Stefania Tejada is clear in her intentions, to encapsulate the power of the modern woman through art. Her work is a visual language that speaks of her Colombian heritage and her admiration of the female sensibility. With her pieces often being collaborative with fashion brands – including Nike, Adidas and Maison Kitsuné – she excites her audience through the multi-dimensional; layering buoyant natural scenery with the elegance and style of the feminine physic to breathe life into the clothes they wear. But even still with this complex intertwining of referential imagery, it is the female spirit that captures the attention of the viewer at all times.
The most distinctive feature in your pieces seems to be the poignant stare of your female subjects. What are these women saying with their looks?
My women tend to hide as much as they reveal. I think that, in some sense, they also try to look into the viewer or to make the viewer look inside themselves. They guide the viewer into capturing a feeling, thought, emotion or memory, to find within themselves. They push us to ask the difficult questions and to dare to face the answers and hunt for the darkest part of our being. You can only balance the self by dancing with both personas, the light and the dark, the day and the night.
I believe that my female subjects are also an answer to different people and different experiences I have encountered throughout my life. They can be threatening towards the eyes looking back at them, or they can comfort the broken soul – even vibrate strength towards them – not allowing them to give up. It’s really about the person looking back and their experience with life. Some people even recognise the nature of the feeling because they have also had that expression before, they have seen it in the mirror.
When I think of my women, I think of the contemporary amazons, and of all the women before us that set the path for freedom and strength. I feel their power through their eyes. They encourage us to remain strong, to move forward, to fight back, to remain multi-lingual, fluent in the languages of dreams, nature, passion, and poetry. They invite us back into the wild side of our beings, to feel it all, our wild nature. They set us free.
Amongst its female depictions, you call your art an “Unequivocal wake-up call towards reconnecting with our origins.” Born in Colombia yourself, how do you feel like your own cultural origins are reflected in your work?
I don’t have to close my eyes to see my land. I feel it in my bones, body and spirit. It is so ingrained in me that every time I try to 'clean' or 'bring down' the vibrant and exuberant colours in my pieces it is absolutely impossible; she knows how she wants to be portrayed, she demands it.
I feel my heritage alive flowing through my work. My cultural origins are reflected through the personalities of these beings, through the untamed self, their energy, their power, the mystery behind their eyes and their territorial nature. They defend the land they came from, and they take you into a world filled with the creations and deaths of our mother, Mother Earth.
I grew up surrounded by the warrior woman’s archetype, and while it was not easy, it really built me up into the person I am today. I paint the warrior spirits of my sister, my mother and my grandmothers. I paint a generation of fighters; those are my cultural and family origins.
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I noticed the “¡Viva Colombia!” on the Vogue cover in Natalia Montero's painting it was a nice touch. You almost have a similar temperament to artist Fernando Botero, who also paints ‘the person’ as his centre point, with which you often have to meet an uncomfortable glare. Was he a point of inspiration for you at all?
Actually, now that you mention it, you might be right. It never crossed my mind before, until I read it in the questions, but he was the first reference I had for my art for a very long time. My grandmother Blanca has a wall covered with prints by him (not original ones), and I remember staring at them for long periods of time, even before I had the knowledge of what art really was.
For the last couple of years, every time I’ve returned to Colombia I find myself visiting The Botero museum in Bogotá. There is something about his work that keeps on pulling me back. He feels like home, I guess that’s why I never realised his influence before, but he has always been there.
What were your first encounters with art and fashion as separate entities and how did you come to combine the two?
I come from a very small town in Colombia where art and fashion were not part of our everyday conversations, especially during the nineties. In fact, when I decided to study fashion design no one could understand my decision and I still remember how my friends and family used to tease me about it. However, my mother wanted us to explore everything – including painting, drawing, guitar, drums, piano, dancing – very creative explorations for a family that loves economy and sales.
Do you know how people say that you already know what you want to become? I think my interest in fashion and art was something like that. I didn’t know how to put it into words, I just did it. It called me and I followed. Sometimes I feel like that when I paint as if someone or something is guiding me or possessing my being while the brush moves slightly in my hand. Sometimes I have had dreams of things I will find myself painting years later. I will not see the whole thing, but just a glance of it, a tiny moment in time and 8 years later I will find myself looking at that very same scene. Isn’t that absolutely wonderful?
What purpose do you believe art serves in fashion?
I think art holds the key to enhance a brand’s narrative, it makes the viewer dream with the possibilities of another universe, a more special and remarkable world. It is a world completely connected with the soul.
I also think that the explorations an artist does for fashion brands can really speak to an audience at a much higher level. Just the exercise of seeing this artist's vision of the brand can take you to other places, it makes you feel deeper emotion, more than just the surface of the fabric.
I would have really loved to see fashion collaborations with artists such as Hilma af Klint and Vincent Van Gogh. Now that is a story worth telling, especially in a world like todays.
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The anonymous floating hands that frame La Triomphante accompanies the women with themes of the surreal and the abstract. What effect do you intend for this kind of imagery to have?
To allow any woman to position themselves in a scene or maybe I’m trying to push the viewer into imagining the rest of the piece. It’s a little bit like those films that give no explanation or ending to certain subjects and they don’t apologise for it. They want to tease the viewer. No one likes the unknowing, but some things are better left there.
Having collaborated with household names such as Nike and Adidas, to name a few, why is it that you think your work lends itself so well to collaborations?
I would like to think that it’s because I paint another kind of woman, the untamed one. The one we all hope to be: unapologetic. For instance, with Fernanda Sela from Elle México, she attended my first exhibition in Mexico City and we have kept in touch since then. We stand for the same values; we believe in the power of our women and the power of our origins. In that case, we were connected for the same purpose.
Your collaboration with Maison Kitsuné, Territorial Beings, is to be released this year, what can we expect from this?
This exhibition is an inquiry into the Paris-meets-Tokyo brand, founded in 2002 by Gilda Loaëc and Masaya Kuroki. Immersing viewers into the imagery of passion flowers, irises, plantain flowers, birds of paradise, wild orchids, and amazon’s natural corners, as they surround a new kind of woman; the wild woman.
In this body of work, the gestures and attitudes of the women looking back feel almost like a warning or a reminder that the wild does not ask for permission, especially if the territory has already been marked. Do not approach the wild being until you too have blossom and rebirth. I paint the longing for my land, for the wild, and for my untamed spirit.
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