Hannah Faith Yata’s art addresses the objectification of women and the exploitation of nature, and she draws a parallel between these transgressions within her work. Inspired by psychology, feminist literature and her own experiences as a woman, Hannah calls upon the richly symbolic form of the female figure, which she often combines with parts of animals, creating surreal and arresting metaphoric hybrids. Placing these characters in intriguing scenarios, Yata explores the depths of our social psychology, and draws attention to how the human race at large, continues to turn a blind eye to the injustices delivered upon women and our environment.
Hannah was born in 1989 in Douglasville, Georgia, USA. In her short career as a young artist, she has quickly made a name for herself within the New Contemporary Art scene. Her work has been exhibited throughout America in renowned galleries such as, Last Rites Gallery, Copro Gallery and 111 Minna Gallery.
WOW x WOW jumped at a recent opportunity to ask Hannah a few questions about her artistic process and inspirations.
Hi Hannah, thanks for taking the time to chat to us. First off, can you tell us a little about yourself and where you stay?
No Problem! I live in Bushwick, an artsy little area of Brooklyn, New York. I live with my fiancée and two dwarf bunnies in a small live/work studio.
You studied at the University of Georgia with a BA in Drawing and Painting. What were your experiences like there and do you feel that your are a stronger artist due to the training you received?
Well, it’s hard to say. In many ways my teachers were wonderful people, however, I do wish they’d had more of a technical training approach. I didn’t realize until too late, that for that kind of tuition you really need to major in something like Illustration. Probably my most inspiring classes were my drawing classes; I love gesture and line and the spontaneity of live figure drawing. I suppose that’s actually how I start most of my pieces; there is a horrendous serious of gestural lines to figure out the language, movement and energy of each piece.
Symbolism plays an important role in your work. How do you approach it?
At first, the symbolism was pretty cut and dry. Woman = Mother Nature, Fish = seemingly insentient creature with face like a mask, queue strange elements that speak of man’s destruction of the environment. However, the more I paint, the more I try to not to think so much as “this” equals “that.” I like the honesty and mystery that comes out through my explorations in life and by enlightening myself through a variety of different resources, including the randomness of everyday life. I like how thoughts flow through your head and out your fingers. Sure, I can explain what it means to me when it’s all said and done. However, when I start the piece, I like that I don’t know what it’s really going to look like, or even what it’s going to be about. It almost becomes like painting in a dream, and when you wake up all the stuff in your subconscious makes sense.
The protagonists in your paintings very rarely have human heads, instead they are replaced occasionally with those of animals and more often fish. Tell us a little about your inspiration and what it is that connects you so deeply to fish?
I think it’s also the connectedness to water, among other things. The idea of water, the necessity of it; it’s role in the evolution of our planet and species is phenomenal to me. Water animals, most notably fish, are the first species to be affected by little changes in the environment or by chemicals through water. The fragility of the species, but also the idea of how easily such an important and gorgeous animal is continually overlooked because of its size and seemingly “insentient” nature.
What sort of preparatory work do you do before starting a painting?
I’m always gathering things that inspire me: photos, quotes, books, cultural celebrations, rituals, etc. As I start to have a rough idea of what sort of gestures I want in the scene, I start filling in the blanks with references of my choosing.
Your work questions exploitation, in particular that of women, animals and nature. Can you expand on this for us?
Well, for me, it started in a class in college that studied the history of bodies in art, which basically focused on women. I was floored. I didn’t know I was a feminist before this class. The only things I’d heard about feminists was talk about some girls not shaving their armpits, hating on men, etc. I had never looked into it myself before. When the class began talking about how women are portrayed not only throughout the history of art, but especially in the present day, I realized how much it had affected not only me, but pretty much every female around me. Yes, I’ve had a lot of men argue that art and advertising does the same thing to men now, fetishizing and sexualizing them in very compromising ways, but the reality is that it isn’t as ridiculous and far reaching as what women deal with, nor are the consequences as serious. You hear about women getting beaten up, raped, murdered and dismembered daily and I believe this problem is propagated by images and videos that see women as sexual objects and not human beings with agency.
