Artist Victoria Villasana discusses how her multicultural influences have shaped her art and life philosophy.
interview with VICTORIA VILLASANA
JUNE 2016 // Victoria Villasana is a London-based Mexican artist. Her trademark pieces, portraits embellished with yarn and pasted up on London streets, mix indigenous Mexican and western art and deliver a healthy dose of rebellious femininity. We talk to her about the messages in her art, finding her own path, and the importance of color.
Tell me about your upbringing and how you ended up in London.
I grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico in a big family. I had a lovely childhood, and I was privileged enough to go to private school, learn English, and travel. I’m very grateful for that. But I never wanted a normal life. Something inside me was like no, I want to just go my own way. If I’m going to fuck it up, I will—and I did, you know—but just let me do it. I was always a bit of a rebel.
I came to Europe for the first time when I was 18, and I loved London so much that I came back to live here when I was 21. Traditional parents in Mexico wouldn't allow their daughter to live on their own in another country, but my parents didn't have a choice because I just left. I didn't know what I was doing. I just followed my gut.
What drew you to London in particular?
There are so many things that stimulate my mind by just walking around. When I arrived in London the first thing I loved was the fashion. The way people dress is so creative and so different from in Mexico, where high-fashion means brands, logos, and money. I don’t like that part of fashion industry, but I love the street style here.
It’s also very multicultural, which I love. It’s helped me a lot creatively. I’ve lived in a lot of different neighborhoods, and each one was like a different country. I loved getting to know each place and culture, especially through the markets and the food. That’s what brings us together as humans, right? Food, art, and music are things we all do, and when we see different cultures’ versions we might find we’re not that different.
That appreciation for multiculturalism comes through in your art, through your combination of mediums and aesthetics.
Yes, all the elements of who I am and my experiences are there in my art. When you spend time in another country, you appreciate things from your own culture in a different way. My background from Mexico is reflected in the yarn and colors, and the multicultural things I’ve experienced in London come through in the sense of style. And I want both of things things to be present in my art. Mixing cultures and cultural integration is the future. Everyone is mixed now and we will continue to mix more, and that can be beautiful.
How did you decide to make it into a street art project?
I never thought about doing it, but I was making all these yarn pieces and I was like, ‘Oh no, I’ve done too many. Where am I going to put them?’ And then one day I went out to get some milk and I saw some guy putting a piece up on my street. And I wanted to talk to him about it, but I can be quite shy so I talked myself out of it. I googled it and this guy happened to be Mexican. I should have talked to him! So after that I decided to try.
So I started creating massive stickers and putting them up quickly at night. The wind blows over time and moves the whole thing around and finishes the piece. I couldn’t do it myself. It’s the wind, the beauty of nature, who knows how to change things around. And I like that, I really like that a lot.
I love that about street art, how it interacts with its environment. It’s also great because it’s so democratic—public art for the people versus private art for the elite.
Yes, you know, people have been doing it since primitive times, throughout history. Now society is very capitalist, so if it doesn’t make a profit they take it down. We’re bombarded with shitty posters and ads all the time because the government makes money for it, but they remove anything artistic. But the community is very supportive—street art blogs, people who see me put things up. I thought they were going to be like, ‘Who is this girl? How dare she?’ because I have a fashion background and in fashion they would be like that. But they’re like, ‘Keep it up, it’s great!’
How did you first start working with yarn?
It started about four years ago, but in the beginning I was really bad. I hadn’t found my medium yet. If you came to my house then, I had doors that I found on the street, furniture with yarn sewn on it, a painted mirror, a mannequin. But now with the yarn I feel like I’m really expressing myself. It’s a lot like therapy. I do it to calm me down. I just get in the zone and get peaceful and connected. I’m like a granny sitting in a rocking chair stitching pictures.
That’s so funny because you really are doing a traditional women’s artistic activity, but it’s clearly a different interpretation. What are the key ways your art deviates from traditional yarn art?
Well first of all, the women who do traditional yarn art are so talented. I recently spent time with the Huicholes in Mexico, and the stuff they do compared to what I do—I’m shit, really. I still don’t know how to crochet! I take my hat off to them. Also their themes are very traditional, about nature and spirituality. I work with material that’s very traditional, but I translate it into a different context and combine it with modern images. It’s a contradiction.
What are the goals of your pieces?
When I make a piece, I find an image that I have a connection with and, by putting color and yarn, I’m honoring the subject’s individuality and humanity. For example, I did a piece of a refugee mother carrying her child, something all mothers can relate to. You hear numbers about refugees all the time, but you never hear about the individuals. I don’t think art should just be pretty. I like art to say something. I don’t want it to tell people to do things, but it should make people question things.
It seems like women’s empowerment is a theme in your artwork. Is that important to you?
It’s not exactly like ‘women’s power!’, but I do like women with attitude. Women are really strong, they’re like warriors, but the image that we get is that women are weak, dependent, insecure. The stereotype in the media of a Latina is a bodylicious woman who looks great but is just looking for a rich husband. That’s it. There are so many Latina women who are doctors, have degrees, stuff like that. I grew up with really strong women around me, stronger than than the men. Why don’t we see these women?
I would like to make art that helps women to be more confident. We need to support each other and spend less energy on things that make us weak or insecure. We have a really strong inner strength we need to nurture, and we shouldn’t feel like we need to just fill the roles society wants us to play. You have a to be a bit of a rebel. ✰