With her patient approach to creative process and nimble handling of diverse influences and materials, Erika DeFreitas is a conceptual artist who explores language, loss and identity in her work. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, and will be familiar to KWAG audiences for her contributions to I’ll be your Mirror, a 2018 group exhibition in which DeFreitas was a powerfully memorable presence through a series of works that tested the physical and psychological space between the artist’s body and that of her mother.
With the ache of physical distance now an everyday reality for all of us, we reached out to Erika DeFreitas for this first in a new series of artist interviews in which we connect with past and present KWAG artists to learn how they are sustaining creativity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What have you been creating at home?
I’ve been creating works on paper using Janson’s Key Monuments of the History of Art textbook. I started by noting each representation of the Virgin Mary and then I proceeded to cut out each image of her. There are over eighty in this one textbook. For this new body of work, I have removed her hands and face, and all that is visible is her clothing.
Erika DeFreitas, untitled, 2020. Image courtesy of the artist. © Erika DeFreitas.
Were you drawn to the Virgin Mary before the pandemic, or is this interest arising from the way she has often been represented as a grieving figure throughout art history?
I would say that Mary started having a presence in my work as early as 2007. As she stayed with me over the years, I realized that she embodied grief, and grief doesn’t stand alone: it exists as a dichotomy. When collecting the images for this work, I noticed that there were very specific instances where she was depicted – her birth, the annunciation, when she gave birth, at the crucifixion, and at her death. These are all moments of transition.
Are there significant changes in your way of working now that have made creativity more challenging?
I don’t believe that there has been any significant change in my way of working – I have always worked out of my home and making use of the materials I have around me is something I find comfort in doing.
I would say that the increased anxiety and grief I’m experiencing is starting to make any attempt to create quite challenging. The only way I know to navigate these feelings is to just give myself permission to let the feelings be and to not put pressure on myself to ‘make the best use of this time.’ That specific type of pressure has never been helpful and I’ve learned that it is best to let it go.
What do you hope to receive by sharing your work with others? What do you hope they receive from your sharing?
Sharing my work with others is my way of trying to contribute to and participate in the art community. Sometimes there is a hope to interrupt, ever so slightly, the visual information one might see appearing in their feed. I also like to share my work with others because, well, it’s how I feel most comfortable communicating and as someone who often finds it hard to find the ‘right’ words, this becomes my approach.
In what other ways are you cultivating care in your life? What comforts you?
Outside of my art practice, being in touch with my family and friends has brought me moments of comfort and ease. I have been revisiting books that I’ve read and reminding myself of why little notes were left in the margins. Opening a window or sitting outside and listening to the birds who all own the soundscape at this time. Netflix and I are almost best friends.
What is inspiring you online right now?
I’m inspired by the number of ways artists are supporting each other online right now – being incredibly generous with a variety of resources and fostering a community of care. I am also interested in how many organizations and art institutions have opened their spaces to be ‘experienced’ virtually – I’m seeing artworks in new ways.