Laura Knapp: First off, these are some raw self portraits. They immediately show your pain in a physical way, but also manage to simultaneously tap into your inner feelings of torture and heartbreak. What made you want to create such an emotional project? How did it start?
Maria Mata: That’s a really tough question to answer. I was going through a really hard time in my personal life, lots of self doubt and painful situations, and I got this school assignment called “Beneath the Surface”. I felt like it was the perfect time to come up with a piece that helped me channel those feelings of anger, sadness and well, heartbreak. It was a very brave decision to go with a nude self portrait, but that was the only way I could get the point across, and that ended up being my opening piece. A couple weeks after that, the protests started in my home country of Venezuela and the violence was 100 times worse. That definitely added to the feelings for the project and so I decided to go all the way with it and use it to drain all my emotional pain that I was mostly hiding. It’s a very personal series.
LK: For people who may not know, what is the conflict currently happening in Venezuela?
MM: The country is in an economic, social debacle right now. Caracas, my hometown, is one of the most dangerous, violent cities in the world. There’s shortages, poverty, violent crimes, etc. It’s a major political crisis. It’s been getting progressively worse very fast in the last year. It’s very painful to watch and know that you really don’t feel safe in your own country.
LK: I’m really sorry to hear that, Maria. I’m glad you’re using your feelings in an expressive and artistic fashion. On a more technical note, these are all digitally manipulated photos. How did you create life-like wounds and scars?
MM: MAGIC! And some paper and raspberries. The preparation for the shoots was my favorite part of the whole project. I had very specific ideas of what I wanted to convey, where I wanted the wound, if it was a burn or a scratch, a scar, how deep it was going to be, how gory, etc. So I pretty much knew what it was going to look like before going into the digital process. I experimented with textures and colors to see what would make the most appealing, compelling wound.
LK: Knowing that you could create any color palette you wanted, why did you make the visual choices that you did? Why the all white background with the extremely pale skin? What does the white signify?
MM: I didn’t want anything to distract the viewer from the pain. I don’t want you to look away from the wound. It’s very direct and straight forward, there’s nowhere else to go. I also wanted a sort of blank canvas to tap into the vulnerability we experience when we’re hurt. That’s why I decided to go with the nudity. We’re all very fragile when we’re at our lowest point, and that’s what I wanted to convey.
LK: What was the most emotional piece for you to create?
MM: Definitely the open chest. Not only was it the very first image I made, but because it was made at a time of emotional pain. That was exactly how I felt during the time I made that piece. Having said that, every time I started a new piece it would almost feel like opening old wounds or playing with recent ones. Some of the images were really hard to look at because I felt so vulnerable, but I didn’t let the emotion stop me from making them. It was my way of releasing the anger.
LK: Is this a finished body of work or do you think you’ll make more?
MM: It’s definitely finished. Which is why the final piece is a stitched wound. It was actually a relief when I was done. I cried. It felt like all that suffering had left my body and is now living in those images. I still love the horror/beauty contrast and want to keep exploring it in a different way, at a different time. It was a difficult, dark time for me and it’s not a place where I want to put myself in again.
LK: Have you ever considered trying a spinoff of this project by not physically showing your body in any of the photos? Somehow showing the pain in a more abstract way? Just a suggestion.
MM: I’m very straight forward with my approach, but it seems like a good idea. I do feel like it’s not the right time for it. This was so personal and intimate that I want to explore different feelings. Not everything has to be painful, right?
To see more of Maria Mata’s work go here: http://www.mariamataphoto.com/