Artists We Love :: Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski

ammo art2
ammo art2

Amaryllis (the realest) has been blessing my life since we met years back at the We Got Issues! Women’s Initiative. Brilliant artist, writer, performer, amazing living being with an enormous heart and fashion swag that’ll knock folks into an alternate universe. I’ve been trying to get at her for FWL and finally sharing below our convo around art, process, and Harry Potter. A wee bit late….(public apology to Ammo right here), but in perfect time for the opening of VisionQuest, her exhibit with Sheena Rose, at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts February 7. Prepare to be wowed.

JCA: I see from your bio you moved around a lot. How did that influence or affect your artwork and way of being?

ADM: Probably in more ways than I am aware of. It almost feels like where I’m from is transition, that space of going from one place to another. For the majority of my life it was constant. By the time I was 14, we had moved sixteen times, so it was every year, or a couple times a year. A couple of things influenced how I am today, like adaptability, being able to be in really different spaces and figuring out—sometimes painfully, sometimes easily—how to be at home, be comfortable in unfamiliar places. The other part is I’ve had a lifelong practice of being who I am, regardless if who I am is aceptable in the place that I’m at.

JCA: How do you feel that affects your work and your work process?

ADM: In one way, you work with what you have. That’s something I consider a tool and a skill that I’ve been able to draw from my life experience, being able to see what’s around me and work with what’s around me, not necessarily a list of musts in order to be creative. Now, in terms of my artwork, I’m starting to almost do the opposite, being really particular about what I use and why I use it. That’s been interesting, too, because that’s not how I came into my creative self. It’s an interesting question, you know? I think part of itis not necessarily having a hometown, a geographic place that I can claim as my own, and really looking for a home in culture. That affects what I do today and why I’m an artist.

JCA: What are your favourite mediums or materials to work with?

ADM: Right now— and they change all the time—my favourites are paper, really large, large sheets of paper. I love working with glitter, watercolour, wash, pen, markers. I love working with materials that, looping back around to culture, are culturally classed, that are not supposed to be fine art. Materials like watercolours, which are designated to crafty housewives, or paper, which is supposed to be a draft, not a finalized something. Materials that have a cultural history that are a little bit crafty excite me.

JCA: What brought you to your art and your creative self? Why have you stayed in it?

ADM: God. God is the answer to both of those questions for me. What brought me to my creative self? I remember stupid shit, like I hated Barney, but I remember this part where they would take out the bottomless treasure chest of art supplies and costumes. It’s like that: it’s always been fun and exciting to me. Also, with moving around, I had to learn how to entertain myself a lot and be alone with myself. A lot of things came out of that, but two things connected to creativity. One was spending whole summers in libraries. Wherever I was there was a public library and it had free air conditioning. It was open during the hours my mother was working. That supported my imagination. I also had a mother that was really supportive of my creativity, and that made a huge difference in my life.

Most of the art I fell in love with weren’t visual. It was music or books. All sci-fi and fantasy books, like A Wrinkle In Time, The Giver, M Is For Mischief, Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Definitely all the Harry Potter books when I got older. I think part of that is that most of the literatura I was reading was racially, sexually, and gender-wise super homogenous. All the characters were a classic white, straight, gender conforming. The characters I fell in love with were the ones that got me excited about life or were just out of that! Those were found in sci-fi and fantasy books, like in A Wrinkle In Time. The boy, Charles, was a total outcast on Earth. Then he went to outer space and was the key to the universe. There was something about other worldliness and magic reading stories and experiences outside of this culture I was already overwhelmed with. Andwith music, Cndy Lauper, Queen, Whitney Houston, Boyz 2 Men, Tracy Chapman, Silvio Rodriguez. That was the music I grew up with. It was joyful, creative work I fell in love with.

ammo art1
ammo art1

JCA: Now as an adult, do you prefer time alone or prefer more social?

ADM: Both of them have to happen. I think my upbringing requiring me learning to be right with myself alone helps me now. My upbringing where I loved being around people; I didn’t want to be alone a lot of those times, but it allowed me to learn what was awesome about that in my adult life.

JCA: What is awesome about being alone?

ADM: A lot of things. Something I’m learning recently is that I’m never truly alone. What makes me feel that way is going out in the natural world and knowing that it existed billions of years before I came here. That’s one thing. Another is I can just daydream and don’t have to be present to what is happening around me. My imagination can happen. I can be with myself and have space to do that. When I’m around other people and start daydreaming, I am very aware it can be rude. When we’re out with each other, there’s an exchange and responsibility to what we’re co-creating. When I’m alone… I can just do whatever the fuck I want!

JCA: In your artist statements, you’ve spoken about myths. What do you feel the queer and Brown and femme myths will be for the future?

ADM: My dream, my goal is to break open femininity so that a new myth can be unrestricted to gender or sexual organs so it can be a powerful force embodying all the strength I believe it to have in the world. I think queer people are changing femininity in ways that are necessary, crucial, and brilliant to the integrity of our consciousness as a planet. A lot of the myths we have around femininity are constricting, constraining. We’ grown as much as we can wtihin them and they’re stretching at the seams.

JCA: What would you say the myth is right now around femininity?

ADM:I don’t think there’s one singular myth. I look at the myths about femininity, like femininity automatically means woman, which I don’t think is true. Feminine automatically means only contributing to emotional or beautiful or peaceful. I don’t think femininity is viewed as a power. I also think it is viewed as opposite to masculinity, and I don’t think that’s true. There’s a need for newness; I don’t have a total idea or answer. That’s what my work is processing. How do I use the tools I have, play around with that, and break it open in a way that femininity is authority and playful and powerful and fuck with-able.?

