written by José Gregorio Noroño
Interview with Mari Menez
Art and memory in Mari Menez
How were your beginnings in the art world?
Since I was little, I said I was going to be an artist; I didn't know what kind of artist I was going to be, but I knew I was going to be an artist and my dad supported me saying “this girl is going to be an artist”. Of course, he imagined that I was going to be a singer, that I was going to have a voice like the one he had, the voice of a mariachi, just like Vicente Fernández's; but I didn't forget that at all. I mean, I had support from the beginning.
When I decided to study art, everyone asked me if I was sure. But it was before, about 12 years old, when my older brother's wife, Mercedes, saw the talent I had, drawing my paper dolls, cutting them out, making their clothes and dressing them, just like my barbies, but I only made clothes for these, I preferred to play with the dolls I drew. She [Mercedes] was the one who took me to the Escuela de Arte Neptalí Rincón and enrolled me in the free workshops when I was that age. I knew I was going to study art, but she was the one who gave me the impulse.
Then I went to the Universidad Cecilio Acosta, where I started Pure Art, but ended up studying Art, specifically Research and Museology. I graduated and started teaching and at the Museo Histórico Rafael Urdaneta, where I worked in the department of registration and inventory as coordinator and head of historical heritage of Zulia state. After 6 months I was appointed director of the Museum and I was in that position for 8 years. I also taught History of Design at the university, both graphic and fashion, as well as Heritage, Expression Techniques and Research Methodology.
And did you have time left to produce your work?
Oh yeah, I'd get out at 3:00 in the afternoon and went to the gym. I had time. But I will tell you that I was more dedicated to promoting the work of others, at that time. I did few artworks, I did only one individual exhibition in 8 years, a few collectives, because I was always working to promote the work of other artists. I said I wasn't going to do it again and here I am again.
Yes, I can see that you still do it...
I do it here too, but I was dedicated to my daughters for around 10 years, because it pained me to dedicate myself to work, after having studied so much, so that other people would take care of their education; So, I said to myself: I am going to dedicate these first 10 years to them, applying the theories of Montessori and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It was something I needed to teach my daughters. They're grown up and now it's my turn.
In other words, did that experience allow you to put it into practice with your daughters?
I read that you have a certain inclination for Henri Rousseau, the Frenchman, what contributions has this artist made to you as a creator?
Let's say that initially I met Henri Rousseau and also Henry Bermúdez, both for me have the same influence. I have always considered that I am within naive art, although everyone tells me that it is not so, but my roots are there, within the dynamic, simple gesture, within what is simple. I think my roots are there. He contributed a lot to me, especially in the self-portrait representation, I spent 20 years working on self-portrait, a way for me to do catharsis, to identify many things. But what really leads me to discover who I am is not the self-portrait, but the roosters.
The ways of making the plants were something that I was also very aware of, the knots or loops of the leaves, the thick leaves. In my work there were many things that I painted, and I didn't know why they were there. There were many dynamics, many readings of sexuality that were in that formula. And as I told you, I realize through the roosters what I was capturing and that I didn't know was there.
Why the figure of the rooster as a recurring theme in your painting, what does that figure represent for you?
It represents courage, respect and above all honor. As I am a Wayú descent, the word for me is very important. You give your word and regardless of the circumstances you have to keep that word you have given. The rooster is capable of defending his own without caring about facing the largest animal or a human being when he sees that his clan is in danger. Respect, above all, I learned from my father through the roosters. And that's what I also see in every cockfighting enthusiast. A cockfighting enthusiast is always a gentleman, if not, he is not a cockfighting enthusiast.
I understand that you made use of that image in your painting to recover the memory of your father with Alzheimer's. Is it true?
Yes, after 14 years he no longer recognized me. When I called him on the phone, he would repeat what my mom told him to tell me. So, I started looking for that symbolic element that would connect me with him. Once I saw some roosters in the work of Álvaro Paz, a Venezuelan artist, and I remembered myself through that animal and told him “You inspired me to paint a rooster” and he told me, “Do it”. I made my first rooster for my father, I sent him a photo with my sister, he saw it and said, “this is a show rooster, it is not a fighting rooster because it has a crest and a chin, it is a Spanish rooster”. Then they put me on the phone with him and we started talking remembering when we used to go to the beach and all those childhood things. When he reminded me, I also discovered that childhood that I had forgotten.
In your creative process, do you have any special way of creating in your workshop?
Well, I love heels. I am not an artist who is going to paint with dirty clothes, stained, or barefoot or in tennis shoes. I need to paint with heels. I have to make up, I put on a nice dress. I work meticulously to keep myself clean. I also love to sing while I paint.
¿Cuáles son las tres palabras con las que describirías tu pintura?
Son las mismas con las que puedo describir al gallo: valentía, respeto y honor. Esa lectura está en mis pinturas.
What are the three words with which you would describe your work?
They are the same with which I can describe the rooster: courage, respect, and honor. That reading is in my paintings.