Artist Statement 2011
I divide my latest paintings and sculptures into three different series: Good Intentions, cultural bathing rituals, and narratives and movements in capoeira. The three series are united by themes of personal and cultural rituals and the process of reenacting (the reenactment of history is embedded in the action, or I stage a previous experience for the purpose of re-living/re-creating the past). All of the paintings are heavily inspired by the time I spent living in Italy.
The Good Intentions series is based on ironic gestures of generosity that I observed in public places in Italy. In Good Intentions #1 (O Holy Night), a group of carolers were giving a free Christmas concert in the middle of Florence's main piazza, but their singing was interrupted by the two directors (both dressed as Santa Claus) who became engaged in a heated verbal argument. The fighting Santas negated the Christmas spirit, leaving the crowd both confused and stunned over the spectacle.
In Good Intentions #2 (Mama Needs a New Pair O' Shoes), I saw a man throw a pair of strappy high-heeled shoes out the window of his fourth story residence to a gypsy. The gypsy looked happy to receive the shoes; however, in the midst of winter, and for someone who walks everywhere, the gift seemed a bit impractical. I wondered what the relationship was between the shoe-thrower and the gypsy, and if this gift was discussed before it was thrown out the window. The act of throwing the shoes out the window voided the altruism of the gesture.
Good Intentions #3 (The Calling) is inspired by a church in Naples that housed about 30 confession booths up and down the aisles. The confession booths were open, so you could see the priests' faces. In the midst of a woman giving confession, I saw a priest answer a phone call. I invented scenarios to imagine why this would happen. Was the priest making a call related to the woman's confession? Was it an emergency? But ultimately, from his body language and tone of voice, it appeared he was catching up with a friend. It seemed like a very ironic and comical gesture.
I had my family reenact such scenarios based on my descriptions, while I took photos and videos. It was wonderful and hilarious to see how they interpreted my stories and how they became invested in the identities of the characters. Since the work is based on sources from the reenactments as opposed to the initial experiences, I give clues about the fact that the images are in fact reenactments (i.e., repeating the same face over and over again or including the background of suburban Pennsylvania). The sculptures are the most recent work, which are meant to recreate the experiences in a tangible and physical way. They embody the spirit of the situation, presenting an odd scenario that seems slightly comical.
The next series is influenced by the Afro-Brazilian form of martial arts, capoeira. The paintings and sculptures are a result of my experiences training in the sport during my stay in Italy, and later in Brazil and Chicago. The act of capoeira itself is a form of reenactment, since it originated in Brazil as a type of conditioning by the slaves brought from Africa. Still in its contemporary form, the participants, or capoeiristas, sing lyrics that address the history of capoeira, and all of the movements and dances relate to the conditions of slavery, working in the fields, fishing, fighting, etc. The same things that attract me to art are what initially drew me to capoeira: the physicality, movement, story-telling, and intense observation of one's surroundings.
Finally, I did a series of paintings inspired by public, outdoor, sulphuric baths in Italy that are used for the curative properties of the waters. The fact that people still use these naturally occurring baths for healing purposes is again a sort of reenactment of history. The springs have been considered catalysts for healing ever since the Emperor Augustus recovered from an abscessed liver, in 23 BCE, crediting the mineral waters for his improved health. I was so intrigued by this tradition of bathing that I returned to Italy for nine months on a Fulbright Fellowship to travel to various baths and observe the culture around them.