We were instantly dazzled when we came across the sublimely joyous and penetratingly soulful work of Brazilian artist, Ananda Nahu. Blending outrageously rich colour and a gloriously visual groove into a celebration of raw culture, roots, unbound expression and urban poetry, she draws on a wildly eclectic wellspring of influences ranging from album covers to African handicrafts to life in the impoverished Brazilian hinterland to create a rich crescendo of sensory experience. Lavishly sensual and all embracingly human, she paints the steaming, sizzling electric culture of the Brazilian street and her awesome portraits of strong, powerful, funky women are but one of the many inspirational triggers and spectacular explosions of artistic insight in her work which are often collaborations with her husband Izolag. We contacted her immediately for an interview and have left much of her fantastic English unedited as it simply reads more poetically than our attempts at formalising it!
Can you tell us a little about your life growing up
I was born in Juazeiro, a quiet city in the interior of Bahia, Brazil; and my first memories are of the hot and sterile desert of my cradle. I grew up in Petrolina, a quiet city in the heartland of Pernambuco in Brazil, separated from Juazeiro by the S„o Francisco river. Back then, and from a very young age, I would draw and paint every day and I learned how to sew with the scraps that my paternal grandmother would leave around, and began to experiment with crafts. I always had access to books and artistic materials, some from my great-grandfather Napoleao Bonoso Lustoza who went to the United States and worked in the wall paints industry in order to really understand this technology. Eight months later he returned to Brazil and founded the factory Inks Ypiranga, the first manufacturer in Brazil to offer colour variations in wall paint. Many years later he sold the factory and spent his life patenting inventions for paints and was colour consultant in many Ink Factories.
How did you first start to paint
Before venturing into the urban world, I began developing engravings and had a research position with Art Poster. I worked with ëLitogravuraí, engraving in metal and learning serigraph and eventually painted some screen prints, all of which were very experimental. I also have to look back at my experiences of photography; I learned how to photograph and how to reveal the essence of a moment, and I look on this time very fondly because it provided me with a solid grounding and very useful bank of knowledge. I met Izolag at the University of Fine Arts (although we abandoned the course shortly afterwards, having realized the gap between what was being taught and contemporary culture ñ a chasm that in many ways defines life in general) and with him already making stencils and painting graffiti, I began to help him, though at the outset it was literally just that rather than developing myself. I brought the knowledge of engraving techniques to the partnership and him the urban knowledge. We mixed all our respective skills and backgrounds together and created our careers separately.
Itís an oppressively hot region that has been a victim of politicians economic interests ever since colonial times, and as a result is impoverished, sterile and awash with suffering. The people are marked both in body and in mind with the scars of a life of relentless struggle and it is consequently a deeply religious place as people put their faith in God in the eternal hope that he can soften so much injustice. My father practices medicine there and he goes regularly to numerous cities throughout the Northeast to assist often very poor people in medical need. Whenever I can, I accompany him and thus my roots have always been with the people, the forgotten and the destitute and they are my principal source of inspiration and form the main character of my work.
How much does Brazillian identity speak through your art
I cannot think in Brasil without thinking in hot colours and mixed styles. Itís an extraordinarily big and diverse country with high temperatures, an astonishing array of nature, wonderful beaches, and brimming with musical talent. African culture is very strong here, especially in Bahia, and influences each and every Brazillian without them even knowing it. I love all those references and they are very strong in my art.
Do you paint with stencils or freehand
Both. I paint with stencil and freehand, sometimes both together and sometimes individually. I study every day to be able to paint with or without stencil if I wish to. Sometimes I make stencil out of fabric, but most of the time I paint those fabrics in freehand just to be able to create that same image without a stencil. When I use African fabrics in the artworks, I always paint in freehand. I donít want be slave of a technique, and I want to use stencil when I want and when it suits the piece rather than out of necessity.
Street art is very strong in Brazil, we have many talented artists, but itís a stronger movement in the south of the country, in places like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro which influence the whole country because they have a greater supply of ink and greater access to information. This situation will change gradually over time, as the country is growing economically and politics is changing due to the success of President Lulaís government. †
How do local communities respond to your work
The acceptance of the work is quite intense, and the fact that the stencils come from a picture means that you can hone perfect accuracy of the layers and that means everyone can enjoy it and understand it and really get to see the work. When I paint graffiti many passersby are really quite surprised by the realism of the image.
