Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University. This Friday’s #ArtCrush is Abigail, a photography student in thesis.
In this series, Abigail and Morgan talk about using symbolism and allegories in photography, examining your cultural identities and using text and images simultaneously.
Who or what are your main photographic inspirations?
A lot of my photographic inspirations aren’t even photographic, but artists I’m inspired by right now are María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Adriana Varejão, and Anna Bella Geiger. But I mostly get inspiration from reading—translating ideas, theory, literature, poetry, into a visual language and expressing it in my own way. The process of image making is almost like writing for me (and writing like image-making). I like reading Caribbean authors / theorists and Spanish poetry. Also a sense of sensuality, like that found in the natural world or in music.
What subject matter do you tend to spend the most time working on?
Immigration, family, language, sensuality, girlhood, fruits, spirituality, soccer, history (memory), the Caribbean, land, maps, creolization, colonialism.
It’s common that you use text and images together. What is your process of deciding how to incorporate text into/ on to your images?
Usually the text and images follow a common theme, or maybe a common feeling towards subtly communicating an idea. So one example is that I made a book that was like pieces of a movie, with images, captions, and “poems” written in script format. I guess the way I mix text and image together has to do with affect, I kind of work more intuitively.
What body of work are you working on right now?
I’m working on my thesis right now and a few side projects have been born from that. I’ve been playing with abstracting video stills of Carnival focusing on notions of double performance, masking, rhythm and Caribbean codes inspired by Antonio Benítez-Rojo’s theories in The Repeating Island and music (calypso, cumbia, samba, mapale, lavways), it’s fun sometimes I dance when I make them.
You use a lot of symbolism and metaphors in your work, for instance the works with fruits cut open, or flower petals creased or held together. What is this process of using symbols that have a meaning to you culturally or personally and how does that translate to audiences?
I use symbols, allegories, and metaphors because I like implying rather than telling, creating a feeling to express meaning. I guess it’s in the way of seeing or looking that you’re able to create these indicators or signifiers. Cultural symbolism can sometimes go unseen, it can be frustrating but especially in my thesis I’ve learned to embrace and play with that to express certain ideas, like about what is seen and unseen, what is considered center and what is considered periphery—and why.
In your thesis work, your images have a dream like quality to them. As if we are looking in on your internal thoughts and trying to decode the symbols of aesthetics or collages. Can you speak to this process of manipulation in your images?
‘Dreamlike’ is interesting because there’s a tradition of magic-realism and fabulism in the Caribbean. I’ve tried to create allegory-landscapes that act as embodiments of Internality masquerading as Externality but instead of being about me, it’s about Caribbeanness. The processes of visual manipulation are inspired by the cultural manipulation found in creolization, such as: plurality, fluidity, openness, secrecy, ambiguity, multiplicity, multivocality, multi-layering, transition, transformation, mimicry, doubling, carnivalization, diffraction, recomposition—it’s a long list. Basically it started with wandering through Trinidad, experimenting with a piece of glass / prism in front of my lens.
While you use a lot of text in your work, there are also multiple projects that use old images and reconsider them in another light by collaging, composition or adding/subtracting from the image itself. How does this reconsider the original quality and purpose of the images?
The old images I use are of my family, so the compositions I make from them I call altars (or I add gold and call them saints). I always mention the images of my family as feeling filled with light or “breathing light like votive candles”. So when I make these new compositions I guess it’s about revealing something I see within the images, and of course the objects I use in the collages also add meaning (so like in one series alongside images of my family I used fruits / herbs from West Indian grocery stores that have healing properties).
How do you think your practice has grown over the course of your time at OCADU?
It’s kind of just grown naturally with me but also has become more informed as I’ve learned more in studio and lecture classes. I’ve gotten better and expressing and articulating my ideas visually. I’ve developed my own style because of those things.
Is there anyone who you would like to work with in the future?
Yeah! I would like to work with other emerging artists or people who have ideas of doing things differently. Of course it would also be nice to work with other Caribbean artists.
Are there any specific OCAD U Faculty who have influenced your work? A specific discipline or course?
Dot Tuer is so intelligent, she teaches art and history very critically and insightfully, things she’s said in lecture have stayed with me, she has so much knowledge and wild stories. Simon Glass and Nick Pye have always been encouraging and challenging, they always have lots of insightful ideas and feedback. The photo techs at the cage are great too, they’re so smart and friendly!!
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in photography?
For me when I was starting to pursue my interest in photography (pre-university) people made it seem really stale and clinical (like the inside of a Henry’s), as if there are certain guidelines and rules that you need to follow—or equipment you need to buy if you want to take a “good” photograph. That doesn’t really encourage creativity, or like, basic enjoyment—it represses it. So I think you should find your influences and interests, follow anything you’re curious about, question conventions, experiment, be open, play around, do your own research, take note of the things that leave impressions on you and think about why. Develop your own “language”, musicality, poetics, and way of seeing.
You can see Abigail’s work on their instagram, and at OCADU’s GradEx from May 3-6, 2018!
Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University.
Interview by Morgan Sears-Williams
About the writer: Morgan is a photo alumni and runs the Friday #ArtCrush series on the OCAD U Photography Blog. She loves speaking to other artists about social justice, how to break barriers within artist communities and nurturing the arts in alternative non-institutional spaces. She is the Art Co-ordinator for The RUDE Collective, and has done workshops on intersectionality and allyship relating to LGBTQ folks. To see more, you can visit her website or her instagram.