Contemporary And América Latina (C&AL) presents: In Conversation with Gwladys Gambie: “The Ambivalence Between Seduction and Violence is an Expression of my Rejection of the System”
Artist Gwladys Gambie talked with C&AL as she packed for the return trip her home country, Martinique, after a three-month residency in Paris.
C&AL: Who is Gwladys Gambie?
Gwladys Gambie: I am a young, discreet, mysterious artist, with dreams. I have been drawing since I was a child. Initially, I wanted to be a designer. I ended up studying Fine Arts, but I continue to be connected to fashion and textiles, and I recently started embroidering. Not having become a designer could be considered a failure, but as an artist I am able to realize that dream more freely. Also, I am very shy, and art is a way for me to express myself. As a suburban, overweight black woman the path has not been easy. I almost left Art school and today I am happy that I did not give up because the setbacks have fueled my creativity. I know very well what I don’t want, and that is what guides me.
C&AL: Tell me a little about self-representation – your feminist stance around your body and the fusion between body and nature.
GG: Working with my own body has allowed me to assert myself. My practice is to question my body as an overweight black woman in a society where overweight women are outside the norms of sensuality, beauty, and eroticism. I emphasize that body, which could be the body of any overweight woman. The fusion between body and landscape in the series Anatomie du sensible (Anatomy of the Sensible) occurs naturally because human beings are not separate from nature. My poetic language was established in this way. That is what allows me to approach sensuality without being literal, incorporating organic forms, like flowers, plants, and marine animals. As a woman, my relationship with nature is very intimate. There is a closeness with the sea, the idea of the womb. I would not call myself feminist because I am not militant, but my artistic work is engaged, including my use of the Creole language in my drawings, to assert Martinican culture. The feminine bodies in my works are attractive and frightening at the same time. The ambivalence between seduction and violence is an expression of my rejection of the system. As an overweight black woman, I am made invisible, discriminated against. Even when it comes to love, we are the objects of sexual attraction, rarely the objects of socially accepted love relationships. Add to that the colorism and daily violence against women in a society dominated by men. I am driven by social criticism; poetics is what allows me to avoid depiction and the obvious in my practice.
C&AL: There is also a discreet albeit constant, illusion to an ancestral spirituality, especially with your avatar Manman Chadwon (Mama Sea Urchin).
GG: Manman Chadwon is my alter ego, a sort of divine representation of me. She frees me of inhibitions, accentuates my connection with nature, and raises me up. Creating that character is part of my search for a connection with my African ancestry, which is particular to my generation. As Afro-descendants, we want to overcome the ghosts and establish a true and deep connection with our Africanness. Manman Chadwon is a descendant of Manman DLo, a kind of Martinican version of Yemanjá. She appeared in 2018 and remains present. She metamorphoses, is covered with thorns, and has three eyes, but could have a tail or change skin during a full moon. She is a myth, a Caribbean tale, a spiritual path of connection to the African continent and to me as a powerful, emancipated woman. Other feminine characters appear in my drawings: giants, which I launched in Miami, mirroring the verticality of the huge, terrifying skyscrapers, and the women-machines that emerged during my Homo Sargassum residency (Martinique, 2021). [. . .]
For full interview, see https://amlatina.contemporaryand.com/editorial/interview-gwladys-gambie/
[Shown above: Gwladys Gambie’s “Archipéli-Ko,” 2019.]