Though it was
nearly 10pm at her (current) home in Germany, Pau was alive with energy and enthusiasm throughout our conversation. I had been looking forward to speaking with the Chilean-German street artist and social justice advocate, or “artivist” as she says, after spending three months living in Pau’s (original) home country of Chile. During our conversation, Pau described her past and current art projects, the commitment to social justice work that has driven her organization “Wallflowers,” and her deep belief in the healing power of art.
- Cecilia Nowell
Cecilia Nowell (CN): Thanks for chatting with me! I wanted to ask you some questions that are related to the concept of [Mortar] Magazine because it’s a lot about this idea of marginalized identities, or identities at the edges, and what I thought was so interesting is that your work is really a blend of Chilean and German influences. Can you tell me more about that?
Pau: I don’t consider myself just a Latin American or South American - I’m an American. On the other hand, I’m not just German, I’m a European. I feel that I can´t really be just home in one nationality or one geographical border - there are so many beautiful things out there - so just limiting myself to one makes no sense to me. What I try to do is get inspired by what I see through my travels, and South America always has been a beautiful place to recharge my batteries. There’s so much color, so much stories, my past - my roots, which I try to honor with my work. At the same time I try to merge and include what I had experienced during my time in Europe, especially the more conceptual part. The feeling of creating my "alter-ego" PAU, this is the moment where both worlds merge into one with all its different facets. I'm really both and so there’s much more richness in it because I do not have to choose one over the other - Pau needs no labels of nationalities. Pau is more of a soul in a human body that wants to create.
CN: I notice on the website that your eyes are always blocked out. Is this part of that?
Pau: When you watch my work my women are mostly very static. They’re not really in motion - they are more in a moment of meditation, a moment of consciousness, a moment of realizing something for themselves like an emotional - or moment of growth. These women have no need to dialogue - it´s more that they invite you to dive with them into stillness and calm. You just feel the calm like the saying: If you really want to see you don’t use your eyes but your heart and soul. I consider my studio work my very personal and intimate moment as it discribes much more my experiences and emotions - my status quo in life at that time and how I perceive the world. My murals are the bridge that connects me with "the outside world" - it is a way to transform something grey and unseen in "food for the soul" - Alimento para el Alma.
CN: It’s an interesting balance of personal and public. How do you make public art like that personal—internalized and thoughtful?
Pau: The bridge between this two levels for me is very important. It is obvious that even my public/urban art will have always a piece of me in it - it would be strange if this would not be the case. I see it as a big gift when people want to have a piece of my work close to them or showcased on a big wall - so it's a huge responsibility to leave something that provokes beauty and an impact and capture people to slow down and inhale peace for a little instant. This mural is the one thing that stays after I'm leaving the place so it has to be something for all people that pass by not for my ego. My favorite places to paint are areas in the periphery - places maybe unseen on the first glance. You can tell how a spot can change by leaving traces of color and dedication. You can create ARTivism and use color as a tool for a dialogue because art and the world of colors is a universal language. I'm intrigued by learning from different cultures - it always helps to expand your horizon and especially in my case to get inspired by the travels and the people I meet along the road. Paint and brushes are my travel companions and a beautiful way to combine my passions - these two tools are easy to find anywhere in the world and give me a feeling of freedom to create and work anywhere I love to; even if I don't speak the language I will be able to speak through my art and my walls. Back in my studio I collect all these experiences and captured moments and create a personal memory bank. This supports my creative progress of my more personal work in which I try to connect with my inner world which defines me as a human being, as an artist and as a woman.
CN: I like what you say about crossing global boundaries and borders. Your work is everywhere. Your work is in Chile, in Germany, and then I saw stuff in [North Africa].
Pau: In 2013 I started my long term ARTivism project called Project Wallflowers. It was about time to create a platform where I could connect with all my people from the art world and organizations I have been supporting. Honestly I believe I have one of the most beautiful jobs in the world, and Project Wallflowers is like a next step in this constant progress of artistic growth. I strongly believe ARTivsm can be a tender force of change and I consider myself a lucky person having so many beautiful, talented, and very engaging people around me who support the philosophy of Wallflowers. It is the perfect combination of all the things I love - I get to paint in very interesting places and countries with amazing people and learning from their experiences what could help to create a better future. It is inspiring to meet with artists and colleagues and create together - to exchange techniques and new ways of seeing the arts. Wallflowers aims to grow organically with each mural and artistic interaction creating responsibility and awareness for different social and humanitarian issues worldwide. Our mission is to carry colors into the world.
CN: Did Project Wallflowers become a couple of other projects?
