Light on a Woman Artist
Marie Bagi presents to you,
Today I’m introducing the digital fine artist Inês Ferreira-Norman. Born in Caldas da Rainha in Portugal, she lived for fifteen years in London till her return to Portugal, in late 2018.
We met on Instagram and then at her exhibition « Fraturização de Indivíduos Geológicos ou a era do pixel » in Atouguia da Baleia, near Peniche, where she now lives too. It was quite a deep discussion we had. Like her, she said, who’s a deep person. And it’s one of the reasons she likes to use the microscope in her works. It’s the case, for example, in the artwork « Shale female » (2016-18) a great drawn mural (287 x 54 cm), digitally manipulated, on charcoal and graphite. This artwork was inspired by intimacy. It’s like a vagina in 2D and it has been shown in dialogue with another piece, <Terra Nostra Diagnosis> (2017), a penetration of stone. It’s a part of her but it’s also part of every woman on earth. Empowering women and showing how complex it is to be a woman in this society are also the clue of this work.
The first time she created was when she was 5 or 6 years old. She drew portraits, mountains and animals like ducks that her mum had. She was good at colour, she said. She had her first exhibition at the village where she lived when she was 16 years old. She liked music but she was rejected by the conservatoire and so she went for an art career, as a visual artist. But, her parents were against the idea of her being a painter; they said that « she would have died starving ». So, she found a compromise and chose to study graphic design and illustration. She did her degree. Passionate about books, during her studies, she created drawing books – illustrations – that she still has.
Inês had a bad experience and she spent 2 years of her life depressed: she lost her mom (leukaemia) when she was 29. They had a great relationship for the last six to eight years of her life. This loss changed her. Her sense of identity was destroyed but as she re-figured out her identity, she became an activist during her master’s degree. Against colonisation, she started to look into Europe’s history and how it has been affecting environmental issues. Identity became important in her work. Research around her own identity and ecological destruction is the motor of creation. She keeps telling me that the artist has the freedom of speech; with this, she can express what she thinks: the process, the action and the methodology, through images. Passions are the reason for creation. For this exhibition, Inês showed her passion for geology and the beauty of the region she’s living in; it’s full of wonderful caves formed by majestic rocks. Ecology is at the centre of the message she wants to express. Being an activist, it’s being active. An eco-feminist, she is living life differently since. The messages inside her works and her lifestyle are embodied. Even at her studio, she doesn’t feel lonely anymore because she feels connected with everybody and with the whole ecosystem. The impact she wants to give has increased inside her art. Her passion is also showed in her writing, and in the desire to be contextualized in art history. She wanted to understand the world to understand herself better. As she lived so many years in the United Kingdom, she feels more British than Latin. The culture is completely different there and she continues explaining that she experienced a « culture shock » between the two countries. So, I asked her why the decision to come back to Portugal. She answered that it wasn’t an easy decision to make. She had a lot of freelance work in London but she was exhausted to be constantly working and looking for work at the same time. She needed a restful time and some kind of change even if it was hard to go away. Her dream was to go to Uruguay but because of money restrictions, it was difficult. She inherited a house from her mum in Baleal and decided to come to live there. With her skills, and her husband, she created « Matéria Cíclica »; an eco-arts organisation which includes a residency project. It’s more than a collective project. The idea is to exhibit artists in a gallery setting and make partnerships with the community. One particularity of this project is to value the role of the artist in society. It’s super valuable for it because of saying the truth and solving problems with talent and creativity. But because of Covid-19, its inauguration and many of the partnerships collapsed. In the meantime, she started a composting service to regenerate organic material with the goal of creating natural fertilizer. She wants to expand and improve activities about ecology in their garden too but she needs to think more about it, she said. In 2017, she talked to the vice-president of Peniche about all these ideas, looking for some financial support but the town has no money.
To continue talking about identity, she talks about her being a Buddhist. It’s her other way of being alive with art. It gave her some awareness of life. She’s more in love with life. She normally sells prints, books and copies of her artworks but she doesn’t want to necessarily sell originals because they are her « babies » as she called them because she realised that they are part of her. All these years, since their conception, these artists’ books are the source of herself. Inês gives it all of herself. They are part of her identity.
We continue talking and the discussion comes to women’s condition in Portugal especially in a small town. ‘They don’t have any chance because of men’, she said. Men are holding power and give orders to women, bossing them around with their famous « pointing finger ». She continues by saying that she lived/lives this situation with her father. He’s always saying that she doesn’t know how to do simple things… like picking vegetables. This situation even happened a few days before we met. ‘And he yelled’, she says. All her childhood was like this and it’s one of the reasons why she left. It’s a difficult relationship with him; he doesn’t want to listen to her. He used her mum, her sister and her, as a sexist patriarch. It’s probably the origin of her feminism. ‘In Portugal’, she says, ‘women are not supporting each other because of conservative values, but they feel guilty, for one reason or another’.
All this conversation happened at the exhibition mentioned above. We were seated in the middle of the art pieces. At some point, she asked me what I thought about it. For me, it’s a dialogue of different mediums showing how nature is important and stronger than human. The pictures of rocks, sculptures of clay and wood, and the video performance of a human body strangled by a plastic net, show how humans impact nature in a positive, but also in a negative way. This work was executed by Almagreira’s beach. The caesura between the beauty of nature and the ravage of the plastic in the oceans by human is obvious here. As the rocks, human is an organic shape. We all are life on earth. She wanted to show which effect the landscape has on us; the way we get involved with it. It’s a tribute to those who make decisions to the sunset. A meeting point where humans and nature dialogue, and a tribute to the beauty of life: two natural things that enter in contact, the sand and the sea. A book was made for this exhibition called « Iridescence or how to edit a life ». A dialogue between all the elements we mentioned – and that she studied under the microscope, once again.
The power of her art and her person let me think that Inês has an incredible talent that she must show to the public. She deserves to be recognized as all women artists that I’ve met, or not yet, and I’m working with. Being an artist, it’s also showing what matters for « her ». For Inês, in this exhibition, it’s a powerful message to humanity. One that concerns the planet and the impact humans are causing onto it. The situation needs to change. Nature’s beauty is here to remind us how we must preserve it. Many thanks to Inês for her beautiful work in so many ways. If you get a chance to go to Portugal soon, you can see her work in Caldas da Rainha from September 4th, at the exhibitions gallery in the Tourism Centre.
Author: Marie Bagi, Contemporary art history and Philosophy, PhD.
Published September 12th 2020