Photographer Brenda Maria Fernandez Steps Into the Mind’s Strange Recesses [Interview]
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post ran in 2021. We’re publishing this update in honor of our November 2023 exhibition, Down a Long, Dark Corridor, which includes work from Brenda Maria Fernandez.
The mind can be a terrible thing to taste. Photographer Brenda Maria Fernandez’s nightmarish body of work This is the Feeling You Thought You Had Repressed steps into the strange recesses of a drug-addled psyche with powerful, if frightening, results. The work is “a delicate but dark and unapologetic look at my past…under the influence of a really powerful ADHD medication,” Brenda writes in her artist statement.
Working with pitch-black shadows and saturated jewel tones, Brenda creates an isolated environment where vulnerable bodies stumble through dimly lit hellscapes. One imagines there’s little chance of escape. Those unlucky enough to find themselves in the artist’s self-contained world become trapped like insects desperately seeking a way out from under the glass.
Much of Brenda’s work revolves around the feeling of being trapped, mentally or physically. Born and raised in the conservative city of Monterrey, Mexico, the young Brenda discovered she “could escape the feeling of being trapped through art.” Later in life, the photographer’s difficult experience with ADHD meds reinforced her fear of creative repression. Brenda notes how the drug altered aspects of her personality, trapping her in a mental state she couldn’t control—even after she stopped using it. “I had become addicted,” she admits. The artist’s dependency, ironically, was only visible once she emerged from her drug-induced haze.
“Through [This is the Fear You Thought You Had Repressed], I try to make peace with my past self and look back to those blurry years where I felt no control over my actions or thoughts,” she writes. Though Brenda’s work is an exorcism of sorts, her willingness to face past horrors reflects a tacit acceptance of personal demons and the role they play in our lives. Sometimes we can chase them away; other times they stick around to share a smoke. Brenda suggests we make peace with the ambiguity and try to love ourselves despite the darkness that lurks within.
Scroll through to view Brenda’s work, then head to our November 2023 exhibition, Down a Long, Dark Corridor, to see their submission, “La Censura.”
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Brenda Maria Fernandez discusses the timelessness of Diane Arbus, drinking Spanish wine with Fiona Apple, and the heroic oversharing of Taylor Swift.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Brenda Marie Fernandez: I would definitely have to say the timeless classic that is Diane Arbus: Revelations. There is so much beauty in its strange and extravagant images. But a lesser known photo book that I love is called Develar y Detonar, curated by Gerardo Montiel Klint, Ana Casas Broda, and Gabriela González Reyes. It celebrates and encapsules the Mexican identity and culture together by bringing representative artists from the visual arts scene in Mexico. It's absolutely stunning, and I highly suggest it to anyone who might be drawn to Mexican art.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
BMF: On Thursday I´d invite Fiona Apple for some Spanish wine, tell her I admire the way she turned her pain into great art, and maybe ask her for some life advice. On Saturday I would take out Grimes on a sushi date. We would share nigiri and swap crazy Montreal stories while getting drunk on Sake.
What are you trying to express with your art?
BMF: Ultimately, I'm just trying to express myself. Yes, I know, it's so cringy, and everyone wants this exact thing. I'm saying nothing new. But this is exactly what I want, I wanna be understood through my art. I'm obsessed with oversharing in the name of art, so I wanna translate my fears, traumas, and dreams into my images. I'm so in love with the idea of being as vulnerable and honest as you can when it comes to art and how you express it.
Do you prefer New York- or Chicago-style pizza?
BMF: To put it simply, New York-style pizza is the love of my life. There is no comparison between the two, no one in the history of the world has ever chosen Chicago-style pizza over New York City pizza. Period.
Would you work for free in exchange for exposure?
BMF: I've got to admit, I have done it in the past, and might continue to do it for the right people, but I absolutely hate the entitlement that sometimes comes with it. Followers don't equal talent, Becky.
What person has most influenced your work?
BMF: I have to give this one to the multidisciplinary artist Taylor Swift. Without her constant bravery to be as honest and as raw as she is, I would have never had the courage to do it myself. When I listen to her catalogue, I feel like I'm reading her entire diary, her most intimate thoughts and ideas plastered on a bestselling album for the entire world to hear and speculate. My hero.
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
BMF: Probably the completion of my first photography project, This Is The Feeling You Thought You Had Repressed. For now of course, haha.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
BMF: If you're not being vulnerable with your art, then what are you doing?
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
BMF: The fact that the best MFA programs in the U.S. are so stupidly expensive and catered towards the elite, who are the only ones that can afford it. How can your students ever succeed if they are drowning in debt?
Would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist?
BMF: I don't see why it can't be both. But if I had to choose, it would always be historically significant. Always.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice?
BMF: For a while I felt like I was drowning in anxiety and stress due to the pandemic, and therefore my art did as well.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
BMF: I'm really excited for my art residency in Portugal! I'm also working on a new project called Bodega Inferno that is about the post pandemic struggles. Mainly how it affected my mental health and all the repercussions it took on my body physically, mentally and spiritually through the exploration of my pandemic nightmares. It's the continuation of This Is The Feeling You Thought You Had Repressed.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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