on Feb 26, 2013 • by Richard Emblin

Home » 20 Questions » 20 Questions: Monika Bravo

1. Born and raised in Colombia, you took a decision early in life to move on.Why?
I love Colombia, but always wanted to leave. It was an objective early on in my adolescence. I didn’t know that I wanted to be an artist, because I didn’t know this career existed. I had my heart focused on fashion design. So I started learning languages, as many as I could, as I thought they would allow me to travel the world.

2. So when did you start with design?
Back in 1982, when I was 18, I left Colombia to study fashion in Rome. I found myself very unhappy in Italy because I felt it was way too provincial. I wanted to see the world. Rome seemed to close in on my dreams. I then moved to Paris, where I continued fashion design at ESMOD. Paris gave me a very important sense of structure.

3. London helped you as a photographer?
I found I needed to work with images. London was very creative and all hands-on. I immersed myself in the technical part of photography learning about black and white photography, how to process film and print in the darkroom. I did a lot of portraiture and learned ‘old school’ techniques.

4. Did you ever contemplate returning?
No. I felt that in Colombia I could not be appreciated for being myself and I was trying to find who I was and how I could channel myself creatively. Being a photographer at the time and living far away from home made me feel safe though.

5. You found Colombia restrictive?
Colombia was restrictive in a sense that its long history of violence had enabled all of us to develop a bullying attitude towards one another. It took me many years to come to this realization, and to understand that I was unconsciously running away from it.

6. So Greece brought you back to a close family environment?
After Greece, I returned to Colombia and a two-week trip ended up lasting various years. I realized I missed my country. It was 1991 and I started teaching photography.

7. So returning to Bogotá was positive.
I felt that my time was very creative, although I also felt a stranger. I lived in La Candelaria and spent my time teaching and meeting a new circle of friends. They were mostly artists, dancers and theater people. I realized then that photography could be an art form and I was not limited by it.

8. After three years in Bogotá, you took the leap to become an artist.
During a weekend in 1994, I realized I had to leave again. I decided on New York. By September I found myself here. I enrolled in the International Center of Photography with a General Studies program. I did not tell anyone I was a photographer and spent a large portion of my savings on what I considered to be the future: a laptop to use as my new medium.

9. How did New York impact you?
New York helped me see things with another perspective. I stopped thinking of myself as a photographer. I borrowed a video camera from my roommate as an experiment on Canal Street. I wanted to detach myself from the medium, realizing that photographers strive for immortality, usually afraid of letting go, framing images and labeling them with captions underneath. I had always felt more connected with the idea of images as abstract paintings.

10. Large prints and interactive time-based installations. Tell us about this.
I undertake different mediums because I am concerned with how to challenge the viewer’s own perception and construction of what they consider real. I refuse to be classified by labels and techniques, but rather I want to be recognized for my ability in using different means in order to disseminate ideas. These ideas are primarily produced on a personal and intimate narrative. A scripted storyline if you will.

11. From glossy surfaces to glass, materials play a major role in visual experiences.
I use different techniques to communicate universal ideas of experience, materiality, medium, illusion, space and time. For example, glass is a hard substance that can easily shatter with the right amount force. By using this material I expose my sense of rigidity and vulnerability. The mirror is used as a surface for both for projection and reflection of emotional and psychological states.

12. What’s New York like for a multidisciplinary artist?
When I am not in my studio creating, I get inspiration from nature or attending weekly music concerts.

13. So you don’t like to be influenced by the art scene?
I thought it was a liability not going to an art school. Now it’s my biggest asset. That’s how I developed my piece “For the time being/intervals” when I was starting out in 1996. I was filming the view from my window in Brooklyn through the seasons, and I was also photographing the passage of time with an analog camera. Viewers became hypnotized with these images. I learned more by observing the outside world, like a Buddhist meditation.

14. Where does a space/time relationship to your work come from?
My father died when I was 8 years old, and since then I have spent a great deal of time looking for an “emotional space” to place the idea of him, trying to understand where people go when they die. This, paired with an introspective mind, has led me to set up a range of emotional challenges and then translate them into tangible work. My work is about decoding through the senses. The more abstract the work gets, the more universal it becomes.

15. So you are very much a self-taught artist.
Yes. I always wanted to be a painter but could not paint. My mother got me a camera at the age of 9. I pasted the walls in my room with thousands of pictures. I trained my eye by grouping and editing these images all the time. I still need to have that wall up in my studio. I am a voracious reader and an information junkie, so I have pretty much figured out a lot on my own.

16.Your work is well received in the U.S.?
In the last seven years I have had the opportunity to be commissioned to do permanent and public artwork. You can see my work at the LAX International airport, the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong and the Comcast Building in Philadelphia among others. I have also been able to show my installations at various venues such as the New Museum and MOMA.

17. Planning a return to Colombia?
I have a new creative relationship with Colombia. Having figured out where the pain was coming from helped me realize how much I missed the landscape.

18. How important are materials in your message?
My work has a sense of magic and wonder conveyed by using industrial materials and technology. I can examine the physical and material in relation to the emotional and spiritual.

19. Is New York comfortable for artists?
New York is a tough and amazing place. Having lasted this long (18 years) it might seem I have what it takes to survive!

20. How do you see Colombia’s art now?
There are talented artists who are open and generous. There are opportunities now. This makes the atmosphere generous. I am also working on a couple of proposals for future exhibitions in Colombia.


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