Mariela Ajras: “I think of the city as a large canvas loaded with morphological and historical stories”
Addressing the themes of memory, oblivion and gender, the Argentine visual artist and muralist Mariela Ajras displays her art on the walls of many cities around the world such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, Barcelona, Valencia, Salamanca, Mexico. , Bogota, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, among many others. With a background in psychology, she has participated in different urban art festivals, exhibitions, fairs and public art projects, one of the largest murals in the city of Buenos Aires being the one she developed for the “Corredor de la Memoria” project, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the AMIA attack.
From the organization Public Art Review, she has been recognized as one of the most influential female muralists in South America. Knowing the creative processes and work behind his murals, understanding the role they play in cities from his point of view and how they can relate to the architecture around them are some of the topics we decided to develop in conversation with Mariela Ajras.
What is your source of inspiration when designing the murals? Do you have references to follow, who are they?
My source of inspiration when painting murals is varied. Much of the process is determined by the location of the wall, its context, the community it belongs to, the story behind the building, its particular architecture, its age. I’m also very inspired by the color palette surrounding the wall, the textures that appear over time, from the surrounding roofs, if there are patterns of moldings, tiles, carvings, etc.
On the one hand, the surrounding colors and shapes have a strong visual impact when starting to design, and on the other hand, in the encounter with the wall and its shapes, a kind of story begins to emerge, a narration visual that corresponds to the sensations that arise in me. Inspiration is elusive, in fact, it always appears in a blurry form. It is a combination between the purely visual impact of shapes and colors, and a conceptual narrative that I deploy in my work linked to the concept of memory, forgetting and a question about the feminine universe. I think of the city as a large canvas loaded with morphological and historical stories.
How is the creation process going before the realization on site?
The process of creation prior to the realization goes through a field survey. I usually walk around the wall, if it’s in a historic building. This was the case with the last project I did in Buenos Aires for the Museo de la Ciudad, where I had to work, on the one hand, on the separation wall next to the Ezcurra House (one of the oldest residences of Buenos Aires located in the heart of what was the colonial city, dating from 1830) and on the other, The Heights of the La Estrella pharmacy. Both properties belong to the museum and are part of the so-called historical center of the city. As such they have a lot of history and architectural relevance.
I observe and I am struck by the conservation of the original facades, the domes, the sculptures of the Place de Mai, the basilica, the tiles of the houses, the windows to light these old houses, the wooden stairs, etc. Some of the parts abandoned to the weathering of time retain their structure and have been filled with vegetation between their bricks, the marks of time, roots and humidity that leave a visually very stimulating texture. Without forgetting the infinite number of stories that have been woven in these rooms that have marked the history of our city. All of these variables affect my creative process when thinking about designing this mural, for example.
What has been the most difficult mural you have developed?
All murals are always a big challenge in many ways, mainly physically, but also emotionally. I would say the most difficult murals have been the large scale ones as they involve a high level of pre-production and delivery. The mural commemorating the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the AMIA in the Hospital de Clínicas was undoubtedly a technical challenge, but it also carried a great responsibility given the importance of the subject for the society of Buenos Aires . And the last mural I did on the wall of the Ministry of Culture for the Museo de la Ciudad was very difficult technically because I painted a portrait on a huge scale, one of the biggest faces I have ever painted in my life.
What role do you think murals play in cities?
Community role: connection of meaning between art, the social imagination and the real interaction of people. The fresco appears in the urban landscape as a marking of color and shape that triggers emotions and senses at the visual level but also at the community level. The process of painting a fresco provokes particular types of interactions between passers-by who are challenged by the work and, in response to this challenge, are ready to interact with each other according to what the fresco generates in them. . This makes the mural a third instance between two people who now interact as peers who share emotions and produce meaning together. Interaction of pairs faced with this third fact and not two people face to face who define themselves by opposition, but by what now unites them, calls them together. In this sense, the mural as a relational event has great collective potential. Especially murals with themes that speak directly to historical issues that affect the community to which they belong.
Unblocking role of the aesthetic dimension. From the point of view of the experience of the citizen passing through the city, the encounter with a work of art that fits into his daily landscape, at the very least, provokes the activation of the imagination, a playful treatment and imaginative which has the effect of unlocking the aesthetic dimension. In my opinion, there is something therapeutic in this event; in this encounter, an experience is generated that pushes the limits of subjectivity. There is something that unfolds at the level of the subjective power of being summoned or affected by a work of art, and not only in a positive way. I don’t believe that my murals always arouse good feelings, not everyone can like them (in fact, I am the first to criticize them), but I believe that this encounter is an affectation: something of the interior unfolds with the transformation of the exterior. A city which becomes a museum, which opens up to new aesthetic dimensions and offers a new urban poetics.
Role of art in general. I am excited by the potential of artistic practice to push the boundaries of everyday experience. The possibility of building an “other space” to inhabit transcendence. Breaking the veil of anesthesia every day to allow us a moment of exacerbated grace that brings us back to a more authentic state of being. These are the states that I feel and try to evoke in my work. A pause, a strong commotion. The social intersection of artistic practice in a deep reflection on the scope of art. Produce works to move us with each other, to unite us as spectators of beauty. Get out of the automatism of an alienating contemporary daily life and surrender to beauty as an act of politico-aesthetic resistance. It is towards this daily awareness that I aim in my quest. I won’t be able to change the world through art but I can create artistic instances that make people feel more uplifted, inspired and empathetic. Design experiences that empower and empower the mind to further explore the complexity of the human experience.
Do you think muralism depends on architecture?
100 per cent! At least in my personal experience, one does not exist without the other. The inherent dialogue between a wall (which initially emerges as the product of an architect’s reflection) and the mural that will later be inscribed on it is inevitable. The two are in constant dialogue. The compositions and realizations are determined by the previous architecture. The architecture not only provides a surface on which to create the work, but also a certain number of variables which influence the mural from its conception to its execution. I am interested in thinking about the idea of murals as knots of poetic and aesthetic meanings within territories delineated by architecture. Urban maps that intertwine between architecture and the marking of a mural, new ways of rewriting the plan of a city in constant dialogue. I think it’s time to start designing these processes in an integrated way. I aspire to the idea of beginning to incorporate wall art as another element of architectural layout, where walls and buildings would be constructed with wall paint from the start, where their visibility and access would be improved, and where together they would improve the aesthetics and the poetic capacity that the two proposals introduce into the experience of what it is to inhabit a city.