Marina Faw: On rituals of art-making, Afro-Brazilian ancestry and the Wild Womxn.
Marina Faw (b.1991) is a Brazilian multimedia artist working with mixed textiles, embroidery, collage, painting and installation. She’s also a sea goat taurus centaurus that fuses the elements as a form of healing, self love and subconscious exploration. We had an intimate conversation about sisterhood, reclaiming ancestries and embracing the multidisciplinary self.
The Wild Womxn is a recurring archetype in your work. What’s your relationship to her, to the Goddess, to Iemanjá?
I always return to the archetype of the Wild Womxn. I think of womyn in South America, and how strong we are. I think of spirituality, of education, of taking care of a household and passing on culture and traditions. I think of my moms. I have my mom, but I also have her sister (who’s my godmother) and my grandmother. I have this collection of moms that offer such different things and it’s so interesting to connect this to historical archetypes.
Iemanjá is one of my favourite deities… and a Brazilian favourite! It’s so funny because Brazil is so Christian, everyone is so pragmatic and critical but during New Years it doesn’t matter what you believe in, it’s all about Iemanjá. You dress in all white, you offer flowers and perfume and things you find that she might like. You jump seven waves and take a dive. And then you are cleansed, and ready for the new year.
I was in Brazil last year with my partner and I understood how important this is for my family and my culture in general. This ancient part of history for us that was never washed away, and it was so great to see that.
How has Iemanjá manifested in your art practice?
Earlier this year, I created an installation and recorded a video for a class. I got a model, and as I filmed her bathing I thought about the rituals we do for cleansing and tuning in. I find that when I’m at my worst, I always go towards water. I’ve realized it’s a very core element for self- healing. And then when I think about Iemanjá. She is the sea, she is calm, nurturing and cleansing but she’s also powerful. She’s thunderstorm and big waves… This is womyn in general! We’re beautiful, complex beings. I look at the film now and feel like I would do it completely different today, but in that moment it was so cool to do it. It also helped me go back to doing things that I learnt with my grandmother, such as sewing and beading fabric.
And it’s political in a way too. I never wanted to be a “political” artist that would talk about complicated subjects, but I feel like people run away from that a lot and if that’s what’s coming out, then so be it! It is political. It’s political to be a woman, it’s political to breathe, to leave your house, to be in your house too! (laughs) We can’t run away from this. It’s society. But if you think about the archetype of the wild womxn, you follow your core, your heart, your heartbeat, your sisters.
What is sisterhood for you?
I pretty much grew up in a womxn’s house and having a sense of sisterhood is so important to me. When I left home and entered different environments, it was so magical to connect with other girls who were looking for that, and to be able to tap into that sisterhood and support in different ways.
Many of your works are connected with your family and Afro-Brazilian/Indigenous ancestry. How has the process of reclaiming these roots been like for you?
I love this part of my family. I was going through a thunderstorm of emotions and things happening in my life, and I found myself trying to rescue things that I learnt from my family. There was a lot of spirituality there, which I started exercising again.
Part of my family is from the Afro-Brazilian culture called Umbanda. We do rituals and stuff, we call in the spirits (because the Umbanda religion is Polytheism) and they come to talk and nurse people. My dad also comes from First Nations, from the Tabajaras in North East Brazil , in Ceara, and my grandfather is half Botocudo (one of the Indigenous communities in Espírito Santo) and half black.
I remember this moment of him picking me up from school and I would spend weekends with them. I grew up in an apartment, so I would always love going to their house… we would make potions and play with urucum seeds, which is a fruit that has red pigment seeds. We would dye shirts and paint ourselves. (laughs) And I remember one time he checked my agenda and saw a note that I hadn’t done my homework. I was 8 years old, and he told me that when he was young, if he didn’t do his homework, they would make him kneel on corn kernels. I was pretty shocked by that, and I remember asking him about it and realizing years later that he had been in a Christian boarding school.
So that lead me to started a research on his community, and when I found out his family was Botocudo it explained so much to me. Everything I found about it had his face on it! I remember sending photos to my family on our Whatsapp group being like look at Grandpa! You can’t deny it, it’s so strong, it’s in our bloodline. Everyone in my family has his eyes, his facial structure, his hair… everything.
I asked him to tell me more about it, and it was difficult for him, because I guess there’s way more to it emotionally, so it is hard to get more information out of him.
That’s so difficult to deal with. Family and intergenerational trauma hold so many wounds. I have a similar situation with my grandfather (who passed, so I can’t ask him questions). Personally, I feel responsible for undoing those knots, but I also understand that they’re easier for me to open because I haven’t lived what my ancestors have. It can be really hard to have those conversations.
