The CAMP’s participation in this year's VOLTA Art Fair in New York is particularly meaningful considering the way the fair’s ethos aligns with ours—an intentional and accessible relationship with art. Our booth features stunning ultra-contemporary portraiture from Idris Habib, experimental fiber sculptures by Evelyn Politzer, sentimental collage memories from Silvana Soriano, and post-punk floral metaphors by Franck de las Mercedes.
The booth’s exploration of identity through color and fiber highlights an intimate dialogue between a selection of artists that, together, reflect the gallery’s history, and our reality; CAMP’s roster, which is predominantly made up of women, and programming are both multi-media and culturally varied. Each of the works exist in conversation with one another, of course, but a deeper dive into their individual histories—the artists' and the works'—is key to understanding how artistic expression, at the end of the day, is bigger than the individual.
Can you talk to me about your relationship with art/artistic expression?
Silvana Soriano: Art is an inseparable part of my soul. Creative thinking is present in everything I do, and I always connect experiences with my expressive process.
Evelyn Politzer: I think that I’ve been an artist my whole life, but because of different situations in my home country and in my family, also, I never considered art as something to do. I went to law school in Uruguay, married an Argentine man, and we left Uruguay. I started thinking about my real passions in the middle of having a family, moving from one country to the next, I was always thinking about this, and that’s when, informally, I did every kind of, let’s say, textiles—fiber art techniques, from tapestry weaving, to patchwork, to knitting, crocheting—I never finished a sweater—but I always utilized this techniques to form fabric to make something else. I like to call it “outside of the box” techniques. I later realized I needed the [theory], so I did my MFA in visual arts. I lived in New York and went to Parsons, too, so design and art were always in my path.
Franck de las Mercedes: I'm pretty immersed in creative expression. I really can't think of a period that (unless forced to stop working) I have not been making art or exercising creative expression.
Idris Habib: My relationship with Art started accidentally because I was labeled a troubled kid due to my curiosity. I am, and have always been very, very curious about how things came to existence and yarn to take part in it and creating something out of different other things fascinates me. Even as a kid, to get myself out of feeling uncomfortable I would draw and try to put things together like puzzles and or toys. So art has always been in me since I was a kid For me, Art encourages me to look beyond my surroundings. I feel I express myself better through art due to the fact that art is the only thing I have that sort of keeps me grounded. It keeps me calm, it gives me a sense of relief and keeps me sane and therefore, I don't see fame or money making in my art other than the peace I get when I start and finish a piece.
Can you elaborate on your relationship with your cultural identity? How does this make its way into your art? Does it?
Silvana: As I understand the artistic process as an organic construction of experiences and doing, my cultural identity is the basis of this creative expression. The fact that I am Brazilian, a woman, and an immigrant is the center of my research and work themes. It would be difficult to imagine building an artistic thought without an authentic experience, as it would be a loss of authenticity.
Evelyn: One-hundred percent! I think that through the materials it’s made its way into my art practice. Wool was something readily available when I was growing up in Uruguay—I don’t know if you know but in Uruguay there are more sheep than human beings; there are three million human beings and more than six million sheep. It was something that I always thought of as interesting, like in the way it comes from the sheep and the process of it becoming wool. There’s also an organization called Manos del Uruguay jobs to rural women, spouses of sheepherders, who were given the task of hand-dyeing the wool. It started sixty years ago, and the process is the same today, so it’s my main material; hand-dyed wool from Uruguay. There’s also an element of responsibility and it creates a connection, for me, in using materials that are integral to the livelihood of women in my country. Obviously it’s not very direct, but through utilizing them, I’m supporting them out in the countryside.
I love the process, because it’s hand-dyed, it’s all different in comparison to a ball of yarn from a store. You can perceived the effect of the human hand, the movement of the skeins. You can tell in the Free Spirits that they’re all uneven.
Franck: My relationship is pretty complex and full of paradoxes. There's love, a sense of pride and gratitude because it forms you, but there's also a dark and painful element. Aesthetically, I believe color and most recently texture have always been there, fused with my adoptive NYC cultural identity. But topically it has made its way as a visual memoir, commentary or meditation.
Idris: My art represents me and my people. It represents my blackness to the world to see and love, appreciate and respect. As far as identifying oneself, Our history and any other history has no expiration date so I try to focus on the now and the future where we get to tell our own story to the world rather than having someone else do it for and to us. My work is and will tell our story with love and pride. I believe art should be used to express both beauty, ugly and pain because it’s about one's expression and expressing one’s feelings should be done to the fullest. Honestly I paint what I know and see as a black man. We are made and built beautifully. We are beautiful people with the best features most people pay to acquire but yet we live in a society/system that looks down on us while benefiting from us at all corners.
What conversations are you interested in sparking with your work?
Silvana: I believe that stories are the best way to awaken and, at times, deconstruct thoughts or prejudices. That's why my work is always around a narrative. Diving into the universe of stories is a process that had always worked for me. When I was young, I built a lot of ideas without experiencing them, "truths" a little bit abstract. I learned to listen to stories that confronted me with other visions based on different experiences. Looking at the world through the eyes of others made me more humble and happier with my ignorance. My narratives will touch some, and I hope to contribute to a more welcoming and inclusive expression.
Evelyn: My work in general is mostly about the environment, but I also tie in elements of motherhood and womanhood. Coincidentally, I always call the idea of the environment “Mother Nature.”
Franck: That's become an interesting question, because I want people to experience self inquiry. For the viewer in silence to examine their own emotional, spiritual, and developmental fractures.
