Interview with Anna Parisi
Can you talk a bit about your background and where you’re from?
My name is Anna Parisi. I was born in Bahia and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I hold a BFA in communications with emphasis in filmmaking from Pontifícia Universidade Católica (PUC-Rio), an MA in Strategic Design from Escola Superior de Propaganda e Marketing (ESPM-RJ) and an MFA in Fine Arts from Parsons The New School of Design in New York City, where I graduated with honors on May 2018. Before moving to New York to attend graduate school, I worked with advertising for a few years creating compelling innovation strategies for major brands like Coca-Cola, Natura, and L’Oréal.
Can you tell us a bit about your practice?
Despite predominantly making sculptures and performances, my artistic practice involves a range of mediums and approaches, including video, collage, photography, poetry, and socially engaged art. I do not constrain my production to a specific medium or field. Instead, I work across the boundaries of areas and materials with a committed focus on making artworks that are critically attuned to the political and socio-cultural contexts. My ideas are nurtured by questions that address the traumatic violence against black, female-coded, and historically oppressed bodies by insisting on creating art that opposes structural violence and oppression and questions patriarchal, heteronormative, and racial hegemonies. I am utterly interested in promoting dialogue within African Diasporas and among people of different backgrounds and ethnicities. Being adopted and raised in a white environment put me on a long path to unpacking the significance of my experiences as a queer woman of color. It challenged me to review my memories of my upbringing critically. This ongoing process is disassembled continuously through the study and inquiry of crucial works of critical theory. In particular, my research is both nurtured and guided by post-colonial scholarship. I find solace in the works of Frantz Fanon, bell hooks, Paulo Freire, James Baldwin, amongst many other authors whose works have resonated deeply with my artistic practice.
Raízes (Roots), 2018, iron flywheel, magnifying lenses, hand engraved and polished steel plaques, and rust.
Would you say you had a traditional or untraditional route into the arts?
Both. I do not have a traditional art school degree, as many of my fellow contemporary artists do. My undergraduate studies included literature and design before I focused on communications with an emphasis in filmmaking. I have always been drawn to the power of images and their capacity to compel its viewers. Since I can remember, I attended museums and art exhibitions. I made collages that I kept in leather-bound notebooks. I wrote poetry. My school in Brazil had a curriculum that stimulated art-making. I sang, learned to play instruments, write and read music in school, learned dark-room photography and ceramics while navigating middle and high school. I feel very privileged and grateful for having those opportunities at such an early age. As soon as I graduated from high school, I hustled to be selected for public programs at the prestigious public institution Escola de Artes Visuais do Rio de Janeiro (EAV Parque Lage). I took as many art classes as possible, despite not knowing yet that it would become a strict practice. I was mentored under by the creative thinker/artist critic Charles Watson, attending study groups in his studio. I believe that the arts have always been present in my life, one way or another. My father played violin as a child and teenager, my mother was always drawn to drawing and literature - we still found space for theatre, exhibitions, and reading. So, even though I did not formally study art until graduate school, these images, references, and ideas around art-making and practice were always lurking within me.
What do you appreciate about the art world?
The artworld is loaded with complexities, both good and bad. It has its rules of etiquette, mannerisms, and also mirrors many problematic aspects of society. But we cannot forget that it only exists because there are people that come together to make it exist. Within this cast of characters that navigate the art world, you’ll find many types of people that bring the art world’s many facades to life. This is a difficult question because each artist or person experiences the art world from their own perspective. It is an experience that changes from person to person and depends on personal background, political views, notions of ethics, motivations, and expectations. I appreciate that the art world is so plural and convoluted at the same time. I appreciate the way in which the art world pushes me to think critically and question how it operates. It allows me space to ponder about who is seen and who is erased, what is the value of aesthetics versus politically/socially engaged art, high art versus outsider art. It unveils itself rather harshly, and I appreciate its bluntness.
Raízes (Roots), 2018, iron flywheel, magnifying lenses, hand engraved and polished steel plaques, and rust.
Conversely, what frustrates you about it?
Historically, the art world is a place for the elite, the bourgeoisie. The artist, many times, is seen as a god or creative genius. It is a tough place to navigate if you lie on the outskirts. Snobbish attitudes pop into the scene in this locus of social interaction. Many times the art world makes me uncomfortable, but one has to deal with those feelings. I wouldn’t say that I appreciate these aspects of the art world, but as an artist, I have to live through them and analyze these situations with the due criticality required. I believe in the immense power of art, - as a catalyst for cultural, social, and political change. So I focus on that. I try not to get myself distracted or parched from the interactions and demands of the competitive art world.
