Mar Figueroa: Two Tongues
Sean Horton (Presents) is pleased to announce Two Tongues, the New York solo debut by Mar Figueroa. In her latest series of paintings, the artist explores the permeation of ancestral traditions of Andean cultures in contemporary Latina American communities. Serving as testaments of Indigenous persistence against colonialism and displacement, Figueroa’s paintings document traditions and rituals that have been passed down through generations such as the preparation of special meals and beverages, and spiritual practices.
In Dos Lenguas, 2022 Figueroa examines her dynamic, bicultural identity as a Latin American woman of indigenous ancestry, and as an immigrant raised in the New York metropolitan area. Following the visual language of Surrealist tradition, the work depicts a dream-like self portrait of the artist set against a shoreline sunset. Figueroa renders herself bisected — the left side of her face is electric blue while the other is a warm, brown complexion. Two tongues emerge from her mouth splitting into opposite directions. In the foreground, a halved Spondylus seashell, highly venerated by the Incas, holds an incense stick, and Andean textile patterns frame the portrait. The recurrence of pairs and halving operate as visual motifs that reference the dichotomies of culture, language, and spirituality, among others, that merge and synergize within a diasporic Latinan American identity.
Speaking about the influence of Andean cultures and Latin American histories within her practices Figueroa says, “My family’s traditional Ecuadorian cuisine restaurant facilitated cultural continuity for myself and my community in this country and it was that environment that inspired my archeological interests and passion to know my Native American heritage. As a child, I would take the train to New York institutions and visit South American artifacts, take in the art of my ancestors and let it guide me.” Many of the scenes in Mar’s most recent paintings form a loosely-connected narrative set in an imagined restaurant, which is inspired by these experiences.
Mar Figueroa (b. 1993, Guayaquil, EC) lives and works in New York, NY. The artist attended the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI. She recently completed a residency at Field Projects, New York, NY, and is currently a resident artist at Silver Art Projects, New York, NY.
Q&A with Mar Figueroa
There is a recurring aspect in your works that involves the depiction of women in home-making environments, solitude, or in pensive states. What draws you to these moments?
I’m inspired by the women I grew up with in my family’s restaurant. It was a restaurant run by working class immigrant women. Them going about their work are my earliest memories. I feel at home amongst these scenes and I recognize these are moments not often experienced by people in a customer role or outside of the Latin American community. The job of the people I grew up with was to facilitate an experience and be unnoticed, and yet I was able to maneuver between different environments. This in betweenness throughout my life has made me sensitive in appreciating intimate moments.
There is also a recurrence of warmth and pink tones in your color palette. What influences the chromatic aspect of your works?
Whether it’s a memory, the warmth of a restaurant, the slow tempo beat of Latin American music, I allow nostalgia to guide my palette. The palette outcome has been unintentionally romantic.
Andean cultures and Latin American histories have a major influence on your practice. How do you approach the research on these topics?
My family’s traditional Ecuadorian cuisine restaurant facilitated cultural continuity for myself and my community in this country and it was that environment that inspired my archeological interests and passion to know my native American heritage. As a child, I would take the train to New York institutions and visit South American artifacts, take in the art of my ancestors and let it guide me.
The human figures in your work are often rendered in blocky forms and stylized faces that are reminiscent of pre-Columbian deity sculptures. Are there specific sculptural objects that inspire you?
Latin American bodies inform both my art and my predecessors. The people of my culture are small in stature, built with an ancestral physique made for cultivating our land, and yet have a tenderness akin to the qualities of a maternal figure.
In the past, you’ve paired your works with poetry by Joy Harjo, Patricia Fargnoli, and W. S. Merwin. How do poetry and literature intersect in your art practice?
I love poetry. Poet Sonia Sanchez once said: “The joy of poetry is that it will wait for you. Novels don't wait for you. Characters change. But poetry will wait...” Poetry is like a delicious appetizer before I begin my studio work or it can be as filling as a meal that I can savor all day and talk about. A good poem can ground, comfort, advise and inspire me. I was raised by a village of women, I paint women, and I read a lot by women. The words of Joy Harjo, Ada Limon, Sonia Sanchez, Jane Hirshfield, June Jordan, and more keep me company in the late hours
Some of the central figures in your paintings can be read as self-portraits, can you talk about this aspect of your practice?
I paint from memory and use a mirror when I need a reference. The results are that all my paintings have resemblance to me.
What role does music play in your creative process? Do you glean inspiration from certain genres or sounds?
I learned at a young age in the restaurant the power music has in creating a mood within a space and enhancing an experience. Now, I too utilize music to inspire me in creating a gentle quality in my paintings. My music tastes lean towards emotional.