Lives and works in Guadeloupe.
In her work, Kelly Sinnapah Mary uses mostly contrasts to denounce all types of violence and domination disguised in the deceptive softness of an intimate and feminine universe, with flowered pieces of material, tender colours, tiny embroideries.
Can you tell us about your artistic experience?
I studied in the Faculté d’Arts Plastiques in Toulouse- Le Mirail, then at the IUFM in Martinique. I prepared an Art Degree – Licence en Arts Plastiques-, then a teacher’s degree – CAPES Arts Plastiques- in Martinique, then, I shifted towards medical and social studies. Today I work as an educator with physically and mentally handicapped people and also as an artistic mediator with autistic young children.
How long have you practiced art? If not after your studies, what urged you to start creating?
To answer, I would have to identify this hypothetic transition when my practice has become artistic. I can’t remember not creating art and I would be at a loss to state when. Now, if artistic, as you ask me, as I think, means to identify a situation, a decisive moment, before and after, I think this was probably during my apprenticeship in university, when in my third year I started working on a personal subject both in theory and practice. The work that I identify then as my first artistic creation is about a transitional object, which undoubtedly is not accidental, represented a strong artistic and theoretical disruption in my research. This work was an installation, My Doudous –Mes doudous- I mean an introspective installation made with pieces of material hanging in space. The starting point is the doudou –my security blanket- I always had with me in my childhood. This was when I developed this particular affinity with material, as a support, or as a product or object. Material and a sewing machine have quite a lot of value affectively for me since childhood. I often fell asleep with the sound of my mother’s sewing machine. Then later as an adolescent, my bedroom became an important part of my universe, as I spent most of my spare time there. I grew up in a family where children were overprotected and girls even more, going out was only tolerated if one my brothers came along with us. And so, when my school friends went from birthdays in the afternoons to pancake parties in the evenings, I spent most of my time lying on my bed, dreaming, making and unmaking worlds where the rules would be different. This probably explains why I feel so much attachment for my room, the bed, the bed sheets, and also why these elements today represent material in the full sense as they were the world I had lived in for more than nineteen years.
What were your creations before Vagina ?
Before Vagina there was Small Masters, an installation for the Schoelcher Museum in Guadeloupe, then a series of paintings on bed sheets, Substitute from the exhibition Recent Works. The previous works were more pictorial becoming gradually more conceptual.
How long have you explored this feminist theme? What urged you to do so?
I am called a feminist just because this classification is what matches best a simple and rapidly accessible definition of my work. However, I am afraid that reducing Vagina to a feminist work amounts to conceal its universal dimension and exclude any other extra-feminist incidence. When you declare that it is intolerable for a man to hit a woman, why is it so complicated to understand the very essence of the message? Why insist on the most obvious aspects without evoking its soul? I don’t cast aside men but the ‘dominant beings’. It is obvious that when domination goes mainly one way it becomes difficult not to fall into categories and lapidary and dangerous oppositions because these are false. And though this part of my message is difficult to understand, I will keep on and on repeating it.
Physical and symbolical violence in the woman-man relationship has always fascinated and revolted me. Besides, my first work about this theme goes back to the high school since I had already exhibited a sculpture/installation entitled The House of Violence in which violence against women was already evoked. Several personal and painful experiences echoed the current situation of women in the world and urged me to express in my creations some sort of silent rebellion, not against masculine domination, but against all types of domination, masculine domination being the most acute in my view. This silent rebellion remains today in my work as a permanent subject for reflection and I keep searching for some forms of evolutive and alternate artistic creation which explains the evolutive aspect of Vagina.
So, Vagina is constantly evolving… Does everything you create relate exclusively to this?
Vagina is more than a work of art, it is a concept. It is a proposition for a study about artistic and aesthetic types of works allowing me to deal with domination in what concerns woman-man relationships. Initially I was projected with this study, through an installation into a bedroom, the typical place or ‘euphemism’ for the violence related to this domination. This installation evolved artistically along the different exhibitions where it was exposed, a gallery (T&T Guadeloupe), a hotel room, (Pool Art Fair, New York), Media platforms (Art Bémao, médiathèque Paul Mado). And so, these exhibitions in Guadeloupe or in New York only shared a few elements that seemed to me strong and essential axes. This study brought me at the same time, through the photographic media to personify this violence through a creature with an oversized red mouth. Yes, all my work is motivated by reflections around the vagina. I have the feeling that, right in front of me is a huge white book and that I have used just a few pages.
Which artists do you like most?
Marina Abramovic, Yayoi Kusama, Tracey Emin are some of the artists whose work I admire. I like art that deals with the universal dimension of human privacy or when they make this privacy universal. This is the case with Tracy Emin with her very intimate pieces created from her personal experience and Frieda Kahlo too. I react to art which points at the details, personal or trivial elements. This is what attracts me in Yahoi Kusama’s work, or else in the creations of the autistic people I work with. In this autistic art practice I can find the typical-ideal of dissocialized creation, liberated, intimate and conveying a point of view devoid of social structure.
What about your artistic activity? Is it sewing or embroidering? …You use typically’ feminine techniques and practices to create feminist art …
My embroideries are hand-made or I made on the sewing machine by myself. But sometimes I do have some help from my mother for the heavier work.
I practice the so-called ‘feminine’ techniques I inherited from my mother, and also I realized one of the pieces from the Vagina installation –the armchair- with her. However I am in a phase of exploration and I use some other media such as 2D animation, photography, drawing, painting, and video… Technique here is just a tool for me and I am careful not to become addicted to it.
How do you deal with photography?
In this field I also experiment. Sometimes I can work with professionals such as Soul from Studio Zaïgo. I do not consider technique as an essential part of the act of creation and I don’t feel dispossessed when I collaborate to the creation of something. However, I try to be as autonomous as possible in my work and I do most of my photos.
