SoPARTS Spotlight: Ana Teresa Fernandez

What drives you to wake up in the morning & what keeps you up at night?  
Usually the only thing that will wake me up so early in the morning is surfing. If I can, I do a "dawn patrol" which means you are in the water before sunrise. It's one of the most magical experiences to watch the sun rise from the perspective of the water.
The thing that keeps me up at night is stress: deadlines, not knowing where my next paycheck is coming from, whether I will get the funding for a project. Almost always, it is art-work related.

Why art? Your work confronts physical borders and boundaries—how can art break down walls?
I studied languages before art. I was obsessed with communication, its origins, and I still am. But I found that art was the broadest most translatable language of all. Art in itself knows no boundaries, it can be anything. And when done right it can emit a feeling of awareness within us. That moment of awareness is when art breaks down our own walls, and makes us see what is possible. 
What were your motivations to get involved with social justice? What specific issues do you try to address through your art?
My family had always been involved in social justice in one way or another. They have a keen sense for wanting to create a better community, be it through health or civic accessibility. There was always talk about politics in the house. 
For my work, I would come across stories very haphazardly, and I know when it is "the" story because when I hear or read about it, it usually knocks me over, or leaves me somewhat paralyzed. Similarly, when I come across someone or something really beautiful that I feel hasn't been appreciated. The stories that lurk in the dark, that need light... I want to be the one that shines that light, reveals them in a way that is accessible.
For every pain, there is a pill. For both personal and social “pains”, what is your medicine?
For personal pain, I like movement; dancing , surfing, running... It reminds me I am in a body that needs nature, space and time to heal. For social pain, usually it is listening to others and seeing what you can do to help remedy their needs. Often, people in fringe communities feel they are not seen or heard. This turns into anger which turns into a sort of paralysis. What I do is ask, listen and then begin to move towards accomplishing something that will make the community work together to feel seen.  
What is a normal day for you like during the artistic process? Do you have any rituals?
My usual day involves waking up early around 6:30/7 am, having juice and tea while I go through emails, answer interviews such as yours (it's 6:45 am now as I am typing) or read the news. I often stop after an hour or two, you can get lost in the vortex of emails otherwise. Then I go for a run or surf. After surf I am blissed out, and this is when I am ready to go into the studio. When I get there I change, putting on the same studio rags I have been wearing for over 8 years. I put on my headphones and when the music starts, I just slip into the zone. I usually work anywhere between 4-7 hours painting. After that, I feel completely worn out. Happily tired. My paintings require a high level of focus but also of letting go, it is a very subtle dance.

What does community mean to you? How does that community affect your creative output?
Community is the family you have built around your work, around your interest and issues that you pursue. It is the people you choose to be and have around as support, as colleagues and instigators. 
For me, my community are the people that are there for me when I least expect it, supporting me with teaching opportunities, exhibitions, panel invitations and sharing my work. Even though I mostly work by myself, in the last 6 years I have been doing more public installations and I have worked closely with individuals and institutions that have gotten the city to say yes to what seemed impossible situations and many difficult art pieces. 
Can you give us a quick list of influences? (books, movies, other artists, etc)
The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz, Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit, artist Helena Almeida, Marylin Minter, and Marina Abramovic.
Is there anything you would change in your life, if you had the chance? In the world?
In myself: My fear of flying.
In the world: War as an answer to dealing with our inability to try and understand our differences.
Can you share a story about social injustice? How do experiences like these manifest in your work?
In September of 2014, in the small town of Ayotzinapa, Mexico, 43 students were on their way to protest a speech of the mayor's wife. The mayor heard about this and had the local drug lords "take care of the problem". The 43 students were never seen again. These were poor, rural students studying to become teachers, protesting for a better life. 
All the youth in the country of Mexico were outraged. Mexico has a long history of the government using human erasure as a way to control power. However, this time people weren't silent about it; thousands of protesters took to the street, and 2 years later are still asking for justice. And myself, I did a performance 2 years ago and whole series of work titled Erasure, in which I erased myself into blackness by painting myself out entirely. I made a video from which I extracted 4 video stills and created large-scale photo realist paintings. It has been exhibited in several states in the US, in different museums, and has added to the conversation of what is going on in Mexico. Awareness is one of the key agents of change and growth towards progress.

Visit the site of AnaTeresa Fernandez to learn more.

Interview conducted on 11.04.2016