MARIA FLEXA: USING ART AS A TOOL FOR SELF-AWARENESS

art artist women in art

I came across Maria's work in 2019, after a short trip to Rio de Janeiro. Her work triggered something different within me: a relatable strangeness that kept me wondering for the following months. Sensitive and introspective, Maria accepted my invitation to join COORATOR and to talk about her art and the legacy she wants to leave from this journey.

Lara Shin - 24.02.2021 


COORA
TOR: Tell us about you: who is Maria?
MARIA: I’m a Brazilian woman with Cuban roots, strong roots, and I can tell how my parents influenced a lot on who I am today. My father is a teacher and my mom an art-therapist. I was a very sensitive child with the need to express my feelings and my mom made this possible by guiding and supporting me since my early years. So I was always up to something, always creating and this is what makes me happy, makes me feel fulfilled.

COORATOR: How was the process to become an artist? 
MARIA: I always felt like an artist, it was just a matter of self-acceptance. Being an artist seemed something complicated and unattainable to me, this is one of the reasons why I chose design school, so that I could be in a creative field but have better chances of finding work. There, I met an illustration teacher who opened up my eyes and gave me support to pursue my dream to work as an artist. He challenged me, pushed me out of my comfort zone and eventually I started working in his studio as an assistant . It’s not that going to design school was irrelevant, but it was more of a transitional moment that led me to the art world. However, having the chance to work in the atelier Casa Voa (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) with other artists was a game changer in my education and I consider it the most enriching one. 

As an atelier assistant I would prepare canvases for Mateu, who back then was my teacher and is now my business partner. I gradually earned my space, produced my own work and took part in the classes offered by Casa Voa and other art institutions in Rio de Janeiro. Next, I started assisting in the management of the atelier and learned a lot about the art market by working with curators, art critics and artists coming from different realities and countries. This opportunity is still very enriching, to experience art from inside different ateliers and be in constant exchange with other creative minds. 

COORATOR: Do you believe that where you live and come from influences your art?
MARIA: Absolutely. Everything that I do has an influence on my artistic process. What I watch, what I eat and even my choice to learn more about gardening and plants. Everything is in synergy with my artistic research that has always been a form of self-awareness. No wonder I make so many self-portraits whenever I’m working with figurative painting. Coming from a family that values so much psychoanalysis, it’s very important and natural to me to do this – to use art as a tool to learn about myself. I firmly believe art is a very powerful way to understand ourselves as individuals. This fascinates me not only in my own process but also other artists who explore this topic in their works, especially women. 

COORATOR: Your works are often about women. Do you have a specific goal with your creations?
MARIA: I don’t really like the world “goal”, I get anxious just thinking about it. I prefer to think about purpose. I don’t have a goal; I’m not trying to reach a specific point. I think that if I wouldn’t be creating as I am, I would go crazy. I’m pretty sure about this. So, this is my way to keep sane, to keep taking care of myself and seeing who I really am. 

Nowadays we have the urge to be seen, our generation is obsessed with social media and my work is a reflection of it. As much as I try to keep distance from the online world, I need to use it to work so I want to be seen through my art, my painting, embroidery, drawings. My work is for myself, being fully honest, and I hope that my experience, the way I try to connect with myself can influence and inspire other people. But I don’t have a goal. I’m exploring and discovering, connecting dots and identifying things about myself that I can only do when practicing my art, taking risks without a plan. Being intuitive, paying attention to mundane things such as a leaf. I observe it, I observe the feelings it triggers on me. Its colors and shapes that can become a painting, a drawing, an embroidery. Like any interaction we have in the world and as a society, one thing can lead to the other and I do my best to keep aware of these connections and explore them in my works.

 

"Peixes nos Pés" Watercolor on paper, 30x42 cm and "Maria as 16h31"Pencil on cotton paper, 12x12 cm.
Both for sale here.

COORATOR: How would you describe your creative process?
MARIA: What I observe in my works and artistic research is a curiosity about the subconscious, a discourse on my own experience, a self-identification I would say, where I can reflect about the role of the female body in our society. The body that is considered feminine. Lately I’ve been exploring the idea of rottenness and its link to the female body and nature, with references to the sacred feminine, meditation and even Buddhism and how everything is cosmically interconnected. 

My work has a lot of feminist influences since I started studying more about it, about our cycles, the moon and our relationship with the Earth. This is a piece that was missing in my self-study. As I already mentioned, everything I do is a reflection of my personal journey, my experiences, distress, anxieties, shame, despair. Everything I feel works as fuel to create and I believe this is common between artists, to use our lives, our experience as humans to make art and this will be my legacy on Earth. Every painting, drawing and embroidery I make will be my footprint here and this is amazing because art is not always obvious, I don’t mean to leave a message but to create feelings as deep as I feel. 

Understanding my feelings hasn’t always been easy and that’s what I mean when I say that work and personal life are entangled. Sometimes, being so empathic, sensitive and emotive can be unbearable and art is the way I found to take some feelings out of my chest in order to breathe again. That’s what I meant when I said I think I would go crazy if it wasn’t for art and I’m extremely thankful for all the opportunities I had since my early years to do it, to be an artist and to translate my experience here with my work.

COORATOR: What is your biggest challenge as a (woman) artist?
MARIA: One of the biggest challenges I see as a woman artist is exactly this: to have a genderdized starting point. I feel that in many sexist groups and environments being a woman artist is still seen as something different or less relevant. But this is not only in the art world – how common it is for men authors to assume their own perspective and experience as universally applicable, but when a woman does the same her work is considered personal and just a point of view. Louise Bourgeois and other women anthropologists, historians and artists discuss the feminine psyche, and their research outcomes differ considerably from the commonly-held views described by Freud. 

That being said, what I believe to be one of the biggest challenges is for a woman to be taken seriously when researching about the self and not have her work taken as personal but as her right to take back the ownership of herself, her existence. This sort of art research has been done and acclaimed by men over and over again, it’s nothing new. But whenever a woman, a person of color or even any other person other than a white heterosexual man does this, it is seen as exception not the standard research. Because male have been for way too long the parameters for everything. I can only imagine how hard it is for people of color and other minorities to reclaim their space and voice. This is the challenge.

 

CLICK HERE FOR TO CHECK ALL MARIA'S ARTWORKS

    

"Regressar" Line on Canvas, 23x15cm
"Bolha" Acrylic paint on canvas, 30x40 cm.
"Anima" China Ink and 
gouache on paper, 42x30cm


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