Do you reference traditional Brazilian culture in your work
My work has a lot of regional references, mainly from the northeastern region, where drought and heat are as intense as its beaches. Scraps of fabric and fabrics have always been heavily used in northeastern handicrafts, as well as the use of warm colors and colorful, religious domestic furnishings. Crafts are a major industry in the region, and the use of leather from goats and cows, sewing, string, clay, wood, patchwork of fabrics and many other materials support thousands of families and those references come very naturally to the inhabitants. Furthermore Umbanda was heavily present in my family since generations past. It is a blend of African religion, Catholicism and Indian beliefs and was created here. I have no religion, but its influence has been constant in my house since I was a child and it is a great symbol of how Brazil was colonized.
A lot of your work seems to refer to the 1960s and 1970s. What does that period mean to you
I consider this very special time, it saw the ripening of certain cultural tendencies – music, film and the arts and also the birth of many others which have such a strong influence on good music still being produced today. I like everything that was produced at that time, – it had the taste of something new, never done before. The corporate music of today, the canned goods that large producers put on the market, crammed with sexual exploitation in order to sell, since the music does not have any quality, are always in bad taste and deeply depressing. Today we are slaves of the cultural strands the evolved in the ë50s ë60s ë70s and ë80s, and it is very difficult to create something new that does not have any kind of relationship with what was done at that time.
There’s a lot of women painting, and many talented people with an enormous creative capacity. Women have gradually changed the mentality of oppression and submission that was imposed since antiquity in society.
You paint a lot of strong women. How do you capture that spirit
It takes a lot until you find a picture of someone that would make a good stencil. Any picture can be a stencil, but to find that picture of someone with a differential, something that was captured at the time, with movement and soul, requires a trained eye and a work of art with a solid line. When I look for good photo stencils, I try my own photographs, look for pictures of musicians of the ë60s and ë70s, and pictures that record labels have made available on the Internet, over and above taking stencil pictures from of album covers. Besides, the person depicted has to have movement because I do not like static pictures.
What does the image of a woman of colour mean to you
It creates a nice atmosphere, happy, very colorful, and brings a lot of weight and greatness to the feminine image, which is very strong. I never get tired of seeing the result of a multicolored stencil, and you can vary the colors, making new combinations each time the stencil is used. It’s great fun.
In Bahia, the presence of influences that come from Africa are very strong in every town, and I study a lot these traditions, their handicrafts, fabrics and tribal ornaments. I am directly influenced by Brazilian, Latin and African cultures.
Your work radiates joy as well as hints of sadness. How much should celebration be a part of art
Warm colors, bright colors and lots of texture variation are always part of the work and my repertoire, and the tendency is always to be much more positive and strong in these elements. I do not like to use cold and dark colors, because they are very depressed. Amazingly, these are the colors that most artists like to use.
Tell us about your use of very bold, electric colour
The color is electrically coupled with the movement of painting, and it is just so much fun to be free to use any colors you want, without the fear of mistakes. The colors are like musical notes, they have rhythm and time, make chords with each other. You have to enter the rhythm of the painting in order to pursue what lies within it. Most people who try to paint are afraid to paint. Do not be afraid to throw paint on the wall or any surface. Being daring and combining colors, without fear of external opinions is difficult for most people.
Your work seems almost musical ñ funky, soulful. Do you have music in your head when you paint
My paintings are like music, they have rhythm and chords, they are musical recordings in different colors, shapes and images. Music is part of my day and my life and I try and listen to music constantly and treat it like work and itís an obligation to always have good records to listen to and discover new ones. Iím always looking to have vinyl records, I have a collection and Iím always out in the city trying to find more. Also, Iím a big fan of† Blaxploitation movies ( the films and the poster styles) , and that style from those wonderful movies reflects a lot of the shapes of my paint and my works.
Izolag and I have the same affinities in art, culture and life, and in 2006, we began to paint together, both working with stencil and we produced several paintings in Bahia, Pernambuco and Rio de Janeiro.†Thus was created the Firm and Strong Records, picture recorder that has as its main reference, the music world and its cultural context. Firm and Strong Records extends the boundaries of media, transforming beats into multicolored graphics, working with posters, paintings, graffiti and photography, making a harmonious union of picture with sound. We are directly influenced by the Brazilian culture, and our repertoire does not incorporate the old-fashioned and dictatorial academic art, but the pure and intrinsically public art of album covers from different countries, ranging from posters and the psychedelic revolutionaries to the present day, movies, cartoons, animations and the world of skateboarding, surfing, comics and so on.
