Carmen Mardonez: 2021 Not Real Art Grant Winner
Not Real Art grant winner, Carmen Mardonez grew up in Chile. The oldest of nine siblings, Mardonez shares that growing up in a big religious family meant that the expectations are, “to be a good woman who takes care of your husband, your house, and your kids. To be a woman who doesn’t speak too much or is too loud, who knows her place. I didn’t really like that. I was fighting with that idea for a long time. I was refusing to be that kind of woman, but when I realized I was pregnant, I was like ‘Oh my God, now I’m gonna be that woman.’”
“I refused to become what I was trained for. My artistic work became a way of expressing my resistance.”
Her artist statement reads, “As a woman, my entrails have always been governed by others. Since my childhood, I was taught to sew, knit, and embroider, only to become a caring wife and exemplary mother; no one asked me if that was my plan. After unexpectedly becoming a mother, all the rebellion against the conservative and religious education I received furiously exploded. I refused to become what I was trained for. My artistic work became a way of expressing my resistance.”
So when the opportunity came for her husband to pursue his Ph.D. in the US, Mardonez decided that it was the perfect time to pursue a career as an artist. “I decided, it's gonna be hard to find work because my English was not that [good] and because I'm going to have a newborn and I don't want another person to take care of my baby. So I have to be at home. So with all that, I decided that it was a good idea to try to become a professional artist.”
Mardonez earned a Masters in Psychology from the University of Chile, which she says informs her work in the way that she “sees and reads the world.” After relocating to LA in 2017, she began working from the living room floor of their apartment, “surrounded by crayons and chaos” transforming her hobby in embroidery into a body of work, now shown in multiple exhibitions in LA, and beyond.
Sheets and pillows: an intimate medium.
Mardonez’s medium of choice is discarded sheets and pillows, with the first sheet being the one her husband slept on for the first two weeks he was in their apartment, sleeping alone on the living room floor until their family could reunite in the US.
“When we moved to Los Angeles, we didn't have a car. I brought a couple of fabrics from my country, but at some point, I was running out of fabric and downtown LA, where all the big stores to buy fabric is, was far for me. So I decided to use old sheets – all the sheets that I had at home. Then, I started asking my neighbors and friends for sheets. Of course, it is an intimate object. In the beginning, my neighbors were like, ‘Oh, no, I'm, I'm ashamed to give it to you because it’s super dirty.’ But to me, it holds the history and memories of people. Even when you wash and dry them and stretch them, it has their memories. It’s kind of cool.”
“In 2020, I was exhausted with the lockdown. I wanted to do something different. Looking in my closet, I found a pillow that we weren’t using and I started embroidering it and I loved the results. But same as the sheets, pillows are an intimate object. You know, you sleep and dream and you cry on a pillow. You make love with pillows around. They are domestic textiles, so for me, it makes a lot of sense because I'm kind of a domestic artist. I don't rent an outside studio. I'm working in my living room.”
“My creative process is really cathartic. I spend a lot of energy and thought on choosing a palette of colors. Sometimes, I dig out a picture of the sunset or sunrise, or a storm that I find on Instagram, and then I’ve got a palette of colors. Then, I start the embroidery. That’s how I work with colors. Now I'm working with more sculptural pieces and it’s kind of a similar process. I choose the palette and I start playing with the pillows and stretching them. My work is intuitive and authoritative. I follow the images or the ideas that I’m modeling, and then the ideas for the next piece come during the process of the creation.”
Mardonez concedes that it isn’t easy working with discarded sheets and pillows, but she loves seeing the reactions at openings and likes knowing that she’s doing her part for climate change by recycling old textiles. “I'm working with discarded materials. I say it is not easy because I have to spend time collecting, washing, and drying them. Sometimes, I receive sheets that are ripping, so I have to patch the piece. But for me, it's really important to give textile ways to waste. I use the pillows and sheets that my friends or neighbors are planning to throw in the dumpster. So for me, to stop that process before they do that, is really important…They can have a second life in art pieces.
“And honestly, I love the openings. I love to hear what people feel when they see my work. They say, ‘Oh, it blows my mind!’ And they want to touch my work. So yeah, I love their reactions especially when it happens with kids.”
The best thing about being an artist…
“The best thing about being an artist? For me, when I found my voice. Being able to work is part of the thing that keeps me sane. Especially during Covid, you know? I can express the things that I'm feeling but don't have the words to express, through my art. Especially being an immigrant. During the last four years, art is becoming a really important piece of myself.”
Leave with this…
Mardonez shares her most important message: “I create beauty and I want to share beauty. But also, what I wish for the world is love and respect and the chance for everyone to follow their dreams and be successful. I wish we can live in a cleaner world with social, racial, and economic justice for everyone. That's the word that I want to build for my kids. A world where everyone can be equal.”
Please follow Carmen on IG: @desbordado