JCA: Do you feel the same with queer and Brown myths?

ADM: I do. I see a lot of our histories as queer people, as queer feminine people, as queer people of colour, have been written out of the past, so much ofwhat we have experienced collectively that have existed since the beginning of humanity. I see this resurgence of sci-fi and fantasy creating futuristic myths. When I see a lot of these mainstream works, I see we’re being written out of the future; it’s reinforcing these same systems that we have and are battling with today. Part of what I want to do is to be part of the creative movement dreaming a future where our magic as people of colour, as queer people, as femme people…all of us that embody all those things at the same time can be reflected, can be played with around what the future will be like. We’re working through and up against so much in the present moment. How much space do we have for our creativity, our imagination, and our dreams at the end of the day? That’s where I want to focus my work.

JCA: What is your favourite myth?

ADM: Harry Potter. I love that story so much; I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of it. I was the person that went to the midnight madness parties when the books were released with my cape on and waiting for my book that I pre-ordered. Nerd Life! It’s my favourite because it was a phenomenon. It was an experience, something about reading those books that still exists for me that restores me with a sense of magic in the world. I think that myths and stories that can do that are medicine.

ammo art3
ammo art3

JCA: Which house would you belong to?

ADM: Ok…I would belong to Griffyndor not because that’s where Harry Potter belongs but because Griffyndor is courage. The value is courage and being brave and lionhearted, and I love how she defines that in the book. There isn’t one way to be brave. I love that. What about you?

JCA: Griffyndor for the same reason! They were the most badass. What would you like seeing divinated?

ADM: We are our own historians, recording a magical sense of our existence to make sure that our experiences surivive, not something under someone else’s tale. The word ¨survival¨ is specifc. Look at what’s happening in queer communities, where people are being killed at ridiculous rates; at Black and Brown communities by authorities; in femme communities. What does survival mean when we are in unspoken and undeniable conflict? What is it that we want to survive? It isn’t about scarcity, strive versus thrive. It isn’t using survive in that way at all. It isn’t just us. It’s the future, the past. All these things simultaneously operating. How do we make space for our magic to survive? Not just our lives, but our spirituality, our prayer, ritual, dreams, myths in the midst of extreme conflict. How do our joys survive and are recorded for the future? What is the record of our present going to be?

JCA: How has your art grown? What are topics and mediums you’re interested in looking at in the future?

ADM: My art is changing all the time. In my artists statement, I call my work experiments because it allows me the freedom to not have anything be an answer or but to be just that: experimenting. There may be a time when what I’m doing isn’t working anymore and I have to try something else. I felt that way about performing, like when we first met I was performing poetry. There came a point that changed into working with visual arts. I was doing a lot of spraypaints and murals and that morphed into paintings which morphed into large drawings. I hope to always stay open to trying new things and allowing me to change and be ok with that, not married to one way of doing things.

I’d like to get back to my writing, though I haven’t quite figured out how to do both. But it’s still really important to me. I do feel excited in the momentum of the work I’m doing visually and the material I’m using, but it changed a lot from having this realization that I was drawing inspiration from, unquestionably, a European canon of art. That’s what I had been taught; it was an unconscious thing. Once I realized, that…I want to create from a different canon, indigenous art, African art, Caribbean art. That’s been a huge change, like I’d love to visit different birthplaces of mythical art in the world.

JCA: Do you have any pieces that have influenced you more than the others? And if you have a least favourite…

ADM: I make a ton of work I don’t like and I don’t show that shit to people. It’s not about covering up, but allowing me the space to make bad work, work I don’t neccessarily love and then letting it go without the pressure of having to show it to people. That’s part of what I’ve learned to do to allow myself to make the work I want to put into the world. I was just talking about my least favourite piece that I displayed in a gallery. I was inspired by David Hammonds, this awesome black installation artist. I had an opportunity to do this experimental piece; I decided to make a bottle tree, a spirit tree. I had all these grand ideas about this installation, and…long story short, I didn’t know any of the materials. I didn’t know glass. My idea was to create diamond bottles, beer and wine bottles encrusted in glitter hung from the wall to create a shadow alter space. That is not what happened. That shit looked crazy. There was glitter all over the place, it looked like some glass rolled in glitter and hung from the walls with fishing line. It wasn’t just that it didn’t look good, but nothing about it could deliver the ideas of what I had been thinking.

JCA: Your favourite?

ADM: My favourite, or the one that really changed things up for me is the piece ¨Instructions For The Storm¨, with Brown ladies playing the guitar. That changed the game for me because I had fun with it. I wasn’t thinking about what everything meant. Something clicked. I let go of having to draw people in a way that looked like real life. I let go of this idea that I held onto that it has to be proportional and technically impressive if it’s going to be art, which is really the European standard. But when I look at where my ancestors come from, that wasn’t the standard. It was a whole different canon of what was important in terms of creativity and art. That was the first piece I let go of pressure of being technically impressive that I had been putting on my creativity. It wasn’t working for me.

JCA: If Ammo had a soundtrack for work she has created, past or present, what would be on it?

ADM: Good one! Definitely Beyoncé, Janelle Monae, Little Dragon, Jean Grae, Silvio Rodriguez…Bonnie Raitt, Khalila, Sade, Nina Simone, Nate Dogg. I just can’t stop. I love music so much.

JCA: What is love?

ADM: Love is divinity. Love is the divine creator and the ultimate healer. Love is the best of us. Love is really who we are at our core. Life. Love is life. It is everything but everything ain’t love.