Pictured left to right: Tony Gum of Cape Town, South Africa; Ana Maria Devis of Bogota, Colombia; and Asad Faulwell of Los Angeles, CA.
The human body is a vessel of information. Gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity are communicated with a single glance. We change our hair and clothes, or add tattoos and piercings, to demonstrate that our identities are layered and non-linear. Since the 1960s and 1970s, artists have used their bodies as a material and a medium - gestures, mark-making, and performance become a manifestation of the body as a tool for creative expression. Putting their bodies at the center of their practice creates the illusion that they’re unlocking some secret genetic code, with millions of years of existence etched into every brushstroke, pattern, or movement.
During the month of April, the Fountainhead Residency welcomed three artists who directly and indirectly contemplate the body - whether by depicting it, taking from it, or using it within the work. Ana Maria Devis, Asad Faulwell, and Tony Gum - hailing from Bogota, Los Angeles, and Cape Town, respectively - each use the body as a springboard for conversation, whether that discussion is uniquely personal or pertinent to a sociocultural framework. The artists - each of whom have minimal experience completing an artist residency - formed a tight-knit bond, and agreed that the experience at Fountainhead would set a high bar for future residency opportunities. “The Fountainhead has set a very high standard in terms of networking, socializing and interacting with collectors and curators and people who appreciate art. I feel like I’ve gotten the inside scoop of what goes on in the art world and the business of it,” says Gum.
Ana Maria Devis
Drawing and the reconstruction of objects had always been Devis’ preferred medium to explore the world around her. She had a breakthrough after being mentored by Colombian artist Maria Jose Arjona. “Working with her was crucial because it allowed me to understand my own physicality,” says Devis. “I realized that my body can translate the process of drawing because it’s so divine that it adapts itself and generates memory.”
That realization altered her process, as Devis began to incorporate elements of observation, repetition, and time to generate a vocabulary that decodes the typographies of the biological world. Devis usually selects a material or concept based on the weight of its sociocultural impact, and begins to collect this material over time. For Mujeres Tortugas, for example, Devis collected and preserved turtle shells after she found that many were dying in Los Llanos, a vast tropical plain in northeastern Colombia. She then surveyed 80 women, asking them, “If you were a turtle, what would you carry in your shell?” Receiving a slew of emotional responses, Devis began to draw - not the literal interpretations of what these women might carry, but the imaginative, organic forms their weight might take. Pieces of each shell were added to the drawings, which Devis would painstakingly make while sitting in a public-facing vitrine three times a week, five hours a day, for a five-month-long span. “This work was so beautiful because my body was actualizing itself,” says Devis.
“Each of my series are somehow connected to the other,” Devis explains, pointing to the work she has created at Fountainhead. During the making of Infinito at Flora Ars Natura in Bogota, Devis was carefully studying Afro-Colombian braiding techniques, developed during times of slavery as a method of controlling the ‘undesirable mane’ of black women. They simultaneously designed these braids as maps outlining escape routes, describing specific topographies in the region to facilitate their resistance. Devis found parallels in other body parts, like our fingerprints, which formed the same kinds of twists and braids as hair.
Concurrently, Devis had collected used makeup wipes with the vision that they carried an accumulation of gestures, symbolic of the overbearing beauty expectations faced by women. Following the curve of each stain - colored beige, black, and red - Devis cut out shapes and began sewing them together with the strands of hair she had collected. Each of the resulting works form the outline of an amorphous figure; eventually, Devis plans to construct pieces she can wear to give the work a performative component.
The experience at Fountainhead was crucial for creating this compelling body of work. “I didn’t have any expectations and I didnt know what I was walking into, but I knew I wanted to try and concrete this and that’s what happened,” says Devis. “Here you have a month to get serious...you have to make contacts, go out to meet people, present your work, and it’s all an extremely valuable exercise.”
