Laura Anderson Barbata’s work is awe-inspiring. It carries a magical element of wonder that excites the viewer and draws them into a surrealist world. Yet the work depicts more than a simple splendor, it carries a sincere connection to a process and history unique to each project. For Anderson, art is a catalyst for change in a community. It is through the scope of art, that problems can be solved, and awareness can be promoted. Working across dozens of mediums, it is the creative act that is so resounding, rather than the specific genre. Each piece of work is born from a true collaboration with a community, not just of artists, but anyone looking to explore the social conditions of Barbata’s focus.
Madre had the pleasure to ask Laura some questions about her work, and gain a better understanding of her incredible creations.
A lot of your work seems to incorporate multiple cultures into a single piece or performance. What is the importance of blending different national identities and aesthetics?
My interest is to integrate into my work the various traditions and customs that surround us, and with an artistic lens, insert them into a familiar space. For example, stilt dancing brings forth numerous ways of performing that include procession, performance, ritual, textile arts, storytelling, dance and music, and by presenting it in a public space in collaboration with other traditions (i.e. textile artists, artisans, dancers, musicians) the experience of art can be expanded. I feel that by working in this way, we can do away with boundaries. Lines are usually drawn to divide and set boundaries, and my approach is to bring together diverse perspectives and traditions, where each one maintains its individual knowledge while at the same time exchanging and sharing diverse ways of seeing through our work together.
I aim for that moment when the spectator and the participants see and experience the totality of the work without disengaging the subject matter from the way it is presented.
What do you use your work for? What are you trying to achieve?
I am interested in building bridges by creating projects that bring together different talents and ways of knowing in order to exchange ideas and collectively work towards a common project. So, it is important for me to integrate conversations with collaborators and participants in every step of the process. When we establish long-lasting relationships that are beneficial to all parts we are able to explore the ways diverse perspectives, experiences and talents can come together to create something new and provide a new lens through which we can see our world. It is very important to me that the bridges built between communities–the personal ties and experiences gained–continue far beyond each project. Art is the vehicle, the pretext for a conversation and for an exchange of ideas that incorporate the material as well as the personal for its execution.
You have spent a great deal of time in both the US and Mexico. How does your art relate to this national-duality?
I was born and raised in Mexico and am currently based in Brooklyn, I have worked in Mexico, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Norway and the United States. The mediums I have worked in include drawing, sculpture, photography, video, installation, performance, papermaking, textile arts and social art practice, which is why I call myself a transdisciplinary artist. As I mentioned earlier, I hope that by working in this way we do away with boundaries which only separate us so that we may learn from each other to promote awareness and respect.
How do you think art affects community? Is it a necessary part of a community? Is your work political?
I work with many collaborators: artists, artisans, researchers, activists and scientists who are focused and concerned about the environment and human rights. Our diverse perspectives and areas of expertise bring us closer to a deeper understanding of the problems we are facing and enable us to communicate these concerns—and findings—more effectively to our audiences through innovative, inspiring and thought-provoking works. I believe that every person on an individual level can create change, and if more people are inspired to join in these efforts there can be a significant positive impact. Every choice we make and everything we do is political.
What are you working on now?
I am working on a number of projects. One very exciting project I am working on began with TBA21 The Current, coordinated by Thyssen-Bornemisza Contemporary Art, in which scientists and artists are brought together to address the urgent issues of climate change and the ocean. These works combine performance, procession, wearable sculptures, textile arts, music, dance and protest in collaboration with the Brooklyn Jumbies. Our next performance Intervention: Ocean Blues will be presented by Amphibian Stage Productions and will be performed at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas.
I am also continuing my work on Julia Pastrana, you can read about it here.
For this project I am further working on the topics related to her story, the injustices that she lived and how these are still relevant today. I am developing an ongoing work-in-progress performance piece that is continually evolving, as well a series of zines that address different topics related to Julia Pastrana such as: repatriation of human remains, museum ethics, exhibition practices, the objectification of people and women, human traffic, beauty and the commercialization of women’s bodies, feminism, animal rights, love, circus arts, and more.
If you could share a mezcal with anyone (living or dead) who would it be? and why?
Coincidentally, just a few days ago my mother and I were talking about the way women have been portrayed in history and how important it would be to listen to them tell their own story in their own words. This lead us to plan an imaginary dinner party for which we even made a guest list:
– Queen Elizabeth I
– Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz
– Joan of Arc
– Hannah Arendt
– Julia Domna
– Harriet Tubman
– Catherine the Great
– Isabella Stewart Gardner
– Julia Pastrana.
Of course, our dinner party would begin with a toast, with mezcal.
View more of Laura’s incredible work here.