Interview with Colombian Artist: Stefania Tejada
Stefania Tejada (b. 1990) is a Colombian artist based in Paris, France, whose luscious paintings encapsulate the feminine energy and reconnect the viewer with mother earth, reflecting on our authentic selves. Her work explores the evolution of the female spirit as seen through her Colombian perspective. Scenes of women with piercing gazes that lure the viewer in without revealing too much have become Tejada's signature.
Tejada's work has been exhibited globally in cities such as New York, Bogotá, London, and Paris as part of group and solo shows. And if her work looks familiar to you, that could be because she has worked with a like of clients in the fashion industry, with notable mentions such as Cartier, Elle, Marie Claire, among others. Please continue reading to learn more about Tejada and her inspirations; trust me, her words are just as poetic as her paintings.
Can you tell us about your background and what inspired you to become an artist?
I was born in Tuluá, a small town in Colombia, and ever since I was a child I would always be painting, drawing, trying to make homemade movies with my parents’ film camera. My sister and I were very creative, and at that time I think she had more skills for it than I did.
Botero was my first artist’s reference. My grandmother used to have the wall of her staircase filled with prints of his artwork. I remember us sitting on the stairs completely captivated by them, even if we didn’t really understood his intentions at the time, the images will really conquer your time, not allowing you to move, to remain there staring back.
I read a lot, ever since I was a child. I think books have had an enormous impact on my work, persona, and ability to create my narrative. When I moved to Bogotá to attend college is when I started to have a wider view of the world of fashion and art. At the time, a close friend introduced me to Alexander McQueen's work, and her obsession with him made me very curious. I attended the exhibition of his work at the MET years later and started to understand a lot about his perception and purpose towards women. That really spoke to me.
I also fell in complete admiration for the work of Henri Rousseau, Hilma af Klint, Paul Gauguin, and Yayoi Kusama. This last one really made me understand the power behind knowing who you are as a human being, your capabilities and how to accept certain conditions and accept change in order to move forward.
Where I come from, at the time, there was no such a thing as being an artist or a fashion designer. These were careers not taken seriously, yet, without knowing a lot about them, I always found myself allured by Vogue (it was the only fashion magazine that would come to this little town). I remember begging my parents to buy it for me when I was in high school. I felt I could escape through the pages of the magazine, that I could go to some special place where the world would be better.
My desire to become an artist came years after, while I was living in México. I knew that I didn’t want other people to have power over me. I had experienced it enough. I wanted to be responsible for myself, not depending on anybody. I also knew I wanted to do something that wouldn’t force me to remain in one place. I wanted to move as much as I could. I wanted to experience life.
While living in México, I encountered a completely different kind of community; it was built on collaboration, on pursuing your passion, no matter what that was. I had so many wonderful people around me that pushed me to explore this side since I was always illustrating or painting. Without them, I don’t think I would have had the guts to put myself out there. They really gave me the confidence to believe in myself, to trust that I could become whoever I wanted. In time, I understood that I could communicate the things I couldn’t say through my work. I could expose my experiences, memories, and demons, and I could also find a way to give myself strength through my work.
Carolina, a close friend, once told me that you need to talk to the different versions of yourself that live within. You need to make peace with every single one of them, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
My work is based on developing my views of the world and my personal history into art. It’s about overcoming an experience, an emotion, an unwanted and violent touch. My work is about the experience of being a woman.
Your most recent solo exhibition Nocturnal Gods, a collaboration with the online gallery, Artistellar, is centered around women with stoic expressions staring at the viewer. What was the inspiration behind this body of work?
For this exhibition, I navigate through the different worlds of the woman’s psyche. I also seek to understand the energy behind our feminine and masculine energy, our connection with the Mother, hoping to create a perception more understanding to the human eye. I feel that she is being destroyed out of fear and a desire to dominate. Isn’t that what we do to everything? With climate change more pronounce, I wanted to remind us about the natural elements around us, their power, their wisdom, the importance of their presence. Every single force of nature is alive. I don’t think we understand that, really. Everything will react. Everything is reacting; everything is answering back. And that answer is lethal to us.
During this last year of the pandemic, I have been thinking a lot about death. I have found myself seeking answers, seeking new ways of being, living, seeing, and understanding. I have also fantasized about what the world would look like if the natural world took over every single piece of the earth: every city, every town, every inch of land. Who would we become? Which parts of us would live and which ones will die?
Your artworks are often collaborations with fashion brands, such as Cartier. As the boundaries between the fashion and art worlds are becoming increasingly porous with artists turning designers, will we ever see you have your fashion label in the future?
This is one of my dreams, but there is something holding me back. Perhaps my respect for the earth. I just don’t think it aligns with my values at the moment, not with the current state of the world. There is just so much right now, and I already have so much. That is also why I love working with brands. It really fulfills that part of me, that desire to see my work on garments and see women wearing my creations. I think that’s a good compromise. Maybe, in the future, I could see myself doing drops, but it would be on a very small scale, and I’m sure this is obvious, but it would be with recycled materials and sustainable.
How has your Colombian heritage shaped you as an artist?
My Colombian heritage has given me all the experiences I needed in order to be who I am today, as a person and as an artist. This is still a very traditional land, and every time I visit, it reminds me of all the things that I stand up for and why it matters that I do. It is a very complicated relationship, the one we have. It drains me physically and emotionally, and it does not play well with my mental health. I have to prepare myself every time I visit the land where I came from. It is very easy to drown in her waters. Most of the time, I fall for her games, and I drown and, it takes me a while to come back to myself. I think I have already forgiven her; I just don’t trust her entirely, given our history.
As someone who has exhibited internationally, what advice would you give to young female artists from Latin America who want to enter the international art world?
I think the most important aspects would be: to work hard, to be persistent, to have very thick skin, to be certain of what you want and why you want it because it will definitely happen, sooner than you’ll expect and it can be overwhelming sometimes, incredible but definitely overwhelming. Also, the art world is very small. Treat it with respect.
Has living in Paris, a geographical location with an established art market, affected your creativity and/or the way you conduct business?
Paris has given me a lot in such a small period of time. It has definitely impacted both aspects of my work: my personal practice and the way I conduct business. The city is passionate, nurturing; it welcomes you with the most exquisite culture. It is impossible not to be inspired here, not to evolve. I also found my agent here. Karine Garnier is representing me, and this relationship has really opened a lot of doors for me. The relationships I have created here have also been important, Sarah Carrier from Maison Kitsuné and Philippine Watelet from Togæther. Their trust and belief in my work have created opportunities that I could have only dreamed about, and for that, I’m very grateful.
If you could have a dinner party with your favorite creators from any field dead or alive, who would they be and why?
Hilma af Klint, Henri Rousseau, Dalí, Dante and Matisse. I don’t think an explanation is necessary.
Final question, would you like to share with us any exciting plans for the future?
I will answer this question with a quote that has always stuck with me: “Never let them see you coming.”
Thank you for reading!
Follow Stefania Tejada on Instagram @stefaniatejada