Interview with an Artist-Performance, Painting, and Perception
Why is it accepted for a woman to be stupid as long as she’s beautiful?”
“Why can women be objects of desire in advertising but shunned if they seek contraception for casual love affairs?”
“Why must women choose between a family and a career when men don’t have to?”
These are the questions that Ana Teresa Fernedez paints.
I first met the Mexican born artist at a cocktail reception for those who believed in ‘evolutionary thought’ concepts. However, for Ana Teresa, evolutionary thought grows stale without action. With both her body and her brush she paints different realities that make us question and change. She once took on the menacing black fence that separates the Mexican border in Tijuana from San Diego. Armed with a spray paint gun and a shot of courage, she climbed a ladder in a dress and high heels to paint the border bars a powder blue that imitated the ocean and sky. Not only did she display her strength as a woman, she also conveyed a possibility of erasing borders.
After a few email and poetry exchanges we decided to meet again to discuss redefinition.
As we sat down under the shade trees in an outdoor café, the dark haired artist told me about her childhood in Mexico. “I spent hours creating art ever since I was little,” she said. “Family members would just keep putting things in my hands.” Her inquisitive long fingers would take the paints, charcoals, and Chinese pens to communicate the visions from her soul. Art was her outlet for expression. Ana Teresa didn’t know it would become her career.
“I was only a mediocre student,” she confided. “I actually failed ceramics class in high school. I didn’t follow the instructions-I just did what I wanted!”
Eager to ‘do what she wanted’ and explore a new life, Ana Teresa crossed the US border to enroll in a community college in San Diego. She thought she would get a degree in language and only took a sculpture class ‘for fun.’ The San Francisco Art Institute came to visit the school, saw her sculptures, and immediately asked for a portfolio.
Ana Teresa asked, “Portfolio? What’s that?”
At her teacher’s urging to showcase more of her art, she promptly ran home, took photos of drawings she had created over her life, developed the images in a 60 minute photo shop and gave her offering to the Art Institute reps.
“My ‘portfolio’ was a series of random photographs in a plastic bag,” she laughed.
Ana Teresa didn’t have a glossy cover like the other students, but she was offered a scholarship to the San Francisco Art Institute on the spot.
Now her work has been featured all over the world. “Social media has helped that,” she said. “When you have individual people sharing links and images it democratizes the arts a bit. Someone told me that they saw one of my paintings in a French journal!”
The Art of Gender Politics: ¿Por qué?
Growing up in conservative Mexico made Ana Teresa acutely aware of traditional gender roles. The men were the breadwinners and had advanced degrees, while the women like her mother were not allowed to go to college.
“I started questioning the power dynamics. Why were men more educated with higher positions? Why didn’t more women speak up?”
Ana Teresa felt that many women had a thwarted sense of their selves, never fully exploring the depths of their intellect and sexuality.
Ana Teresa, however, wanted to explore every square inch of herself. “I battled against preconceived notions of what I *should* do!”
At the Art Institute Ana Teresa was encouraged to explore her thoughts through art. “Don’t be cliché….think of something new,” one of her teachers encouraged her.
“So I put on a black cocktail dress and started sweeping while my roommate took photographs.” This was the beginning of Ana Teresa’s demonstrations on gender politics. Since then Ana Teresa created images of herself dancing with bed sheets, provocatively straddling ironing boards, and writhing across floorboards. She forces people to confront sexuality and power ‘head on’ hoping they further explore and question roles and borders. “I want people to ask ‘why’,” she said.
I asked if gender dynamics feel differently now that she is in the United States. She shook her head telling me that we were still playing in a man’s world. “You know, I prefer to dress like a tomboy so people will take my work seriously. When I wear a dress at exhibitions, the dynamic with men changes. There will always be the inappropriate man with the inappropriate comment. Things become skewed if I am seen as a woman.”
Hopefully with time that too will evolve.
Pasión y Dedicación
Ana Teresa’s ideas do not come to her overnight. “My ideas keep simmering. Just like cooking the best recipes take time! Five more minutes…or five more years!”
Even five more minutes can seem like an eternity for the impatient. In San Francisco, we live in a land of startups and get rich quick phenomena. “People want to do things too quickly.” Ana Teresa said.“For me it takes more time to digest and create and ask ‘why.”
For artists as well as many individuals it takes time to work through ideas, seek funding, gain relationships, and most importantly combat the naysayers. Sometimes doubt becomes overwhelming.
“Each negative is a coin of doubt into a self destructive piggy bank.“ She told me that she had to stop filling her bank with fleeting thoughts and look for long term lasting goals to work toward.
“It’s much easier to think about a project that is a year into the future so it doesn’t overwhelm us and we have the time to work toward it. One idea I had nine years ago isn’t coming to life until now!” she said.
Ana’s next project is at the Mexican consulate. At first she wasn’t sure what to create. She sat in the lobby expanse and watched the crowd funnel through a tall metal detector, being stripped, and interrogated. “It looked like a birth canal,” she told me. Ana Teresa saw the metal detector as a rite of passage and wanted to add a bit of warmth to the experience. She decided to decorate the metal detector in long lavish black feathers, reminiscent of a mink coat. “I wanted to cover them as opposed to strip them! The feathers add a bit of quirk and sensuality to something that is normally very cold.”
Ana Teresa will give thousands of people new experiences, making them touch, think, and question. Through her art she helps us all evolve.
“Feminism asks that women be free to define themselves — instead of having their identity defined for them, time and again, by their culture and their men.”
-Susan Faludi (American feminist and Writer, b.1959)