Do you model for your photographic work? How do you deal with it? Who is the photographer? How is the mise-en-scène organized? Is the woman with the big red lips a prey or a predator?
The technical complexity of the photo requires or not a professional. And even though I am open to remarks and criticism, the technical part is the only one for which I get some help as I want to control whatever results from the work. So mise-en-scene, costumes, attitudes, lights and frames are drawn previuosly on preparatory sketches. The character with the big red lips epitomizes the concept of Vagina. This is both a prey and a predator as its status of victim will make a predator of it.
Your website mentions that you exhibited your work mainly in Guadeloupe, apart from Pool Art Fair in New York.
Yes, that is right. I also had an exhibition in Corrèze, France in 2010.
What statement justifies the ephemeral work presented in Pool Art Fair in New York?
On my arrival there, I had no idea about how to present Vagina in this new exhibition site, but as I entered the bedroom, I was at once facing this fascinating huge glass-window through which the New York sunrays were shining in. I sat on the window sill, and immersed in my thoughts just like Charlotte in Lost in Translation by Sofia Coppola, I contemplated the sight on Manhattan for long hours. It is obvious that in a foreign country, where the architecture and the density of this architecture are so different from what we see in Guadeloupe, I reflected about how to integrate my work in this new urban space. The installations created for Vagina are prepared and designed with ecologic care. Not meaning environment protection, but thinking about integrating in this environment. I imagined then a process in which the New York environment would co-build the work Vagina investing it in its privacy. Light in plastic arts is a founding element as it gives their graphic existence to the creations. So, sitting on this window sill and seeing my shadow, projected in this room that was still barren, the idea of collaborating with the sun, as a third part in this instance, came to me intuitively. These penises drawn on the windows in this bedroom, by a superior and dominating power struck me like a possible aesthetic writing for rape in its literal or symbolic form. The picture that obsesses my thoughts and urged me to suggest this form of writing is that of young Jioty Sinh Pandey who was raped and killed in New Delhi by six aggressors in a bus. I cannot erase either the picture of the so numerous windows through which the scene was made public, or the picture of this supposedly safe area, evoking a bedroom transformed in this circumstance into a scene of violence and domination brought to a paroxysm. This is the origin of the verbatim Castrate and Hang Rapists written on balloons with penises levitating, quoting the slogans screamed during the demonstrations that followed Jioty’s death. These drawing made in-situ open up to another direction that I adopted in my current work.
Jioty Sinh Pandey is that young Indian woman raped and killed in a bus. Does your work usually refer to current social events or more globally to a social phenomenon? Is it a form of involvement?
I work on subjects that move me and only on what affects me. I don’t mean that some subjects are not interesting and that I won’t ever work on other subjects but on the contrary, I am likely to be interested in any subject as long as it happens to touch me one way or the other.
Is it a form of involvement? Undoubtedly. I think that it is necessary for everyone, according to their capacity or their means to be involved in the universal reflection about the modalities of building, even hypothetically or in a utopic way a better world. Art has always been a powerful incentive for reflection enabling to revisit the established order. I think that a simple way to qualify my work or at least my intentions is that I try to provide supports for reflection which, though they are oriented, give the spectator a possibility to ask himself about things he does not question usually. The horror of Jioty Singh Pandey’s ordeal raises all sorts of reflections about the Feminine Condition in India that progressively – – and I think that eventually this event summons a reflection from all of us about symbolic and physical acts of violence socially and historically established in the world.
How do people react to your work in Guadeloupe?
As George Braque said ’Art is made to trouble people, Science will comfort them’, I agree with him.
The omnipresence of penises in the different presentations of the Vagina concept managed at least to get the public’s attention… even though their eyes look elsewhere immediately. There were numerous people who felt shocked, more or less. Very often, the idea that children could set their eyes on my installations seems to scare some people. Many others walking past my installation regularly ask where to look and where the paintings are … I admit that my work in its current aspect may seem somewhat opaque for some people, but I try, following my aspirations, not to hold the spectator as a hostage. I try to bring him/her to share a reflection, some questioning with visual and graphic elements. Very often I realize that some people will stare at Vagina unable to understand that I do not draw penises to create scandal or bring smiles but that the latter are lexical tools enabling me to develop some reflection. Many people will stop and stare at these works and then smile, because I admit using the English language and using characters or trendy Hip Hop music may if they look only these elements leave them unable to understand the real subject of my work.
There is yet a striking contrast with people who manage to go further than these details. One woman burst into tears in my arms, as she was touched to see in art creations things that she lived and experienced day after day. I saw many people’s eyes get more subdued when after hearing my explanations they finally understood the lyrics from ‘Put it your mouth’ by Akinyele (one of the lyrics I used in one of my video animations), or the origin of the Hang the Rapists verbatim, or else the meaning of the pair of scissors in the jewel box. I also met advocates of the idea according to which women often choose on their own to match the debasing image that many of us question.
As a young artist what are your ambitions?
Do better tomorrow than today. Being acknowledged is not an end for me but a necessary way to open new doors. It gives one me the opportunity to access larger projects and make their work more accessible to a larger public, yet my work is a permanent communication with the spectator. Then it makes sense only when it is seen.
Artists’ residences are a good way to develop artistic and human experiences, their riches and their fecundity. The destinations I have in mind at the moment are New York and Cuba.
Conversation with Dominique Brebion
The title in french is L’artiste, un être politique en éveil
L’artiste est un être politique,constamment en éveil devant les déchirants,ardents ou doux évènements du monde Pablo Picasso cité par Paul Eluard in Anthologie des écrits sur l’art – Tome I, Cercle d’art ed 1952
Translation Suzanne Lampla