This week, we’d like to present Natalia Schonowski. Natalia is a multidisciplinary artist currently based in New York. She has lived in many different places around the world, including Germany, Colombia, Ecuador, Nigeria, Dominican Republic, China, and United States. Natalia obtained her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Mixed Media from Florida International University and a Master of Fine Arts in Media Art and Design from Bauhaus University Weimar in Germany and a Master of Literature in Art Theory from Tongji University Shanghai, China. One of the major theme in her artworks is identity. She makes us think about our identity built in a society around us as well as one we establish by ourselves.
Are you ready to meet Natalia Schonowski? ;)
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Bogota, Colombia. My mother is Colombian and my father is German. I grew up in both cultures, but I also moved around a lot. I think that’s how I got interested in traveling and exploring. As far as art is concerned, my mom has always been interested in art, I think I have that interest from her. She used to carry colored pencils and paper to keep me busy. That progressed to art lessons, drawing, figure drawing and painting. I was also interested in craft like techniques such as embroidery and crocheting. It wasn’t until my third year at university that I began exploring fiber art techniques.
Where do you gather most of the inspiration for your works?
From my travels but also from everyday live. I like observing. I’m also very interested in science, so I’ve had a few pieces that have been inspired by molecular biology. If I hadn’t studied art I would have gone into biology or something like that.
Which of your artwork pieces is your favorite?
I don’t have a favorite piece. I guess I’m very critical with myself and my work. I get excited about an idea and then as I’m working on it, I probably will not like the piece. Then at the end I might like it. I guess I have started enjoying the pieces that I making at this time, Fiber Diary. I think it’s because when I look at them I know what I was thinking and feeling when I got the idea for the piece. I have tried to write journals in the past but haven’t stuck with them for longer periods of time. I always feel very phony writing them and I tend to be a very private person, so I wouldn’t like someone else to find them and read them. I like this visual diary. It takes me back to a specific place and time, I can show it to people and they can interpret it in their own way. I’m sharing something but it’s still somehow private.
How do you look at your previous pieces?
Each piece is a learning opportunity. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m going now without my previous pieces. I can definitely tell that I’m growing as a person and as an artist. I can also tell that my interests have changed.
How does your cultural background affect/inspire your work?
Some of my earlier pieces were directly influenced by my dual citizenship. They were inspired by US immigration policy and what it meant to hold one passport versus another.
I really liked your previous installation works, one is Safety Blanket and the other is Aegis. Could you tell us more about your two works?
“Safety Blanket” was my thesis work for my BFA. A passport is like a security blanket, having it by you will ensure some type of protection, it holds precious information that enables individuals to move from one place to another, it becomes a marker of who you are; by losing it, you become non-existent, you lose your identity. It can become a tool by which others judge the exterior, based solely by what they read on a piece of laminated paper. The dolls (babies) are basically born generic, they haven’t been given an official identity. These passports (the blankets) are what determine these babies identities. For immigrants, a passport holds tremendous value because they understand that that gives them an identity which enables them to cross a border or to be left behind, it can essentially lock them up. For others, their passport gives them freedom to travel, to make a new live in a different place.
Aurora Molina and I created “Aegis” as a response to societal pressures. The work evolved as we were making it. At first we thought children use their mothers as a shield. Mothers protect their young. But then we realized that the children also served as a shield for these women. At times, women have children just because society tells them that it’s their time to procreate and take care of someone. And at times, this is what some women do, they need this child to justify their existence. We are not claiming that either option for having children is right or wrong, but we do realize that in some cases children are used as a shield against society. It’s basically an observation.
What do you think is the artist in society?
Artist are there to make others think. Be it about a given situation in politics or about identity. I think it’s important to make people think. But I also think artist provide an escape to another world, into someone else’s world and ideas.
What’s the best thing about being a woman artist?
Just for an artist in general, to create. Also to create something that touches people.
What is the most difficult part of being a female artist?
That we are not considered “real” artist. That people think that this is just a hobby we are pursuing until we have a family or that it’s something to keep us busy.
How do you manage in such a situation?
Just ignore those people. They are obviously ignorant. Makes you also want to work harder.
Did you ever feel like giving up? What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given at that time?
There have been many times where I have thought that I should give up. Probably it was the money aspect, the pressure of finding a stable job. At some point it was because I didn’t like the art world scene. It seemed very insincere. But I think after taking a break and having worked in another field I feel that this (art) is what fulfills me. I wasn’t given any specific advice, I just talked to other friends who were artist and they cheer you on. We help each other and I think that is very important. The best advice that I can give is to surround yourself with other artist or people that believe in you and that will support you and cheer you on when you feel like you want to quit.
What is your dream project?
I have been wanting to do this big installation with sewing machines and motion sensors. I need the space and the funds to be able to make it happen. I have been doing smaller work in the past few years because I have been moving quite a bit. I would like to concentrate on something that is bigger and that occupies a big space.
What is up and coming for you, as projects?
I’m currently working a project called “Clothing with a Message” with my friend and fellow artist Aurora Molina. I just came back from Oaxaca, Mexico. Over there we met many artisans who work with textile techniques like hand embroidery and loom weaving. At the moment we are creating a story that is embroidered on the back of a coat. We want to merge the functionality of a garment with the message of a work of art. We had been raising money to be able to start the project and we reached out funding goal on Kickstarter. We are so excited that we had such great support from our friends and family.
What do you want to do next?
I’m still working on that project Clothing with a Message. It’s a long term project, we want to create around 50 pieces. Also, I will be having an exhibit with Axcess Art in September 2014.
I will be working on some new pieces for the Axcess Art show. I will give you more details once I have them.