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In the Studio with Carla Maldonado

In honor of Earth Day, we are featuring Carla Maldonado, a multimedia artist who extensively covers climate activism through the eyes of the rebels, misfits, and revolutionaries. Before the self-quarantines in New York began, we met with the Brazilian artist at SoMad Studio, the collaborative studio she shares with Sara Arno and Serichai Traipoom

Upon entering, we were met with glaring red lights and layered footage, reflections of the symbolism that is consistent through all her pieces. In her most recent video installations, “Amazon Inferno” and “She’s The Revolution,” Maldonado touches on the topics of forest fires, Indigenous rights, and a negligent president. Her work highlights the need for restoration and protection projects for Indigenous lands in Brazil and features those in the front of fighting this crisis: environmental activists Sonia Guajajara, Artemisia Xakriabá, and Cris Pankararú. 

Living between Trump’s America and Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Maldonado works to expose the reality of both countries. In her studio, we talked to the artist about collaboration, censorship, and how ecofeminism is key to changing our world’s current power dynamics. 

What is the piece you re-created here? What story does it tell?

 These installations are the ones I have been working on for the past six months. They came as my immediate response to the deliberate burning of the Amazon forest by President Jair Bolsonaro’s acolytes. By the time the massive fire started, he neglected it, giving public speeches about the fact that the forest wasn’t burning at all — while criminal gangs including farmers, miners, and loggers kept destroying the forest in response to his inconsequential economic plans. 

With this work, I aim to bring attention to the need for restoring protections to Indigenous lands. I mix videos I made during my time in the Brazilian Amazon, interviews with Indigenous leaders, and news that I was consuming when the destruction was happening. I have a deeply emotional connection to the forest and the people that I have met there. The work mirrors my psychological state in these months when I looked at all the beautiful imagery I collected in the Amazon while facing the possibility of never having it ever again.


What is your creative process like? What do you do to exercise your artistry?

 I make work from photographs and videos I accumulate; documentation of environments I navigate and people I encounter throughout life, focusing on the rebels, the misfits, the revolutionaries. My creative process is the assembly of these memories, including moments that I wanted to cherish and eternalize, for its beauty or meaning.

 My installations are usually derived from a photograph or a video that inspires me to tell a story and reintegrate them with found materials that I recycle and reuse, including wood scraps and old televisions. My creative process is observational and intuitive, and my work directly responds to socio-political events. And editing, there is a lot of editing and cutting and pasting and making and remaking.


You’re part of the SoMad Studio – what kind of work can we see there?

 SoMad Studio is a space where creatives come to make work, collaborate, celebrate art, and share experiences. It is hard to define SoMad Studio as only one thing, but for me, it is the place where my work is nurtured and developed, and I am so grateful to be surrounded by a range of amazing visual artists that give me time to have conversations about works in progress, helping me develop and grow.

 It functions as a studio space and a gallery space, we host workshops, photoshoots, and art shows. It’s many things, but more than that is a dream shared between me, Sara Arno, and Serichai Traipoom.


How does collaboration play a role in activism?

 There is no activism without collaboration. In order to enable minorities to have a voice, we need to stand up together and get organized, empower each other. Our enemies are structural, we need to be part of a revolution in order to get them out of their comfort zone.


What was the project you were most passionate about the issues being brought up? Why?

 The video, “She’s The Revolution”, I made in October with Sonia Guajajara, Artemisia Xakriabá and Cris Pankararú is very dear to my heart. In this video, I follow the three activists when they came to NY to report the ongoing Indigenous Genocide in Brazil, speak up about Global Warming and Indigenous rights. It was alarming to learn that Sonia’s family members were shortly thereafter murdered for defending their lands. In this journey, she speaks about the fight for Mother Earth being the Mother of all fights and invites everyone to join her revolution. It was beautiful to be surrounded by activists that are constantly engaging these issues. Their speech offers us hope that there is still time to change.


You’re from Rio De Janeiro (Brazil) and have been living in New York City (US) for a while. How is activism different in the two countries? How is that reflected in the art you create?

 It is much safer to publicly speak about politics in America. If I were to be making work in Brazil, I would think that the work would aim to deliver the same message. However, it would be forced to be more subtle, repressed by the lack of freedom of expression and Bolsonaro’s cultural censorship. I highly respect my fellow Brazilian artists that are seemingly making work through this current cultural crisis.


How is being an artist different in the two countries?

 From my experience growing up in Brazil, I was never encouraged to pursue art as a career. I moved to New York because there seemed to be more space and visibility for art to be celebrated and respected.


When talking about social/environmental/political awareness, what kind of conversations should we be evolving into?

 We must talk about ecofeminism. It’s about time to understand that, in order to fight global warming, we must fight systemic patriarchy. Our planet suffers from degradation and injustice, feeding off of the same power structure. We need to empower women activists and follow their lead in order to save life as we know it on Earth in order to save ourselves.


What kind of impact have you seen your work have? How do you make your art and activism actionable?

 I am happy to make work that starts a conversation, educates the viewer and empowers women’s voices. In times like this, I use art to communicate and raise awareness. I am also collaboratively organizing a benefit group show at SoMad Studio, which was planned to open on May 14 (now TBD because of COVID-19), showcasing work by South American artists. SoMad will be donating the proceeds to Sonia Guajajara’s organization “Instituto Makarapi” to support the mission of Indigenous Women in Brazil.


Congratulations on your recent AIM Fellowship by The Bronx Museum! What issues are you planning on discussing through your next projects?

 I am continuing to visualize work about my experience as a Brazilian living in between Bolsonaro’s destruction of the Amazon Forest, and Trump’s America. Once matriarchy rules the world, I will be making beautiful work about love and nature. Meanwhile, I will be looking for a women-led revolution, being a part of it, documenting it, making work and starting conversations about it.

After self-quarantine started in NY, we caught up with Maldonado to understand how the pandemic is impacting her art practice.

How are you making yourself more resilient creatively? What are you working on right now?

I decided to start “Intimate Space” because I have been quarantining at the studio and whenever my anxiety kicks in I turn to making videos and editing them… Just to feel a little normal again. I figured that more people in our creative community were probably doing the same, so we decided to start a new channel on our website to share works and empower people that are creatively coping during this pandemic.
Intimate Space is a viewing experience bringing us art in times of quarantine. Personal contact is no longer an option. We want to feel close to one another. The project is now on SoMad’s web channel so we can be together from afar. Our community is full of creatives and we want to encourage each other to make/share art in times of despair. We are accepting work through our website and update the channel with submissions as they come.


Interview by Julia Rutzen


PHOTOGRAPHER: Serichai Traipoom

PRODUCERS: Ella Jayes + Merilyn Chang

SOUND SCORE: “Debbie” by Duke Bojadziev

Stay tuned to Milk for more studio visits. 

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