Through the traditional art of embroidery, Gabriela Novoa has managed to establish an aesthetic and artistic language that deconstructs the idea that talking about female sexuality is something forbidden, guilty or shameful. That delicate and meditative process of embroidering with silk thread on a raw blanket became a dialogue about “the autonomy of women’s bodies, far from social, religious or even State mandates.”
Gabriela Novoa’s work has been presented in Central American countries, in addition to Uruguay, the United States and Italy. From a collection on “Instructions to masturbate vulvas” that she was part of the “Overflowing Bodies” embroidery exhibition at the Alliance Française; to the production of short documentaries such as “Pulsión”, which won Best Experimental Short at the 2018 Icarus Festival; or “Draw Desire”, which questions female sexual desire within a patriarchal system.
The process of introspection that this technique offers her has made Novoa a visual artist with a formidable proposal and a clear message: “The vindication of women’s bodies and their struggles through the art of embroidery.” In this interview with THE GRAPHIC PRESS, we introduce you to Gabriela Novoa.
What is the story behind Gabriela Novoa’s embroidery?
It all started when I was in my last year at university when I started this research process on sexual pleasure in women. Within this process, one of the teachers encouraged us to find an “honest” aesthetic language that had a direct link with ourselves. From pornographic images as the first approach of every adolescent to the body and sexuality, to the objectification of the body in women within advertising and the media, thus questioning the erotic image.
In this case, I needed to link this research process to an aesthetic and artistic language to deconstruct the idea that sexuality is bad or dirty, and combat that feeling of being between fear, guilt and shame. Suddenly that silent process of embroidery was transformed into that dialogue of resistance about the autonomy of my body and the domain that each woman has over her own body.
At what point did you realize that you want to dedicate yourself to this?
I always say that art helped me to have a stronger voice. At university, for example, I was harassed by one of the teachers, who, when drawing nudes, wanted me to draw myself. I felt uncomfortable, annoyed, frustrated and I think that anger made me draw from there. I began to draw naked women but with animal parts, with suggestive postures with a terrifying force, I showed them to the teacher and from that day on he never harassed me again. It was there that I realized that art has great power and that it could not only serve to start dialogues but could also generate multiple emotions, it could be a channel of denunciation and that even that same impotence and rage could turn it into poetry.
What is the style that characterizes you?
I like to play a lot with the different languages because in the process of finding a suitable language to establish dialogues I have experimented with many materials, from traditional charcoal drawing to edible art sculptures, drawing on pawns, working with embroidery, installations and also in cinema. It all depends on the emotion that I am interested in generating with the work and thus find the material that is coupled to that type of provocation that I intend to generate from the poetic and the symbolic.
How is the creation process, where does the inspiration come from?
Well, everything arises from doubt, from wanting to know something and asking myself those same questions through artistic processes and from there images, textures, even flavors and smells emerge. For me, art is a process that never ends, a question that probably has no answer and that is what motivates me to continue creating, but also the curiosity of how the work will be perceived, especially in such a conservative country. like ours.
At first I was very afraid to talk about sexuality, not only because of what people said or thought, but because El Salvador is one of the countries with the highest rate of harassment, rape of women and femicide.
As a feminist artist, talking about pleasure caused me a lot of guilt for not talking about issues related to the violence that women experience, but over time I realized that if I did, not only with the censorship of my work but also by generating debates of the same and how important it was to show the other ways of being women, which became my own resistance.
What themes do you capture in your embroidery?
Most are about rethinking the body and history. At the beginning of the year I embroidered a flag on María Feliciana de los Ángeles Miranda, one of the forgotten Salvadoran women in the independence struggle of El Salvador. Embroidering her face in this element that speaks of a nation that does not belong to women, brings her from oblivion and from the impunity of her death. And instead my last exhibition “Bodies that overflow” I embroidered portraits of strong women, sure of their bodies and their sexuality, from the dissident bodies and the various ways of loving and feeling.
I also presented an embroidery installation on “Vulva Masturbation Techniques”, since much of the little sex education is done to satisfy men. In this case, presenting more than 21 techniques to masturbate vulvas was to show the pleasure in women and that women’s bodies matter and “overflow” the idea that women are there to satisfy them, as a gesture in the search for autonomy. and emancipation, questioning old customs and vindicating women’s bodies and their struggles to live a life in freedom and with dignity.
What kind of reactions have you faced?
When talking about sexuality from a feminist perspective, I have been confronted a lot with censorship, but above all with the questioning of my work. Many people say that it is to attract attention, that it is even vulgar, but not everyone sees the background of how important it is to talk about sexuality in Latin America with the high rate of unwanted pregnancies that exists, with so many rapes and abuses of women. or even this being one of the countries with the harshest penalties regarding the criminalization of abortion.
This censorship is something that has left me thinking a lot, since my work is generally aimed at adults, but it makes me very sad to know that there are no ways to talk about sexuality to the youngest, or about the changes they are experiencing. their bodies. In fact, I relate it to my own experience, I was never told about the changes I was going to experience in my body or about menstruation, the only thing they taught me at school or even at home was about fear: the fear of getting pregnant, the fear of losing your virginity, the fear of showing more than you should.
What artists have influenced your work?
Initially, I was influenced by all the artists who could not be, either because of gender mandates or because of the injustices of the context, and by all those who fought to make their art out of discomfort and injustice. As a lover of art history, I was very impressed by the history of the French sculptor Camille Claudel, the strength of the paintings of the Italian Artemisia Gentileschi, the introspectiveness of the work of the French sculptor Louise Bourgeois and the absurd humor of the visual artist Sophie Street. And from the Central American context I cannot fail to mention Patricia Belli, Paola Lorenzana and Abigail Reyes who greatly influenced my work.
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