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Ximena Maldonado, painter

Ximena's paintings are an ode to nature and humanity. Her work is a poetic declaration inspired by her childhood spent in Mexico, her native country, and by the research she has done on nature. Don't miss this enriching conversation and her first solo exhibition "digging with my feet" at Bernier Eliades in Brussels until the 08.07.23.

Can you talk about your work ?

My work is about the relationship between humans and ecosystems, and in particular humans and plants, how they interact with other landscape elements. I am also very attracted to mineral formations like rocks. To start painting, I first needed to understand nature. In art, the vision we have about nature has been constructed by landscape painters. We have been taught what is considered a landscape and what is not. With the myth of the ‘Wild nature’, we used to consider that humans could not be part of the landscape. But they are deeply connected. One way or another you can see the human traces anywhere you go. Whether you can read it or not. For example in Amazonia, a tourist will see everything like it is untouched, but indigenous people will notice where the humans have been modifying the landscape, through roads, or whatever, the destruction of some ecosystems.

Where does the love for those shapes comes from ?

All the men in my family are military or have been. So I grew up seeing military uniforms. It has inspired me so much when it comes to my work because a military uniform is a person dressed as a plant to camouflage in the landscape, but for what purpose? Some of the uniforms like the ghillie suit remind me of traditional costumes of ethnic groups. There are for special missions deep down in the jungle. To be like a plant, but with a violent purpose...

Tell us more about your inspiration and the choice of your color.

The colors of the series "Digging with my feet", are inspired from the colors of minerals like rocks or quartz, there are also a lot of greens for the plants. My colors do not always reflect reality, but are a reflection of certain elements that catch my attention. For the moment, I am obsessed with greens, beiges, pinks and blues.

In which ways does nature inspires in you?

The history of landscape paintings or botanical drawings with medicinal purposes was really linked to colonialism because it was used to show how the new conquered lands were, and to describe the fauna and flora. It is again an echo of the violent relationship between humans and ecosystems. That has caused a lot of conflict inside my head, I didn't want to pursue this relationship. I then took a seminar about post naturalism to see and understand the plants and the ecosystem with another perspective. They said something fascinating : Use the drawing to get closer to the plants, not only to represent it but to get closer and take this time to meditate over how the plant feels, how each of the leaves are feeling. It changed my perception. For me each plant has an attitude, they change each day but also depending on the seasons. We are the same way. This is also why I love to work with big formats, so I can move like a plant and to try to feel like it, not just represent it. And translate what I feel about the plant.

What does the term softness evokes to you ?

As a woman, you always think that you need to be tougher, and pretend to be like a rock to not feel judged as weak. I recently realized that welcoming your softness is strength. When I think of plants, they also are perceived as ‘weak’ and fragile, but they are the opposite. They go through so much and still succeed to grow despite the challenges. It is their softness that helps them stay alive and the reason they have beautiful relations with other organisms. But the word Softness reminds me also of my grandmother’s garden. She has an impressive garden in Mexico with a wide variety of plants. She used to tell me ‘let’s go see the plants’, not to pick them, but just to contemplate them as they are, and checking how each of the plants and trees were doing. I am definitely grateful to her for sharing that passion with me.


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