Kiara Machado: Artist + 2020 Not Real Art Grant Recipient
New Book By Katie Love
From Cult To Comedy, A Memoir, by Katie Love
The year is 1970. The horror soap opera “Dark Shadows” is all the rage, the Vietnam War is raging and nine-year-old Katie, an imaginative and independent latch-key kid, comes home from school to discover her mother’s suicide.
Taken in by her older sister who has recently become a Jehovah’s Witness, Katie is shown an illustration from a bible picture book featuring wild animals peacefully lounging by a pool of water, surrounded by happy people picking fruit. An enticing offer is made: “Katie, this is Paradise. Do you want to see Mom again, happy and living forever? All you have to do is follow all of Jehovah’s commandments and you can be with Mom again.”
Mom happy and living forever? Two tickets to Paradise, please!
So begins Katie’s zealous quest to attain perfection and entrance into a utopian world which promises peace, love, and happiness. She discovers a much darker world. “Two Tickets to Paradise, from Cult to Comedy” tells the hilarious and heartbreaking story of an earnest, bible-toting kid intent on saving the world, and follows her metamorphosis into a boisterous comedian intent on saving herself through the healing powers of humor.
Art as a narrative in solidarity
Not Real Art grant winner, Kiara Machado was born in Lynwood and grew up in Watts, CA. Raised by immigrant parents from Guatemala and El Salvador, Machado shares that her cultural background is reflected in her art as a “narrative in solidarity.”
“I’m very proud of my culture, but being Central American, we’re not as represented. I think whenever [people] see me or see anybody that looks Latina or speaks Spanish, they automatically assume that we’re Mexican…I’m not seeing myself in the arts, in the news, and we’re often criminalized because of our countries. We’re often cast as like – violent or poverty-stricken.”
Machado’s website details her work and process. “Her body of work brings into question the absence and exclusion of Central American folx from mainstream U.S. and Latinx narratives. Mainly working with oil on canvas, Machado combines cultural imagery and a diverse selection of plants with a vivid color palette. She obscures and camouflages the figures into the surrounding environment to create a narrative that highlights marginalized communities.”
Machado earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with honors in Painting and Drawing from California State University Long Beach. When asked about that defining moment when she first realized she was an artist, Machado shares, “I think it was definitely a progression. I feel like everything is earned, like respect. You have to earn your respect. So I think it took me a long time to actually consider or even be able to call myself an artist. I always knew that I wanted to go into the arts – since kindergarten. But I think that it was definitely a progression.
Machado says the Not Real Art grant “has been a true blessing. Everything’s heightened right now with the pandemic and everything that’s going on, grants like these are incredibly helpful.”
While the pandemic has caused uncertainty with the cancellation of shows and its inevitable economic impact, Machado resolved to focus on her work. “Thankfully, I have my studio at home so I had already blocked off the previous month to focus because I had a show in San Francisco. So after that, I was like okay, I need to sit down and be in the studio. I have no excuse not to paint all the time…And then going beyond the arts, just being aware of family and friends and how it’s affecting [them] emotionally.”
“It’s so wild to know that we’re living through something that will be talked about in the future…”
“It’s so wild to know that we’re living through something that will be talked about in the future and hopefully, we all make it out to whatever normalcy we end up in. I think knowing the gravity and that the whole world is going through it, and not just selected geographical domains, not just certain communities, but everybody, it is overwhelming. But I also think – don’t get stuck on that thought, because then that could also paralyze us.”
“Art is incredibly therapeutic and is my way of escaping.”
“I think art, like with other previous frustrations and other overwhelming factors, is escapism. Art is incredibly therapeutic and is my way of escaping.”
On managing the critical voice
“I stare at my paintings and even if they’re done, I will turn them to the wall. I can’t see my paintings for too long because then it’s ‘I can reuse this canvas for a better painting!’ So I have to hide my paintings from myself. But I think when I first sold my painting and had my first big purchase, I was proud of my work…I’m confident in most everything that I’m producing. But of course, I think it’s good to self-criticize and I still question my pieces, because I feel like if I was always confident in every single piece and everything I do, I would not be able to challenge myself.”
“I love Kerry James Marshall. I haven’t had the opportunity to see his work in person, even though seeing his paintings in a book almost makes me want to cry – just how beautiful it is and also the way that he assesses the absence of the African American figure within our history. I take influence on how Central Americans have been completely erased or excluded from certain conversations. So I take a lot of inspiration from Kerry James Marshall. I also love Lisa Butler for the use of her colors.”
“I want us to hold our own narratives to be able to tell our own stories.”
When asked what she would most like to tell the world with her work, Machado shares, “I really want to highlight that Central America is more than their trauma. I want us to hold our own narratives to be able to tell our own stories. Often, communities of color, folks of color, are marginalized or glamorized. I feel like artists don’t really paint about us and they get applauded, and then when I would paint about myself or these issues, I would constantly get questions or doubts, ‘this is too much, too much culture, not everybody’s going to be able to relate to that.’ The reason that I’m painting about this is because there’s a lack of it and I’m holding that narrative that I have this control because I am part of this conversation.”
The biggest challenges for artists today
Machado says that “having a consistent income for folks who are solely depending on art” is one of the biggest challenges for artists today. “I feel like it’s a very select few artists who obviously are able to sell their paintings and have their paintings bought for the actual price that they set. I think that goes back to the institutions. I went to Cal State Long Beach. We didn’t learn about finance, we didn’t talk about the business side of art…So I think covering how to go about making sales, how to make contracts, how to protect your art should have been discussed in art school before we graduated to have some starting point.”
Machado’s biggest cheerleaders are her family, whom she says has been “incredibly supportive. I think because my parents are migrants, it’s always in the back of my head that they crossed so many borders to be here and now I’m an artist. Being able to bring them into the art world, places that we wouldn’t normally be – is awesome. And hearing them bring up conversations around art and questioning and being able to talk about art, what they like, and what they don’t like – it’s amazing.”
Can beauty be defined?
“There’s no one distinction of beauty. Growing up with westernized, idealized, standards of beauty, even within our community, we kind of idolized lighter skin folks or certain features due to mainstream media. But I think elderly folks – I think wrinkles are beautiful, like deep shadows are beautiful, varying skin tones are beautiful. My mother’s beautiful, my grandmother’s beautiful. My great grandmother who I didn’t have the chance to meet is beautiful. But yeah, not boxing it into one definition. There’s a wide spectrum of what beauty can be.”
The best thing about being an artist
“Being passionate about what I want to do and actually being able to do it. I know that’s a huge privilege. To express myself in a visual way also forces me to talk about it. Why am I painting about this? So I always have my identity question with every piece. I want to be able to defend every aspect of it. Every piece that I paint – I go in with the intention of that piece standing on its own, and having its own story to tell.”