Editor’s note: Kayla Merriweather, the Colby Museum’s Summer 2021 Black Family Curatorial Intern, interviews artist Veronica Perez, Lunder Institute for American Art Resident Fellow.
- Your work often utilizes hair. When we visited your studio, you talked about hair as both beautiful and repulsive. What inspired you to incorporate hair into your work?
Hair is such an amazing material. I began using it in grad school when I was looking for a material to allude to the body without having a physical body or body part in the sculpture. At the time, I was working with a lot of construction materials—mortar, wood, bricks—when a studio mate of mine gave me a bag of hair. This was a transitional moment in my practice because this one simple material holds a multitude of emotions and experiences while still being an intimate part of one’s life. Hair is so expansive and restrictive, personal and universal that when I use it in my work, the meaning and emotions deepen.
- Your art has been described as kitschy. What does this term mean to you? What is the significance of using kitschy materials?
When I talk about kitsch within the context of my work it’s usually referencing the perceived low quality of the materials but the sentimental value they hold for me. I was especially drawn to Arte Povera artists who hybridized, in the words of critic Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the “natural with the artificial and the urban with the rural, Mediterranean life with Western modernity.” They brought in the kitsch, the banal, and the middle-class to the discussion of art. The materials that these artists were using, such as lettuce, horses, breath (breathing), and other “nonart” mediums like construction materials, opened a window into this new way of working. They opened up a spectrum as to what art could be. Material usage exploded and the subsequent meaning of the banal shifted. Arte Povera artists were amplifying and augmenting ideas of beauty, while turning away from formalism in “high” forms of art. This is what interested me in kitsch—how these so-called banal objects could hold such importance—or some—and I wanted to elevate these materials through my practice.
- How do you handle criticism when creating art about Latinx and feminist issues? How do you protect your mental health when sharing work that pertains to your personal experiences and identities?
The intersection of work and life for me is nonexistent: everything that is in my art is in my life in one way, shape, or form. And that does lead to criticism—fortunately, I haven’t had to defend myself recently, because the people and community I surround myself with are full of care, concern, and folx who want to uplift you. The work and community are engaged in restoring and repairing harms instead of creating them.
This wasn’t the case when I was in grad school, though. That was the place where I began looking into feminist and Latinx theories—this was both an expansive and restrictive time. I was torn down multiple times when exploring and contextualizing my work through those two theories and it was very difficult because there was work I wanted and needed to make but was unable to because of lack of support, understanding, and leadership. I feel it necessary, though, to talk about because it’s about finding your community and dismantling those systems of white supremacy set in place in certain institutions. That’s what helped me to push through those hard and dark moments. My family—specifically my partner, Chris, and small child, Pen—are a huge source of my confidence and support as well.
- Some of your projects such as historical silencing and undercurrents were accompanied by poems. What role does poetry play in your work?
This is a recent development in my work—the addition of writing and poetry. I used to title all of my works “Untitled” and the work fell flat because the full emotionality and understanding of the work could not be felt. This past year, during the pandemic, I got really into writing short statements or poetic excerpts for my works—which helped deepen the understanding and experience for each piece. Here is a short piece of writing that I am working on in conjunction with new sculptures I’ve been creating:
5. What do you wish you had known as a young artist?
Make work that makes you content, find a community that you can be your true self around, find a mentor, ask for what you need, and speak up when you need to. And be kind.
Veronica Perez is a multidisciplinary artist living in Maine. Utilizing hair as well as kitschy and other unconventional materials in her sculptural works, she creates intense personal moments by means of material hybridization and ideals of beauty. Material fragility echoes sentiments of a lost self and at the same time comments on contemporary Latinx and feminist issues. Recently, she has been working at the intersection of identity, vulnerability, protection, and power through the facade of dark absurdity using materials such as sugar, fake hair, chain-link fences, and fake sunflowers. In 2020 she was awarded the Ellis-Beauregard Fellowship in the Visual Arts, and in 2021 she was a resident at the Black Seed Studio in Portland, Maine, as a part of the Indigo Arts Alliance David C. Driskell Fellowship.