When it comes to creative tools at an artist’s disposal, there’s a lot to choose from, whether it be paint and pencils or urine. Still, it’s not every day you hear of an artist who sews with her own hair, but that is exactly Rosemary Meza-DesPlas’s medium of choice.
Meza-DesPlas is showing an exhibition at Fort Lewis College in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. The exhibit, which goes through Oct. 10, is a showcase of 20 years worth of her career in art.
“My ethnicity is part of my identity and makeup. I feel its presence in all my art whether subtle or overt,” she said.
We chatted with the Farmington artist about what her exhibit means to her and why she uses, of all things, hair as her chosen medium.
Tell us about your current exhibition.
Meza-DesPlas: This exhibition is like a survey that focuses on my drawings. I also paint, but a big focus of my practice is drawing. I picked out select pieces that represent 20 years of work. Mainly, they show my experimentation with the drawing process. I’m known for my hand-sewn hair drawings. In the show, there’s a hair drawing from 2001 that shows the beginning of that process. There’s pencil, colored pencil, and just a little bit of hair in that piece because I didn’t know how to sew. I was still learning how to sew, so there’s a progression that shows how I got comfortable with the medium. There’s a piece from 2012 where I used hair clippings, and it wasn’t until 2014 that I kept the hairs really long. It creates a three-dimensional appearance and engages the viewer. Then the exhibit takes you all the way up to three hair drawings from 2018-2019. I just recently started to go gray so these are donned on black twill fabric. I had to do some experimentation to figure out what to put the gray on.Any particular pieces that have special meaning to you?
Meza-DesPlas: I tend to work in a series, so I usually work around a theme. I did a series on chicks and guns in film and television. It shows how femininity and violence are juxtaposed. Another piece was “A Tool for Change” in response to the Women’s Movement, the Women’s March, Black Lives Matter, and Time’s Up. The piece is about agency - to think in terms of political agency and being more active. It was inspired by a Beyoncé song called “Formation,” There’s a line in the song that goes, “OK ladies, now let’s get in formation.” It’s reconceptualization for, “OK ladiesm, let’s take action.” There’s this idea of silence and not being silent anymore. It shows Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren. It’s focused on anger and on the image of a face. But it’s not supposed to be a portrait - it’s really focused on the expression. I read a book called “Good and Mad” about how when women are little girls they are told, ‘Don’t get angry. Don’t get mad.’ They’re images in which they don’t care what they look like because that’s not the point. The point is social agency and the social call to activism.
What lead you to start working with your hair?
Meza-DesPlas: I was doing wall drawings and I had a friend who was a sculptor and she said that across the distance it looked like hair snaking across the wall. I thought it was an interesting idea so I tried it out. I started out gluing the hair and eventually came to sewing it. I’m trying to use drawing techniques like hatching and cross-hatching and using it for sewing. Hair can be attractive, but if you find a hair in your soup it’s repulsive, so it has this interesting dichotomy.Hair also is just so closely tied to a woman’s identity.
Meza-DesPlas: Hair is very much a big part of a woman’s identity. It also relates back to not only identity, but health if a woman has cancer she loses her hair. We associate hair with beauty. I know in some cultures, like in the Navajo culture, you don’t let anyone have your hair. It’s part of your spirit so it has more of an intimate feel to it. It’s interesting from culture to culture. I’ve always had long hair. I’m Latina, and most of the women in my family have had long hair since they were very young. Also, in terms of capitalism, there’s an entire industry built around taking care of your hair.Your exhibit came out during Hispanic Heritage Month. This has been a really tumultuous time for Hispanics with the current administration. What advice would you give to you Hispanic artists.
Meza-DesPlas: I would tell them to follow their hearts and to create artwork around beings or subject matter that means something to them. It might mean tapping into your own life and things that have happened to you, and that’s OK.Amanda Push