Gum has similarly inserted her own body into her works, which are often personal and revelatory of her experiences. Uplifting cultural beliefs and practices from her own Xhosa culture, Gum is often the subject of her portraits - though the subject isn’t necessarily autobiographical. “I use myself as a subject because I know how to work with myself, but the story I want to tell is inspired by a past historical narrative from the culture itself,” says Gum. “The intention is to archive and inspire the people from the culture and beyond to seek some form of identity.”
Through photography, collage and mixed media works, Gum transforms her personal journey into a collective narrative. Her dress is characteristically Xhosa, which the culture uses as a form of communication; certain colors or stripes indicate that the wearer is from a certain tribe or region; markings, called imbola, signify that the wearer has beared children or is married. She might add a contemporary makeup brush or object into the frame, an element of hypercontradiction that persists throughout her work. Lately, her practice has become more personal, as Gum is working through her emotional response to an abortion.
“As much as I get to share a collective narrative, I use myself in the imagery and therefore need to reflect my own experiences,” says Gum. “I’m sharing my vulnerability without any shame or being cynical about it; this work speaks about the trauma of termination and shame I felt within that time and context.”
In Miami, Gum built upon this series of works, which she began in 2016. It revolves around the relationship between herself and the cat she adopted as a means of dealing with her abortion. Photographs reveal her dual nature as a caretaker and a woman that needs to be cared for; this duality is also present in the cat, who accepts her care sometimes and shuns her others. Creating textile works at the Fountainhead, Gum superimposed images from the series onto a tapestry, adding red weavings and pointed claws to the work. In some places, the weavings are torn apart and shredded; Gum covers her face with a red tassel while wearing cat ears.
“This figure is now in a position of being vocal and up front with her pain,” says Gum. “I’m no longer ashamed of telling the story because it surpasses my own experience; by telling it, I hope it will heal the next woman who has experienced trauma.” Gum found her time at Fountainhead to be transformative in this way. “I realized how selfless it is to share our craft and work in a space we enjoy and are passionate about, giving the people who interact with them a different perspective,” she says. “It gave me a different perspective and encouraged me to remember that it goes beyond me yet again.”
Growing up in Los Angeles, Faulwell was surrounded by strong Iranian women. His grandmother moved to California while his grandfather stayed behind in Iran; her three daughters would play a formidable role in his upbringing. Perhaps that’s why Faulwell has been drawn to the female form within his work, exploring the duality of their nature through the lens of a particular event in history. The Battle of Algiers, a 1966 historical war film depicting a rebel Algerian uprising against the French government, acts as a backdrop for Faulwell’s work. In his paintings, Faulwell aims to recontextualize the women involved in this battle, who were left out of history based on their gender.
“It’s a unique event and moment in history, but it’s also reflective of larger pattern of whoever is in power,” says Faulwell. “They essentially decide what gets written into history and what doesn’t, whether that be colonial powers or patriarchal structure in society. I just felt like it was something worth being known about, or at least part of a dialogue in history.”
Faulwell uses a pointillist, abstract technique to create both large- and small-scale paintings, infused with the colorful geometry inherent to Middle Eastern religious culture and claiming a connection to mapmaking culture. Female figures are superimposed over colorful motifs, and are meant to resemble historical monuments versus living women. Faulwell aims to point out that these women were both victims and aggressors; they employed sinister methods to achieve their independence from France, but were often physically or sexually violated by their comrades, their contributions to the revolution ignored for their sex.
Faulwell uses this historical event as a device to explore our contemporary moment, where Middle Eastern culture is denigrated by powerful leaders around the world, and women consistently face violence and inequality. “If the issues being addressed in the work were resolved by now, it would be stuck in history and not important to discuss,” he says. “The fact that the issues addressed have not been resolved and have even become worse, makes this work very poignant.”
At the Fountainhead, Faulwell created new works within this series, and sold much of the work to a local collector. The time at the residency was fruitful for him - he reconnected with curators, and people who had admired his work from afar. “I had only done a residency in the woods before, so my perception was always that a residency is an isolated experience,” he says. “This was different in that you’re in an urban environment, in a vibrant art community, with a balance between making work and meeting people. A lot of great artists have come through here.”
- Nicole Martinez, April