Also in my class, I came to find out that not only are women compared to nature in a lot of ways, but they are also used as metaphors for nature. At this point it all started to come together for me. I started researching a lot of environmental themes, and especially when I moved to New York. I had never before been blasted with as many images on a day to day basis, Discovering how far we had gone in pushing nature to her limits and exploiting her resources, it just began to feel like a bad nightmare; the continual struggle of humans trying to dominate and control nature, raping her of her natural resources and exploiting them for their own gain. Using the body of earth to get what we want, and not even properly disposing of the damaged and manipulated goods we return to her. We don’t treat nature so many times as we view and treat women, as something with a consciousness, a body to be respected and protected,
Animals, to me, fit into this struggle as well, not only as the ones so many times being commoditized and abused for their resources, but also as victims of our aggression to commodify our lives and exploit earth of her natural resources.
There is a wonderful aesthetic in evidence within your art. Your paintings are elegantly rendered and composed and often filled with lush vibrant colour. All this is in contrast to the much darker questions asked by the subject matter. Is this comparison something that interests you?
Yes, definitely. I think psychology means a lot to me. The idea of the ridiculousness of our current state of affairs really comes into my mind a lot. Sometimes it makes me laugh (and cry) that I probably can’t fall into a puddle without possibly ingesting a certain amount of nefarious chemicals that would quickly make me go insane and eat out my insides. Perhaps I’m being a little dramatic, but if I were a smaller animal this result would be all too true. I know I keep repeating this word, but “ridiculous” tends to sum up my ideas: my idea that we’ve let things go as far as they have, ridiculous that I’m a part of this terrible play, ridiculous that I really wish I could do something to change this mess, but honestly feeling pretty helpless at this point.
I think as far as the rendering of my work goes…I think it’s the more positive side I see in nature, the beauty, the elegance, the delicate lushness that I seek to capture. I wish to do her justice. On the other hand, I like the idea that in the beauty there is grotesqueness, whether natural or unnatural.
The feminist movement has provided you with inspiration. Is there any particular wave or type of feminism that you most affiliate yourself with and what feminist works would you encourage fans of your art to read and why?
I’ve read a lot of feminism, but even when I began looking at feminism, it became about humanism, social psychology. It’s not about women being better than men as many people have thought feminism to be; its about treating women with the respect they deserve. For me, it really hit me as a social problem: a problem with how we raise our boys to think, a problem with how tell our little girls to be, a problem of human nature: as each of us as individuals with a choice to behave in certain ways toward our environment, animals, and most notably to our fellow human beings.
I think one of the most gut wrenching works I have read in feminist literature is “The Vagina Monologues” by Eve Ensler. I know it became the butt of many jokes, but honestly, I think it’s a powerful book. I think if women could stop being afraid of being women, and men could stop using women as a vessel for domination, there could be some beautiful changes in society.
You tackle some pretty heavy subject matter, but also state that humour is an important element of your work. How do you go about balancing the two?
Well, I think when you take yourself too seriously you start to suffocate things; you try to go about leaving no room for error always pursuing to prove something. I found growing up, that many things in my life that I thought were once infallible were, in fact, big lies. So, I try to take everything with a grain of salt, always aware that my beliefs may change with new or better information as time passes…like, who knows…maybe those chemtrails are really happy confetti jets that spell things in the sky for aliens…or maybe they really are spreading horrible chemicals that are polluting our environment and further poisoning our water? So, maybe the humor is the insecurity of “I don’t know what the hell is going on…” but I think it’s what inspires me, and if that’s what comes out in my paintings, so be it.
What do you find is the most challenging part of being an artist?
What’s not hard about being an artist? That’s really difficult to say…I think the hardest part is just trying not to feel sorry for yourself, haha.
Who are some of the people who have inspired you the most and why?
Carl Jung is amazing; I’m currently reading the book “The Earth has a Soul”. His amazing arguments for humans need for reconnection with nature have definitely inspired my work in stronger ways. I think Ernest Becker is one of my biggest inspirations. He tackles so many huge topics from religion, death, society, nature – he really hits the nail on the head with his writings. Francis Bacon is a painter that inspires me in the same vein. He seems to dig at the grit of human stench, unearthing the uncomfortable topics most people are afraid to address and with blasting imagery that it’s nearly impossible to tear your eyes away from.
What is the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?
“Just keep going.”
What’s next for Hannah Faith Yata?
I’m still in the process of finalizing things, but it looks like a solo show is in the works!