Macho culture is a big part of it too. The old school style of not speaking about it, of having to be a strong man. I’m the oldest grandchild, and I have really been trying to pull this out of him. For example, I have tattoos and stretchers and he was always very bothered by it, but he could never really vocalize that is was because of family history and the weight that wearing your culture comes with. Slowly, I think he’s starting to open his mind and be more accepting. Maybe it’s age, maybe he’s letting go of something.
In South America, I find that we devalue our culture so much in comparison with North America, which is really sad. Mass media teaches us that anything from abroad is better than it is at home. But we have so much abundance! So much culture. When I moved [to Toronto] for the first time, I learnt about the First Nations here, and now that I’ve been here for a while and know a bit more… I’m realizing there’s no difference and it’s incredibly sad.
The histories of North and South America are drenched in colonialism… It’s enraging to see the violence against Indigenous folx and nations, against the land and land-based knowledge.
For first nations, the land is everyone’s land. It’s about respect, not about ownership. I understand why it’s difficult for my family to talk about it, and it’s hard for me to read about what’s going on in Brazil, especially with the new president. I’m extremely sad for my country. I never thought it would happen again. I mean, we had a 21 year dictatorship and this just feels like we’re walking backwards. And not only Brazil, so many countries around the world are going through similar situations.
I grew up in a culture of fear. We fear what’s supposed to protect us. We fear police officers, our homes have cameras, electrical fences… Here [in Toronto] I can walk freely, get home at any time... but I feel like there’s a part of me that will never be 100% relaxed. I’m always in tune, alert to what’s going on.
I feel like when I go home, I tap into things that I get too comfortable with when I’m here. Just the oppression of the police, how awful and extreme it is. It’s when you’re in a position of power that all the negatives come forward: the macho culture, the hierarchy, the lack of voice. Even if it’s a really serious issue, people end up dealing with it on their own because they’re scared. There’s no sense of mediation.
Although there’s a lot of pain, much of your work is a love letter to the abundance of your culture and traditions. How do you find healing within this space?
The sun, being able to walk on dirt, being outside and in touch with ourselves. Even just not having to wear so many layers and be so covered all the time! I feel like when I go home I just shed all of that. I literally bring nothing with me. Whatever I need, I have it there. I have my shorts, my bikini.. and I just bring a big ass suitcase just to bring brazilian food back with me (laughs).
The pace of life here really takes a toll on people. The weather is so harsh, there’s a whole period in the year in which you’re isolated. It can become very intense.
And as a creative that can be limiting too, I just want to be able to make, that’s all I want. Adapting to this way of life and reflecting on where I came from and how we value time and leisure it has been lately a good reflection for me. Being work-driven is very good, but it is important to keep the balance, enjoy life and learn different things that can be used in your art work too. I see people here sometimes associating happiness and security with the hierarchy of climbing the ladder. And as a creative, that somewhat dangerous to think because creativity doesn’t really follows that line of thought and it can be limiting to create within it.
I like to think of the art scene as a garden, rather than a ladder. I find that this city has so many systems and policies that cause folx to prioritize what they’re gaining, but if you take everything out of the garden, you won’t have anything left. How can we give more and take less?
The money chase and the ideal utopia of hustling and spending loads of money is just… this city is so interesting. People make so little and spend so much.
I just want to practice self love and healing. I ask myself things like, what is happiness for me? What do I want to keep? What is important in my life? My support system, my friends (that are also my family), my cat, my partner, my art… These are the things that are important to me.
You mentioned rituals earlier, within your family and ancient traditions. What’s your ritual of artmaking right now, and how does it connect to self care?
It’s always interesting to see what happens because I’m very process driven. My ritual in art right now is just enjoying that process. It’s about rescuing the inner child, rescuing my voice and listening to what comes out naturally. It’s about trying to not overthink. I don’t want to overthink anymore, I did that too much in school and man, it’s a vibe killer! I felt like I was really going crazy at times. (laughs) You write, write, write and read, read, read and you stare at things and convince yourself you don’t know anything because there’s no time to process it. Maybe that’s my thing now. I miss having time. The life pace is so fast here. People don’t think it is, but it’s fast and it’s harmful for mental health and many other things.
Talking about art is talking about yourself and your ego. At the beginning I didn’t want to tap into those more private matters, but I find that once you do it, you can never go back. If you tap into it, you gotta swim in it and it starts coming out naturally. My ritual now is about trying to shed my worries, creating something that speaks to me whether it’s beautiful or ugly. It makes me hopeful.
