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Interview: Erika Suarez's Perceptions of Intimacy

Interview: Erika Suarez's Perceptions of Intimacy

Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?

As a young girl, I always gravitated toward an array of artistic activities. I was a ballet dancer, played the piano and clarinet, and enjoyed working with clay. However, I don't think I saw myself pursuing a career as an artist until I moved to Austin in 2012. I began taking college-level photo classes while simultaneously, my first body of work was slowly beginning to emerge. I became quite rebellious during this time, and my work was consistently being rejected by my professors and peers for being seen as too provocative.

I ultimately stopped attending school and dedicated all of my time to finishing my first body of work, New Guild. I went back to school in the fall of 2016, and through that, I was able to establish a professional network and to allow myself to be consumed by creating conceptual art. Only within the last couple of years have I felt like I've begun to fully emerge as an artist and have become unwaveringly determined in creating space for my work in the art community.

What is your background? and how did it inform the focus of your creative exploration or the medium you're currently working with?

My upbringing continues to play an active role in my practice. My parents are immigrants who fled from Hungary and Nicaragua in the early ‘80s. They met in english school in South Florida. When I was born, they bridged their cultures together. It was truly remarkable to have grown up in such a diverse household. I have hoped for many years that I'd be able to use my creative ability to tell their story accurately and I feel like that time has finally arrived.

My great-grandfather was also one of the first photographers in Hungary, and the first in the Baranya/Hosszúhetèny area. My grandmother kept a lot of his work and shared it both physically, through prints, and through her compelling storytelling. She spoke at great lengths about his photographs, how she helped him in his darkroom, and his extensive 8×10 camera collection. I unequivocally believe that this is what led me to choose the medium.

What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?

I used to meticulously study how intimacy between the people I loved looked and felt. I became obsessed with searching for symbols of heightened pleasure or misery. I was also turning the lens at myself and questioning if I could identify specific emotive cues. I would only execute the photograph if I could confirm that the volatile feelings were being accurately acknowledged and represented during these moments of open expression.

Right now, I'm focusing on the concept of translating multilayered emotions within an intricately woven family system. This has proven to be challenging, as there are a range of emotions between the different cultures, generational divides in ways of thinking, and vastly contrasting perceptions of intimacy that vary from from person to person. So far, it has led me to engage in accurately portraying my immediate family's behavior and specific lifestyle. I still utilize my skills of vigorously questioning myself, as I search for cues, to make sure I am being honest with my intentions.

(Work in Progress/Side project) - Charred Bedroom

(Work in Progress/Side project) - Burned Play set in Eastland, Texas

Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?

My parents and grandparents. They left everything that they loved behind, in hopes of creating a better life for themselves in the United States. Without them, I wouldn't even exist.

(Work in Progress) - A selection of complete hand-built lightbox frames

Where do you find inspiration?

I gather inspiration from books (any genre), podcasts, and artist lectures. I'm always trying to discover new ways in which my work has the possibility to connect to our current world and how I can create more intersectionality within my artistic practice. I enjoy learning about other artist's organization tactics, the specificity of certain rituals, and getting glimpses inside of private studios. I'm constantly making adjustments when it comes to how I approach photography and how I incorporate newly learned tools.


(Work in Progress/Side project) - Grasping

Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?

My first body of work New Guild, which directly references the co-op house that my friends lived in, along with their 20 (or so) other housemates.

Back Beads

How did it begin? and how did it evolve?

My first body of work New Guild, which directly references the co-op house that my friends lived in, along with their 20 (or so) other housemates.

Kissing in Angel's Apartment

Angel and Zack

What were important lessons in the process that you’ve carried forward with you?

Many mistakes are to be expected, but it's so important that they don't hinder your ability to continue making the work you love, by holding grudges against yourself for past errors.

Also, for me, I've realized that work better at the beginning of a project when I don't try to be so specific at first. I tend to work broadly, and then figure out through the photographs if there's a potential project presenting itself. I find this method works especially well when you're trying to figure out what you're obsessed with at that moment.

(Work in Progress/Side project) - Happy Birthday Rand

What are you working on now?

I'm currently working on the next section of my ongoing body of work, Család. I will be photographing a specific kind of agricultural tourism that my family has hosted, and has been participating in for over a century in our rural Hungarian village. My great-uncle raises pigs each year for a family-type collective slaughter, during the entire month of December. Everyone gets involved, and it's tradition to make a meal out of the edible parts the night of. I feel so privileged to have the ability to pursue this work and be able to share it with others.

(Work in Progress/Side project) - Purple Thing

If you could go back in time to the very beginning of your art practice and give your younger self a single piece of advice what would it be?

Your feelings are valid.

Self-Portrait in my Bedroom

About the Artist

Based in Fort Worth, Texas

Erika Nina Suarez (she/her) is a photographer currently living and working in Fort Worth, Texas. Suarez moved to Texas in 2012, from West Palm Beach, FL. She completed a BFA in photography at The University of North Texas in 2019. Her work is primarily made utilizing a medium format view camera. Suarez’s current body of work highlights concepts of intimate familial relationships, the irrevocable need to bear witness to habitual sensations, and investigates her own identity through her Hungarian and Nicaragüense parentage.

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Artist portrait by Ann Hamilton