Izolag and I intend to start producing music on vinyl, and we are partnering with several groups, bands, singers and Brazilian collectives, and we are working to bring together and bring alive alternative culture and Brazilian traditions.
Is there an international language of painting
There are universal standards of painting, painting styles that we all copied in order to learn to paint.†For example graffiti letters, forms of urban calligraphy signatures like tags have specific formulas in order to give a form and a framework to the style.†An order and standards for all.†This is part of the knowledge of the language of painting.
How important is it to give a voice to the marginalised
The media world is made of illusions, the exploitation of beauty and sex are at the forefront of merchandising, no matter where you are.†That is why music, the visual arts and the advertising industry are so decadent.†It became easier to put a pretty face and a great body on television, in advertising, art, photography and media and communications, by allowing our instincts to be directly manipulated, we became the puppets of the industry.†What I find most annoying is that no matter what you are doing, walking on the street or at home, youíll always be exposed to this kind of mental and visual assault, and nobody wants to know that it causes great harm to children as they absorb†this kind of information that leads to complexes and mental and emotional confusion over time.†There are so many more important, better, more intelligent and healthier things to explore, and everyone forgets that what really matters is ordinary and marginalized people, and to give them an identity or a bring special attention to them.†Do something really deep and true, something genuinely real.
In my paintings I create illusions on canvas with collages of fabrics, prints, printing, computers and work with sewing with a painting.†Sew lines, buttons, shredded tissue. I used to work with wood. But I have no fixed material and am always researching new materials and ways of working on different surfaces.
How do you feel about galleries
Before the explosion of graffiti in Brazil, I believe that shortly before 2005, the galleries of the world, the Academies of Arts and the international art fairs were very indifferent to the art of the streets.†They worked with a language far removed from the general public.†When I started working with galleries, they didnít like the look that the street and sprayed stencils provide. They were against it and felt that artists that did graffiti should be omitted.†Shortly thereafter, with the inevitable explosion of graffiti, the galleries have had to revise their concepts, because they discovered that urban art sells well, that public acceptance is far greater than they imagined (and gradually they concluded that elitist academic art†that is only accessible to the rich is boring and archaic.)†After that, urban art was finally accepted by the bureaucracies and the academics as an important art movement.†It is a movement pure and true and will not be any another as it comes from the people and not the industry, and has as its main ally the Internet.†Itís for everyone and everybody.
The affirmation of the urban art movement made it possible for young minds to enter the art circuit, creating opportunities for young people to work and show their talent.†If it were not for graffiti and the people who worked for the movement to gain strength and body, surely I could never have had the opportunity to work with art.
How much does pop culture influence your aesthetic
I am very influenced by Pop art, the plain colors, repetition of the image, and the close relationship it has with the album covers and with the posters industry.
So far, I have never painted outside Brazil, but Iím arranging with my galleries to do this in 2011, because since I started working professionally all my work has been exported – my market†was totally out of Brazil.†It was only a few months ago that I finally got a gallery where I currently live,†in Itacare in Bahia in Brasil
What are your biggest inspirations
Music, especially Jamaican and Brazillian reggae, soul music and blues, movies, animated cartoons, artist posters from Fillmore ( those psychedelic ones from San Francisco like Rick Griffin, Norman Orr, Lee Conklin , Greg Irons and Bonnie MacLean ) posters from Russia and France ones since 1700, album covers from all genres and cultures, Japanese prints and fabrics, African textiles, all graffiti styles and the HipHop world since the very beginnings in the Bronx, and the styles from surfing , BMXing and skateboarding .
How has your style evolved over the last few years
My style became more detailed, precise, strong and colorful over the years, I started with a thread in my work in which I am always reviewing and reworking the ideas of my old paintings.†I work carefully to add more exactitude from the earliest forms of composition in my first paintings.
Is Brazil changing on the streets as it gets richer
Everythingís changing, but gradually.†We have more money to spend and our industries are getting stronger, but we are still lacking in culture and education and we have serious problems like healthcare and violence.†Of course, all this does not change quickly and we will need many decades of intelligent governments attendingto our needs.†But we are progressing and we have autonomy, our problems are gradually being solved. I love President Lula for his honesty and intelligence in governing Brazil, he was the first president who had attended to the needs of the wider population and Iím sure Dilma Rousseff†is competent enough to keep Brazil on track.
What is the dream
Dreaming is the beginning of reality, when you have perseverance.