Mexican artist Marina Silva draws the bodies of naked women. While their usually slender anatomy is depicted with a type of elegant realism, their faces are either non-existent, or mostly shown as natural matter—like branches of a palm tree or a pomegranate, sliced in half. When encountering Silva’s work for the first time, it might be the bizarre union of female flesh and a much less immediately-loaded subject-matter, e.g. pieces of food, that necessitates an organic pause, asking its audience to study it more closely. Her works are charismatic in their absurdity, almost like an X-rated child drawing where sex does not automatically first come to mind. A rare encounter these days, considering the universalization of porn that has trademarked a woman’s bare chest as its apathetic signature. The energy of sex is anticipated everywhere, usually not the good kind.
Most of Silva’s playfully erotic depictions of female identity pay tribute to society’s obstinate beauty ideals that tend to rest in a valley of bones, while simultaneously confronting her audience with an admirable soberness about today’s expectations of women. How only the very skinny tend to meet the public desire of society, how female identity does not go much further than the peripheral summery of her body. It’s not a surprise that almost every show of hers ends up sold out, collectors especially appreciative of the artist’s skillful hand, and the idiosyncratic universes of beautiful girls and nature-induced surroundings.
Yet, there are entire countries of gallant monologues—a female, and mostly human, noise and its emotional revolution—growing, quietly but growing, right beneath the aesthetically-pleasing drawings and the artist’s innate impulse to understand the things that make up our existence. Silva, perhaps at times still unaware, has already begun a lifelong voyage of self-reflection that along its course will not only find answers to certain questions but as well push in doors (some of them wide, some of them smaller) that before we never thought of subsisting. And I look forward to that. Here's a conversation about female identity, but really about existing while aware of it.
For some time now you’ve been known to draw naked women. How did this particular venture take off?
All of it began while briefly attending Central Saint Martins, where I discovered and fell madly in love with Helmut Newton’s photography. In his work there was something so beautifully elegant and erotic, yet posed—an amazonian-goddess brutality. It blew me away.
The third year I was living in New York I somehow found myself surrounded by models, since I used to live with one (admittedly by pure choice). It was such a vain world to be exposed to, facing the reality of beauty industry’s specific standards. But I slowly discovered the humorous side of it all, in the sense that I could constantly make fun of the narcissism involved. So I began the series ‘Unas Perras Hambrientas’ (Some Hungry Bitches), which was a collection of satirical cartoons of skinny bitches saying things like “Wanna share an ice cube?” or “I digested a huge gust of wind on my way to work.”
Soon enough, this satire was transformed into a deeper appreciation for the sculptural aspect of the female figure. Not particularly to those insanely restricted proportions the modelling industry requires, but the female body at large. Its endurable capability to morph into a rented torso for new life, and return to its usual form in the most visceral and beautiful ways. Our bodies undergo so many incredible functions and adaptations, I’m amazed daily.
Why have you only drawn women, and not men? Have you ever thought of exploring the male gender within your practice?
I have definitely considered it, but there’s a certain subtlety and fragility to the female figure that I find unique. I also think the true strength of women is completely underestimated. There's an objectification taking place which interests me most. The implications of how a female nude should be seen. The ‘importance’ of the male gaze plays a big part in why I purely draw women. It’s the appraisal of these goddesses that I want to highlight rather than observing the gender inequalities on social, psychological and emotional levels that we face everyday. Besides, I personally believe penises can be visually aggressive and lack that exquisiteness of female body parts, like collarbone, the vagina or hands. I think a woman’s body should be worshipped, especially due to the incredible vigor that it has to experience during its different cycles.
The figures you draw are in many ways erotizied within their particular poses. Do you sometimes fetihize the bodies you study so closely? Just recently I wrote down somewhere how it’s important for a writer to fall in love with their characters. Love can take many directions, not necessarily an amorous infatuation. I suppose I mean attraction, weather it’s a good or a bad one. Can that also apply to a painter?
In terms of commitment or devotion to the study of the figure, there’s a slight fetish involved. But not in a particularly sexualised manner, since it has slowly become a love for photography of the figure rather than the subject itself. Photography is very important in my process, and it isn't necessarily shown in the final work. It's the management of light that draws me closer to the figure that’s portrayed. The curvatures of their contours are what I’m truly drawn to. The roads and rivers I see in their sides. I've begun to objectify these women myself, but in the sense that I actually look at them as shapes rather than living matter with identities. Once I appreciate shape, I turn over to body language and pose, since I try to avoid a visual vulgarity. I admire porn for its uncouth and carnal qualities, but I want to enhance the sophistication of a body’s posture and poise.
In your practice, there’s a general tendency to draw women who are slender, at times anorexically skinny. How come?