Idris: The fact that my art is being labeled “black art” says a lot about how far we have come and how much more we have to go in this world. Most of Picasso’s paintings were influenced by “black art” or African art but no one really put that much emphasis on that and or described his paintings as “black art”. People only refers to his work by his name not his race, ethnicity or skin color but once a person of color makes the same art, his or her work will be first labeled by the color of their skin before the work itself and that kind of gets under my skin especially this “Black Art’ trend/movement.
I am not an art historian but I do know that "black art" has been here since day one and there have been artists of color for thousands of years. We just never got the credit for it at all levels until now, with the trends of “black art”, where most of the beneficiaries happen to be whites which has always been so, because the majority of the museums and art institutions around the globe, have a lot of arts from Africa made by black people who never got their names places next to their works. I want us to be in or at a place where we don’t have to depend on some trend or someone else to give us a platform to express our blackness and or tell our story because we have been doing this through our struggles, through discrimination, through lytching, police brutality and killings, through all sorts of glass ceillin for far too long and that needs to change. I really want people who view my works to not only look at us but see us in a way that they can relate to as human.
What role do color and texture play in your work?
Silvana: Color is fundamental in my work, and the form is much more subordinated to it. The texture dialogues strongly with the colors to organize spaces and shapes. I came from a tropical country with a reach of colors. I guess this is already so ingrained in me that the intense use of colors is natural.
Evelyn: I need to confess something: I’ve tried not to use color, but I cannot. I’ll say, “this new series is gonna be neutral” and I’ll say the same with texture, but there’s so much to play with that I wanna use them all. Believe it or not, I always thought color was the most challenging aspect, but it’s what I enjoy the most, even if it scares me.
Franck: A major role. The way I use texture is inspired by wall surfaces as a metaphor for human existence. The facade, the cracks and crumbling, the fragility of life and the resilience in the inevitable ephemeral passage through life. The bright colors to me have always represented hope. Even when tackling a dark or painful story, I chose color as a symbol of hope and survival.
Idris: I really enjoy, and therefore prefer making artworks from unconventional mediums, and ways/ tools that pleases my mind and soul, and because I make art for myself from my experiences in a certain places and times, I try to project what I want to see rather than what I saw and experienced. And color is a big part of it all and you can see that from the fabrics I paint on and the color fabrics I use in the clothes I make for the pieces. It starts with the colors of the eyes when it comes to the portraits, the color of the eyes will determine the colors of the fabrics I will use to start the cloth making of the piece. I love loud colors so I use very loud fabrics and tone it down with black colors I use on the figures I paint. My color portraits are also very loud and sexy. Texture is very important for me when it comes to art because I am not a big fan of flat surfaces, I want to be able to feel some kind of structure or a dent when I run my fingers on my work and I do that with the hair of each piece I create or I will also add some find items such hearings, buttons, paper or metal like objects as accessories and or even as part of the piece. Most of the time I use my fingers to smooth out some parts of my work which in turn, leaves my finger prints on the pieces as a way of structuring the body of the subjects.
How do you go about choosing your material?
Silvana: The materials I choose are part of this narrative present in my work. Each work is made up of many layers of thoughts, memories, subtexts, etc. In this sense, the line that previously existed as the structure became more physical with the introduction of fabrics and threads. This materiality happens because there is a thought that each piece of material brings. A part of clothing that belonged to someone, who wore some anonymous body before, adds to the work. It evokes soul to work, silent narratives from other people.
Evelyn: Okay, I think the materials chose me. When I use the Uruguayan wool, I think that there’s a tactile enjoyment. Sometimes I touch it and I can feel home calling me.
Franck: I work in series and do believe the material has to speak to you in some way. I always experiment and try new things. Some get abandoned after the first try. Others, I become immediately addicted to. Most recently I've started painting with ink blocks, which now I am working on raw canvas for the sake of texture.
Idris: I don’t know how to put this in words, I just work with whatever is available in and around me when I paint. It usually starts with music and sounds. My process is like a jazz musician, it’s about improvising. I will mix whatever is around into so many shapes and forms to make it work and it’s what stands at the end of it all because it stretches the boundaries of one being put in a box.
Where did the idea for your pieces originate?
Silvana: The two big canvases are part of my thesis project. I created portraits of immigrant women through the lens of female artists.
Evelyn: I enjoyed Free Spirit so much because it early on in 2021, post-pandemic but clearly it wasn’t going to end any time soon, and I just wanted to sit and make art; let my hands move freely. I think I achieved it through Free Spirit. My brain never stops, so the connection between my hands and the colors and textures, letting it all go without using my brain is a challenge for me and this makes it possible.
Franck: Work in General The idea is to go against the ideas. I'm very impulsive and so I go with what captures me in that moment. I keep an archive of imagery and it's always surprising to me how a sketch that said nothing to me before, can suddenly appear different, already flashing the completed painting. The flowers emerged from the unconscious lack of sleep. I didn't go to a garden or anything like that. Though for a while I became really interested in the weed/flowers that grow on sidewalk crevices and on cement walls. They are like a symbol of resistance.
Idris: The idea of each piece comes from my fascination with human structure, especially our physics and how we are all made / built differently but yet have the same functional features. I am an avid people watcher, and how we interact with one another whether it’s by chance or accident. Some of us black people are trying to look more and more like Europeans than Africans. The skin bleaching and the hair thing nowadays have led me into using more black paint than my usual mix colors and this has been a great pleasure, and it’s now becoming my thing. Making the skin tones and details fascinates me more than the finished work. This is reflected in my recent body of work.