What processes have you developed in your years as an artist?
I think that the process that I have developed the most in my years as an artist is writing. I write to think. I write to remember. I write to reflect on what I should do, and how I could respond to what the world around me is demanding. I write to plan out sculptures, performances, collages, videos. I write through doodles and intricate drawings with measurements. I write through etymological research of words. I write poetry. I write my feelings. I write essays. I write to loved ones and to those I detest. Writing is assimilating language and transforming language into materiality. Many artists draw. I write. Words are my line and trace.
Eu não vou sambar, 2017, steel, wood, and rust, 36in x 25in
What do you listen to when you work?
Oh, this is a great question! There are many things I listen to when I am working. They shift and change depending on what I am working on. I do have the habit of first meditating before starting my work in the studio. So I guess that is the first thing I listen to, usually Tara Brach or a quick session out of my Headspace app. The second thing I listen to is The Daily and NPR, and the Brazilian podcasts Café da Manhã and Foro de Teresina. Listening to the news is a crucial part of my practice, that is where I begin my thinking process, and when ideas sprout and bubble. It’s funny that I meditate first and then get riled up with politics! I guess I should consider inverting the order of this! Anyways…when this is all over, I get to work. I listen to a lot of Ludovico Einaudi, Sigur Rós, and classical music when I am working. Brazilian rap feeds my thoughts on Brazilian politics, but I only listen to it when I am working on something that does not demand much attention. When I write, I need to listen to classical music or jazz even. And I also go crazy sometimes and listen to the same song over and over. It gets me in this trance and very focused flow. Yeah, music is essential.
What would you say has been your top experience in your art career?
My top experience? Oh gosh, that is so specific! Well, I’d have to say that it was earlier this year. My sculpture ‘Raízes (Roots)’ was selected to be part of the Everywoman Biennial and was installed at the center of the La Galleria La Mama here in New York. This exhibition had over 600 artworks, and the opening was absolutely packed with artists, curators, etc. There was a moment in the middle of this whole mess when this little 4-year-old African American kid crouched on the floor and observed my sculpture attentively. He literally did that for a solid ten minutes. After that, he stood up and hugged his mother’s leg. His mother noticed that I was observing and asked me if I was the artist. She then told him to come, say ‘hi’ to me. He did. After greeting me, he told me he really liked my sculpture, and it was very pretty. I guess that made my day. Having walkthroughs, being in panels, getting awards, it all doesn’t matter if the work isn’t compelling to your audience. Kids are always honest and curious. I appreciate this innocence and drive that they have. My work is definitely not targeted for a younger audience, but if I can spark their interest, WOW! Yes! I am all for it.
What is your dream project?
World peace! Ha! I am kidding. My dream project is a sculptural installation that fills up a whole gallery. It is intricate. It is layered and complex. It makes you question where you’re at, where we all are at. It does not shy away from addressing the elephants in the room. It is feisty and makes you ponder. It speaks with many voices from different African Diasporas. It is loud. It is discrete. It is present. My dream project is queer, it is black, it is feminine. My dream project allows space for contemplation.
Untitled, 2015, rice paper, archival images, machine typewriter texts, and photographs
What do you feel is integral to the work of an artist?
The work of an artist is to reflect the times. Period. Artists are antennas tuned in with what tickles their curiosity and sensibility. They are catalysts that evoke and provoke change in thought. They must reflect the times. The artist has a responsibility to do so, and I believe in that so much. The artist has a responsibility to be critical, ethical, and to address political, cultural, and social issues. If not, why do it at all?
What’s the best piece of artistic advice you’ve been given?
Fail. Allow yourself to fail. Over and over. Allow yourself to make mistakes. To try new materials, new ideas, new dimensions, and scales, new colors, new techniques. You will never master them all, but they will lead you somewhere new. The work needs to have the freedom to go where it wants to go - when you allow yourself to try new ideas and make them collide with new techniques, the work starts to breathe and grow. This curiosity is what I always seek, this openness to novelty. It is hard to not judge your own process and work with criticality, but it is crucial to let go of that and fail. Harder and better every time.
You can see more of Anna's work on her website