expressing, protesting, manifesting, complaining and claiming about the matters that are taking place at the moment, a way to address. But maybe, in a different way. Art introduces a different code in which we can process information. It introduces an aesthetically dimension in our everyday scenery, in a more sensitive code, less rational. A disposition towards contemplation which, hopefully can allow the production of a new and different kind of thought, one inclined to finding new solutions or at least smoothing our everyday strains. Art is supposed to help us feel and think from another perspective. That's why, street art can be such a powerful tool when used as a trigger for new thoughts, new meanings. There's a very thin line between this and decoration. Decoration devoid the tool of its potential, in my opinion. The encounter with a massive piece of work in the open that affects you and invites to feel and to contemplate differently, at least for a brief second, away from advertisement commands and social orders.
An imaginative, colorful, touching image to view the world from another point, and in the end, finding a new, better place inside yourself, when engaging with the piece of art. Art is a tool for self-discovery. But, also, I wouldn't underestimate the social effect of it. I've seen it. People gathering and sharing in a non-defensive manner. Joined in the act of contemplation and inquiring, in a same common ground, feeling called by a piece so much that they need to ask, conversate to each other, eventually claim ownership over it because it is in their neighborhood.
These kinds of events are powerful because we, contemporary humans, lack the experience of being in groups, in real ones, not virtual (you are masters at "virtual grouping") the real experience of uniting with a neighbor in peace, of inhabiting and claiming the public spaces, chatting, sharing, bonding all set by the emotional disposition that the mural may have triggered. SO, in that sense I guess art as a tool is useful, but I don't think it is important.
Do you think artists have the responsibility to be moral? Political? Socially engaged?
I don't know about moral, because this concept makes me think about what is good and bad, which is always hard to define in art. I prefer to think that artist are demanded to be ethical. The other options would be great.
Do you think artists have the responsibility to explain or contextualize their art?
I guess the notion of responsibility involves a dimension of self-implication, a conscious act, deliberately executed. I don't know whether this always happens when making art. Sometimes production is fueled out of a necessity of outpouring which doesn't necessarily implies a fully responsible action or premeditation. (i'm not saying that artists are this embodied geniuses that channel an inner source of creativity and can't help themselves) I mean that sometimes the meaning of their work comes later, in retrospective. Also, I think that the meaning of a piece acquires it fullness when being seen by others, who complete the meaning.
What are you thoughts on social media? Do you think it helps or hurts artists today?
Generally, I'm very into technology improvements, I find it fascinating. IS social media something of this sort?
I guess it was in the beginning. I admit that I love the possibility of being able to know and see other people's work from around the globe and having the possibility of them seeing mine. But these mediums have also stablished a behaviour: we become consumers of images, of self reflections, of narcissism, portraying unnecessary things and missing the line to where the limit is. I don't even know myself. I think that this is still in motion, it is hard to analyze a scene when being absorbed by it. So I can't really say anything about it without acknowledging my own consumption. Having cleared that out, I can talk about how it makes me feel. though massive communication and social media is supposed to expand our boundaries, the experience I end up having is one of confinement. I feel narrowed, absorbed in my mind, hours on social media, chatting, but not using my voice, looking but not into anyone, I feel anxious and encapsulated. So, I stop. I realize that this cannot be a natural state of being, this feels nothing like the broad openness I feel when being outdoors, in nature, looking at the ocean. having a stronger feeling of how big the world is and just how by traveling, I can access it. So, I think social media has created a community of hyper-communication, and for that it is very remarkable. Now, its effects on our everyday experiences can be detrimental.
There is some discussion going on about the nature of street art? Do you think it should be ephemeral or not?
I don't really know. I guess that painting in a city that is not yours always demands the exercise of letting go. You sort of donate this piece to the place and maybe never return. Painting in the streets incites you to detach. Every work is ephemeral in a way. I accept that the scene moves and fluctuates and it is transformed, so things have to be renewed, even if we insist on believing that art will help us transcend the inevitable. nothing really last forever.
Are there any role models or artists who inspire you and what for?
I feel very inspired by my colleagues and friends. By their ground breaking perspectives pushing the limits of art-technology. By my girlfriend artists who raise their voices and female artist in general by artist who are humbling and desperately honest (like Sophie Calle), this inspires me tremendously.
Do you think women are changing the status quo of street art which is kind of still a boy’s club?
Definitely. The problem resides when that status quo is naturalized and not acknowledged. When Festivals are organized with only men or most men and only a politically correct amount of women in the line up or non at all.
Women streetart artists have to work twice as hard (not to mention "third world" women streetartists, amount some minorities in that description, why don't you..). It's hard to explain that to someone who is in a place of priviledge and doesn't want to give it up. Those people don't think that there's inequality, and blame it on meritocracy. I think women painters are way better than men in most cases, they just don't get as many chances. Statics back me on this. How awesome would it be if men claimed for equality when being called for events, complaining that there are not enough women? I'm always very amazed by how we women are always asked to talk about the injustice waved on ourselves and the question is never pointed to those who actually perpetuate this unbalance.
Is there a special place where you would like to paint? Why?
I'd love to Paint in Japan, Indonesia, in India, Australia, NZ, and back in the places where I have already been. Anywhere, really. Sometimes I would really like to visit Syria, since my ancestors come from there. But It's always a very difficult place to go to...
Do you have other passions apart from art?
I'm really into astrology now and some tarot. Postmodern Philosophy (Deleuze and Guattari), psychoanalysis. I play some guitar and like to sing. I like producing projects and really love teaching. Before fully committing to art, I used to teach English and also I co-cordinate a psychodrama course in the University of Buenos Aires.
What’s next for you? What are your creative plans for the future?
Traveling and painting, always! I'm traveling to the US this summer, probably back to Mexico for a while and return to Argentina for another projects. Teaching and studying with some masters that I really admire. Painting and sculping.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Thank you for this space and making me think deeply through these questions
The interview expands the article on Mariela Ajras, featured in our magazine ARTICULATE #15.
Check out the full release here below.