It was what I was exposed to. As an extremely visual person, I couldn't help but notice the specificity of physical acceptance in social interactions within New York’s industry. Its collective mentality that took place outside of a photo studio or an office—it involved status, and in a ways influence. The bodies I choose personify that specific attitude. It's a pretty surreal experience to shadow this behaviour and observe from a different standpoint, for someone who doesn't agree with it.As the years go by, the process is slowly transforming. I find myself including women of more shapes and sizes, more fat in particular. So in ways from one extreme to another. It also here where I started my own self-exploration.
It’s interesting if we think back to self-portraiture, like Egon Schiele, artists who would deliberately exaggerate and mutilate their very own image. In ways it seems easier to draw an uglier version of oneself, than one’s very own actuality… have you thought of you doing your portrait?
I have, actually! Although I began this only a few months ago in a very long overdue process of self-acceptance attributed by several factors and events accounted in the past six months. Lots of habit changes, lots of progress, lots of new things for me. It’s interesting the way you see yourself in drawing… I showed the sketches to a few close friends. It was a huge milestone, given the fact I had been portraying nudes for years, not yet my own. I always chose to expose other people and not myself. I held reason an enormous shield over myself, even though every inch of my art represents a piece of me. The reactions to my portraits were interesting: some cheers for self love and empowerment, and some were in awe because of the way I saw myself. Constructive criticism is hard to digest when your true vulnerability is exposed. But the perks of leaving the comfort zone proved to be a blissful experience that I wouldn’t want to miss.
The bodies you draw are usually faceless, other objects—like fruit or plants—replacing their heads. The absence of their faces contributes to a certain level of female objectification. Do you wish to raise a certain awareness here?
I retract from drawing faces since I believe facial expressions give away identity in ways which body language couldn't directly imply. Also, I’m putting that objectifying gaze in the spotlight: no wonder we’re taught to look at bodies in a specific way if that’s how we are exposed to them. If I want these bodies to be seen the way I want them to be seen—desexualising the taught manners of looking at nudity—I try to positivize that ‘piece of meat’ vision women are being seen as. Nudity is a form of self expression, and the conservative ways of looking are slowly loosening up, so why not turn it the positive direction? Going back to admiring the female body’s functions, there is a connection to the earth which I feel is relevant given the way our bodies work, so in a way we are those leaves and plants and fruit. And, that objectification, reflects the same undervaluing motions women face which are slowly, during our lifetime, beginning to come to light! Definitely want to raise awareness on this. I think this objectification is something that already is being spoken about but we should highlight more. There's a ‘body positive’ movement beginning to come out in that specific industry, which is what we are visually exposed more to. And one that I would love to push through the right direction, starting with myself.
Do you think we can ever really accept ourselves? I think it’s more of a getting-use to...
I admit I struggle daily with self love and self loathing on a physical level. I also have lucid fuck it moments which always feel the best, since all these social constructs are purely fabricated and easily rerouted and manipulated. We live in a overstimulated world where visual impulses and trends set the bar for how we do things. So, yes—I think it becomes about acceptance, and no— I don't believe our generation will ever really accept itself. We have this tendency to mute these expressions and numb out temporary comfort which never necessarily faces the true circumstance of our realities. Yet they postpone and distract us from the issues that are present and REAL. And we are never satisfied. There will always be something to change or improve, and change doesn't come until you disconnect from that fabricated realm of reality. The minute we change the way we see ourselves is the very moment where acceptance takes place, and if my form of influence can focus on a specific audience, which would be the audience that inherently sets these acceptance values in motion, I would love to flip the tortilla on this way of looking and broaden the significance of true female beauty. Because it's everywhere and we avoid it with our blindness.
I’ve also noticed that usually your only reveal breasts of the female figure, and not so much her genitals. They are often hidden by a piece of clothing, legs, etc. In some ways it functions as castration.
No, castration is not what I'm heading towards. This is just 'the way in' so to speak, to slowly enter its mentality. I'm really trying to enter the conservative-upper class-progressive yet religious-suburban woman psyche, and here I would love to specify my place of origin. I come from Mexico City: land of taboos, oppressive slides, tragic irony and unavoidable injustice. The reality of things is that I come from a relaxed upbringing in an extremely uptight social circle/class. The majority of both young and older women I interact with are very influential and still extremely traditionalist, and it's precisely their mentality (among others, of course, yet this is what I have direct contact with) that I want to dent. Hard blows are not the correct approach since it drives these women away, and in my drawing practice I've become very observant of the types of imagery they are caught by. Although I do draw the perfectly powerful pussy, breasts and fabric are only the beginning for these ladies. I want them to become more familiar and comfortable with these types of subjects, because in the end they are the ones that move shit around and pull the proper strings to influence greater masses of people. Female objectification, standards of beauty, sexual taboos and core values are what need to be transformed. A woman's worth needs to be revalued in this country—and all over the world for that matter! It's about the present resources and shifting a collective train of thought. It's like moving from first to second base. And soon enough it'll be a home run.
Images courtesy of MARINA SILVA
interview LARA KONRAD
More to read