Gonzalo Fuenmayor is interviewed about cultural hybridity and his artistic process

Gonzalo Fuenmayor, urban and tropical fusion

August 2013

arte I ref

Gonzalo Fuenmayor, born in Barranquilla, Columbia in 1977 is an artist currently living in Miami, Florida. As a Latin American who earlier moved to New York to study art, he started to absorb a different kind of culture. In this way, he merges the urban with the tropical like a personal sense of displacement. Clear forms of bananas turned into human heads, palm trees with mirror balls or exotic animals mixed with XVIII century rocaille sculptures, are some of the visual shapes we can observe in Gonzalo's works of art divided into Drawing, Painting and Photography. There is a kind of melting process between the two items that usually composes the themes, although we can always feel a sort of strangeness because of their strong contrast. Like as if they were unsuitable and at the same time possible to live with each other, being different. The artist makes this amazing combination that makes us think about the constant integration (or disintegration) of people in different cultures. Nevertheless, we can also contemplate a humorous and ironic proposal with this disajustment. We cannot deny it has its own beauty!

Paintings, Photography and Drawings. Could you describe your work?
As a Colombian artist living in the United States for more than a decade, I once felt the responsibility to make art that commented on the social events happening back home. Feeling detached from the tacit burden to address drugs and violence, I started drawing bananas instead.

Could you speak about your creative process. Where do you get inspired?
My recent body of work examines ideas of cultural hybridity, exoticism and the complicit and amnesic relationship between ornamentation and tragedy. Opulent Victorian and Roccoco-era chandeliers and other elements, reminescent of a decadent colonial past, proliferate from banana bunches, alluding to a tragic and violent history associated with Banana trade worldwide. I am interested in how ornamentation with its grace and excess has the capacity to camouflage and overshadow questionable circumstances.

The tropical theme comes from your past… Could you speak more about it?
What initially began as a lighthearted attempt to self-exoticize and position myself as specifically “Colombian” -coming from a “Banana Republic”- evolved into an exploration of cultural hybridity and transnational identity. A certain dislocation, or absurdity is always present in the work where 18th century decorative paraphernalia subsist naturaly in tropical settings; either by hanging seamlessly from banana bunches or by being engulfed by snake. The mystical engagement of disparate elements, metaphorically untangles the dynamics of belonging as a foreigner at home and abroad.

What kind of materials and techniques you usually use?
I work mainly with charcoal on paper given its flexibility and richness when portraying dramatic atmospheres and light. The drawings originate from collages which are then transformed into large scale drawings. Light and darkness activate the surface of the paper by chiaroscuros and the use of negative space; using the naked white paper as light and charcoal’s darkest values as darkness.
In an attempt to blur the line between reality and fantasy, the latest series detach themselves from drawing and collage and step into the realm of photography. In the latest series, several victorian chandeliers were attached to banana bunches in the midst of a banana plantation, lit at night and then photographed. The theatricality and dramatic nature of the imagery, subordinate the contradictory into a delicate and imaginative order, evoking a certain kind of reconciliation or tense harmony between two disjointed realities. As the past, the present, the exotic and the familiar collide, absurd and fantastic panoramas arise.

What are your future projects?
I have a group exhibition at Fundacion Gilberto Alzate Avendaño (Bogota), where I will be participating with a large scale photograph in a National Bidimensional work contest. – November 2013.
Next year I will be participating at a Residency at Bemis Center International Residency in Omaha, Nebraska for two months – Summer 2014

How would you define contemporary art?
I have a hard time labeling art as contemporary, modern, latin, american, conceptual, etc…Many times these labels limit the scope of the meaning of what art can be. Personally, Art offers a way to access and learn about the world by continually questioning and challenging personal paradigms and expectations.