The Transfiguration Interview: 7 Artists on Body Dysmorphia, Social Values, Space & Memoir

Undercurrent Projects
Feb 16, 2019 10:01PM

From shared vulnerability to respectful spaces, Dawn Okoro, Meryl Meisler, Joanne Leah, Fatoumata Diabaté, Nichole Washington, Irina Tsypilova, Tana Torrent share their views on art, inspiration, and creative community.

7 Questions

Instructions > Answer at least 5 of 7.

#1. Without talking about process or using art words, what is your work about?

Joanne: A moment of shared vulnerability exploring body dysmorphia.

Fatoumata Diabaté: Mon travail consiste à faire le rétro sur le passé qui témoigne des valeurs sociales. // Translation: My job is to take a retrospective look at a past that reveals social values.

Meryl: For me, photography is a form of memoir. I usually photograph where I am going (rather than going somewhere to photograph) as well as the people important in my life.

Dawn: My work is about my lived experiences.

Tana: Emotional expressions, highs and lows, so far. A way to articulate my personal experience as well as to decipher the complexities of the (my) emotional spectrum. Particularly femininity.

Irina: My work is a feeling of life. My emotions, sensations and feelings in pictures for other people. But their feelings are also in my paintings…

Nichole: I create a unique space where women are respected, loved and protected.

#2. Same rules as #1. Without talking about process or art words, what unique thing was going through your mind as you were creating your latest work or series?

Irina: Incredible combinations of things can help create a new explosion of feelings. A hot heart inside and a glass ball in the head, a volume velvet chair and a graphic crown. I like unusual combinations! Together they live a new life.

Meryl: I look for moments that seem very typical or are something I’ve never seen before. I have to trust my instincts.

Joanne: The contradiction of sensation and detachment.

Fatoumata Diabaté: Ce qui me pousse dans mes créations est surtout quand l'inspiration me dépasse, j'adore ce moment qui me permet d'aller au delà de mes émotions. // Translation: What drives me in my creations is when the inspiration exceeds me, I love that moment that allows me to go beyond my emotions.

Dawn: I tell a stories through a person’s pose and fashion. I try to draw people in with how I use color.

Nichole: Processing emotion, politics, nature. I think of a lot of things while creating art. It is a meditative practice.

Tana: My latest piece was observing the conditioned [depictions] of women in art history. As a personal expression what do I represent in my work as an artist or ‘female artist’ was for me a unique internal conversation.

#3. Influences that are not artists?

Nichole: New York City streets, outspoken women, the woods near my home…

Joanne: Carl Jung, the 70s

Tana: Other than the environment, New York and the world around us. Life experiences …

Meryl: You are what you see and do. “Hashkiveinuh”– may we do in the day deeds that help us be able to lie down in peace at night and be granted the gift to return to life the following day with hope.

Irina: Everything connected with human life affects art. Bad and good, disgusting and sweet ... Even if we think that some influences are not for the artist, they still leave an imprint in art.

Dawn: I am influenced by fashion and fashion photography.

#4. What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said about your work?

Dawn: The worst thing anyone said about my work is that it is just “legs.”

Joanne: A gentleman said in front a group of people at a curator talk that my work is not art at all, only imitating art.

Meryl: Someone once said a portrait I did of my mother holding a newspaper with the headline “A Scholarly View Of the Jewish Mother” was anti-Semitic and wanted it censored from an exhibit. My mother Sylvia (Sunny) Schulman Meisler (z’’l) and I were (eternally are) very close, sharing a loving mother/daughter/best friend relationship. Both of us were/are proud to be Jewish and loved that photo. I stood my ground. The photo was not censored. Still, to be told the portrait was anti-Semitic was hurtful, to me.

Tana: So far I haven’t had or taken anything badly, that I know of.

Irina: No one has told me anything bad about my work yet. I hope they will not.

#5. Ok, now let’s talk about your process. What are you really, really good at?

Meryl: I am good at seeing and capturing the joyful dichotomies of everyday life.

Nichole: I feel that I understand design and color well.

Tana: I’ve been complimented on my colours and form balance..

Joanne: Using color and texture.

Dawn: I have good draftsmanship and sense of color.

Irina: My process is a game. A game with stains, shapes and layers. Thousands of attempts ... Sometimes I start working on one project, and in the end I get a completely different one. The one I'm ready to stop at. But first I have an idea.“

#6. What’s your idea of an artistic community?

Dawn: An artistic community is one that supports and uplifts its artists.

Irina: Communication of people with creative thinking. Collaboration of ideas in one union.

Meryl: Artistic communities help one another by sharing information, opportunities and supporting one another’s individual goals and collaborative projects.

Nichole: Collaboration, critique, sharing and support.

Tana: Shared resources and an open non-biased place to discuss cultural and emotional ‘conversation.’

Joanne: Mutual support and respect.

#7. Pick a word or combination: hope, utopia, cynicism, dystopia. Explain.

Joanne: Utopia/Dystopia. I chose this word combination because they are beautiful opposites of perception.

Tana: I totally agree with Joanne, the tensions of nuance is a great place to grow, a safe balanced position placed between the utopian dream and dystopian nightmare. Hot and cold/red and blue. The bang in the middle is where the magic happens.

Meryl: Hope is a reason to go on and keep trying despite setbacks. Utopia is an idyllic imaginary state. Cynicism clouds the ability to recognize hope. Dystopia is the state of giving up on hope.

Nichole: It is important to keep hope in your heart as a practicing and working artist but I feel it is more important to have confidence and courage. It is important to have confidence in your work and the courage to work hard as well as showing your work to the world.

Irina: Hope is a positively colored emotion. It is inherent in the heart of man, is associated with his faith and love and is a sign of his spiritual health.

Undercurrent Projects