From jewellery to painting to video, your work is incredibly multidisciplinary. Do you find that working in multiple mediums helps you tell stories in different ways?
It’s my ADHD. (laughs) I can’t just pick one thing. This was actually very difficult for me in school. In Brazil, you could explore anything at university. I studied art but did other courses in psychology, sculpture, biological drawings… you could go into all these different realms and add to your craft. You would explore and understand the process of things and manipulate them into our practice - or not. But when I got [to Canada], I was painting every day. I love painting, but I wanted to take different classes and couldn’t because they were “unrelated” or because I didn’t have the requisites. It was such a tiny, little box and very stiff. I like exploring things and mixing it up, so it was hard to embrace my multidisciplinary self.
Do you find that now you’re more comfortable with your multidisciplinary self?
An artist I love visited the studio the other day… We were talking about artist bios and she told me it took her ten years to write about her art. I think it’s always changing. You’re in control, but sometimes you’re not. It’s a very unconscious process, which is why it’s so important to experiment because it makes you think in different ways. We are practical and visual people, we need to learn by doing.
What roles does dreamwork play in your practice?
There’s been many times that I was so stressed, my body would just shut down and need to sleep and I wouldn’t remember any of my dreams. Lately though, I’ve been dreaming so much. I wake up from a whole story, a whole world. It’s like cosmic travelling.
I recently had this dream that I was with someone on a shaggy little boat in a river and something fell in the water. I started looking for it and I felt this fish under my feet, and when I pick it up to see what it is I realize it’s a tiny, cute dolphin ... with feet! The dream goes on, and when I wake up in the morning I start wondering why that part of the dream stuck out so much to me. I haven’t looked into it yet, but I find that especially with animals, symbolically they often come to offer the strength that you need in that time.
I love dreams! For me, they’ve always been a way of understanding what our subconscious is trying to tell us about what we’re going through, what we’re scared of or confused about. It’s so interesting to see the different ways in which artmaking can bring dreams into waking life.
It’s like my ritual of painting. I pick a palette, treat the surface, grab some acrylic paint and just start making marks. I like playing with watercolour now and seeing how it flows. After this, I let it rest for a bit and when I go into the figurative, it always comes naturally. I start seeing figures and tapping into the symbolisms, playing around with the mark-making to see what comes up. When I let the piece talk to me, it reminds me that I have control, but I kinda don’t. (laughs)
Everything can be a ritual though. I’ve also gone back to doing my rituals before going to sleep. I need at least two hours to relax. I shower, light a candle and stretch to help release what went on in the day. I call Hendrix (my cat) in and we spend some time together and nurture each other. It’s things like being thankful, thanking the cosmos for the day, for the food, for being able to pay the rent, for my interactions. Asking my exus for protection.
What guidance does the exu offer you?
exus are the gatekeepers, of the cities, the human behavior and they are responsible in carrying messages between worlds. Their image can be demonized because Catholicism associated it to the devil, but that’s not what they are. In Afro-Brazilian religions, everything is reflective of intentions. It’s about you. Your intentions and karma. You set intentions for what you want in your life, and whether it’s good or bad, that’s the consequences of it it’s the outcome that you get. The exus facilitate the connection between the material world and the spiritual world, they represent the karmic laws. Therefore, the power of intentions and the consequences along with it.
You just started a new series of astrological illustrations. Has this process been different to your painting?
I think I was stressed and just needed to return to drawing to calm me down. I’d been feeling very immobilized creatively, so I just needed to create something that wasn’t precious: something that wouldn’t require a lot of effort and would give me a quick result. I started doing these illustrations as studies, and I got many commissions out of them! It’s so interesting to see how people perceive and react to them. I got to do a commission for a friend of mine who’s an astrologist in Brazil. He asked me to do a Moon in Libra transit and it just moved forward from there. I have a fascination for astrology, it includes so many of my interests: psychology, stars, space, existence… It has such an ancient history, too… in so many countries. I’m always trying to learn more about it.
It’s always a back and forth.
It’s hard in this industry. People are drawn to see things as low-brow and high-brow, some things are accepted when other things aren’t. Illustrating or drawing in a specific way is undervalued sometimes. It’s confusing if you’re trying to explore or just rescue old elements, accept them as they are and incorporate them into your practice. I passed through all of this and now I just want to have fun. I don’t want to force or overthink anything. I just want to learn through my paintings again. I want to enjoy it, laugh about it, let it reveal itself to me and make something weird. (laughs)