Words: Q&A Gardy St. Fleur + Florine Demosthene
Art: Florine Demosthene
You have said that your signature technique of using colored ink on mylar allows unpredictability and removes the focus of perfection in your process since the chemical reaction of mixing these materials creates a natural marbling effect. How has embracing unpredictability and imperfection transformed your life personally?
Living in Accra has taught me that life does not move according to a set schedule. Everything is in flux. I had to learn how to work with the constant fluctuation of life, as for example; I had become accustomed to acquiring all the materials that I needed (in terms of making art) quite easily. All the shops were within an eight-block radius in Manhattan. If one store didn’t have an item, then surely another store would. Accra is not structured like that whatsoever. Artist materials are not necessarily sold in “logical” places. I went to over a dozen shops (most of them in the large open markets) searching for drawing paper. No one knew what I was talking about. They kept directing me to reams of copy paper. After three days of searching, I realized that I was thinking like an American, and not a Ghanaian. There was this small gallery that I would walk by on my way to the bank. I decided to go in and look around. The owner of the gallery happened to be in that afternoon. She told me that she was wondering when I would come in. She stated that she saw me all over town, but she could not understand why I didn’t come into her gallery (especially since I “looked like an artist”). I explained my drawing paper dilemma to her, and she was able to solve it in an instant. She knew exactly what I was looking for. She drove me to a shop that was a few minutes away from her gallery. The shop was stocked from floor to ceiling with all sorts of drawing papers from the UK, Germany, China, and Japan. I was shocked! The help that I needed had been in front of me the entire time. I just kept walking past it. After that particular experience, I decided that I was too rigid with my art process, as well as, my life. If I wanted to thrive in Ghana, then I was going to have to just “let go” and move with the flow of life. Nothing had to be perfect. Perfection is just a perception. I thought about the time, and money I wasted looking for drawing paper. Why couldn’t I just work with copy paper, Post-its, or notebooks? It was time to loosen the restraints that had gripped my creative process.
In what way do your Haitian roots inform your exploration of femininity and sensuality in your work?
Haitian women have always fascinated me, in that there are things that I just never quite understood. There are so many unspoken nuanced programmatic behaviors that I have been enamored with for a very long time. I grew up in a very conservative family and sexuality, sex, and sensuality was not discussed openly. At times, I think that some of my works are attempting to rectify this conditioned behavior or perhaps, provide answers to the many questions that I have.
You often use your body as a template in your artwork. Is this a form of self-discovery? If so, what have you learned about yourself during this process?
I use my body simply because I am a reliable subject to work from. I am there when I need to be. At the beginning it was difficult because I was not comfortable in exposing my physical self in any way. I didn’t want to be judged or leered at. In time, I was able to release the burden of judgment. I focused my energy on the spiritual, and emotional aspects of my work. In many ways, I have learned so much about my physical body. I learned that my body is not symmetrical in any way. I have incredibly long legs and fingers. My toes are gappy, and my head makes a wonderful shape. It may all seem trivial, but these kinds of quirks allowed me to appreciate and love myself more and more.
What life experience or reference was the catalyst for your decision to construct a feminine heroine?
The construction of the heroine happened during my first trip to Ghana in 2009-2010. I developed this concept because of my interaction with Ghanaian women. At that time, I was not comfortable in my own skin. I did not understand what it meant to be a woman. I understood masculine energy quite well, but I was at a loss with feminine energy. It seemed to me that feminine energy was scripted in some way, and it was in direct conflict with who I was (this had been a running theme in my life). I decided to create this quasi persona that would embody a woman who had special physical abilities. I was intrigued with how she would come to terms with these abilities, and how she would navigate through the world. After much discussion with women that I met in Accra, I realized that these abilities would manifest first in the psychological and emotional realms. Once this heroine became mentally and emotionally ready, then she would engage with the physical aspects of her abilities. The majority of the work that I have created has delved into the mental, emotional, and spiritual states of transformation. The body became the vehicle for this transmutation.
How has the experience of living in Ghana and South Africa influenced your work?
My experiences in Ghana and South Africa gave me the courage to become more vulnerable in my personal life, and in my art process. These experiences were simultaneously visceral, and nebulous. Prior to visiting Ghana (and then moving to Accra in 2014), I was detached from my artwork, and certain aspects of my life. I wanted to find the core-essence of who I am and develop it into something substantial in my life. I wanted to be authentic in my art and in my life.