Pau: Project Wallflowers is like the mothership. Over the years we created six different programs focussing on different issues and topics which helps us to connect faster with the main mission at the different places and it helps us to explain much easier our mission goal to the different audiences. For instance if I go somewhere to work more with the youth I would work with our BLOOMING SEEDS program. Blooming Seeds because you have to nourish them - with dedication, love, empowerment, self love, creativity, mindfulness - so they can grow and become strong flowers in the future. The word WALLFLOWERS in German (Mauerblümchen) describes someone or something not really present in society - something dull - not perceived. They also describe little flowers that grow between the bricks of buildings - not the most beautiful ones - maybe - but in my opinion the strongest. These flowers can knock down any wall over a lapse of time. I like this image of flowers breaking walls - it's (again) a tender force of change breaking paradigms and perspectives in society and in our heads. Theses flowers say: Hey! Here I am! Let’s do something over time that will break the walls and create something new and bring color there, where no color is. This is the Project Wallflower concept.
CN: That’s interesting, it reminds me of the image of Mortar which is brick and mortar and having the flower coming in and disrupt the brick.
Pau: I believe deeply that we as human beings have the power to be a tender force for change. Flowers are an incredible and beautiful way to speak through because they speak an universal language. Wallflowers are a metaphor for the mission of breaking the walls we built in our minds - you can demolish them with through dedication, color, and time - creating space for dialogues and community and beautifying the area and the neighborhoods wherever wallflowers touch bricks and concrete.
CN: So, I know you’re working on stuff in Germany right now, but do you have any other things happening? Is Wallflowers still the main project?
Pau: Wallflowers started as a "parallel" long-term art project of mine - beside my usual gallery work and commissions or festival work. It was never meant to grow so quickly - but I'm just grateful that it did and that I got the opportunity to work with so many interesting and incredible people over the last four years. Wallflowers provides me constantly with new experiences and artistic perspectives. It tests my limits - especially when it comes to organize all the details which I'm as an artist possibly would not do in the first place. But I must say I really dig it! I love to see how this project grows and offers different artists and organizations the possibility to meet and learn from each other. It has become a main source to reflect on my artistic work and helps to review my actions as a human being.
I can tell that the first few years where really exciting in terms of "learning by doing" - how to be a "representative" of such a project that grows organically with each member and new piece of wall. I needed to learn how to communicate and approach my ideas on different fields not just in a "sketch book" - it was a great school and I realized that this is the way I really want to use my art - I wanted to create ARTivism and I want to become an "Artivista."
After a long travel period in South America and the United States I'm back in Germany / Europe over the summer - and it feels a bit surreal to come back to that place where everything started - I feel blessed and very grateful of all the support I experienced over the last four years. It is like coming full circle and recheck if my long term project is heading in the right directions - its a moment of review and evaluation and also focussing on how I can optimize the balance between Project Wallflowers and my other work fields.
CN: I saw on your website that you were calling yourself a nomad for a while. Can you tell me more about that?
Pau: I consider myself a lifetime nomad - I guess it has a lot to do with my biographical background because all of my life I have been used to move from one place to another. Maybe one of the hardest parts of it is to find the perfect technique to balance between roots - the place you like to call home and the curiosity that triggers you every time to leave your comfort zone and see what else is out there.
I'm a lucky person knowing that home can be everywhere having the right people around you. People you can call true friends and family. Creative soul buddies that push you to become the best version of yourself and enjoy the moments we can spend together by seeing each other grow. Having the chance to find this in different places on the globe makes it tricky to find just one spot to settle especially because each one of these persons taught me a lesson and let so many traces of colors on my paint palette. On the other hand the constant flux between projects, travels, and life lessons helps me to keep up with this rhythm of arrivals and departures. This kinda nomad lifestyle has been the best way to know myself and to understand the different steps of constant growth. Travel opens our eyes - it helps to reflect and brings the essential things in life back in perspective - you get in touch with different cultures and realities which helped me a lot to understand why it is so important to carry more colors into the world.
I feel that this way of life will be the constant for the next few more years - especially - and this is the beauty of it - every destinations opens new doors of possibilities … the important part is not to loose yourself in it and never forget why you decided to travel in the first place.
CN: I was in Chile last summer [on a journalism project], and I wanted to ask where were you? You were in Patagonia and Santiago, or other places?
Pau: For this time I was mostly in Santiago and Valparaiso. The city of Valparaiso is the place I started my career as an urban artist and where i got introduced to the world of muralismo back then in 2006 - so it makes me always happy to revisit this beautiful "pearl of the Pacific." During my first trip to South America it was my home base for a summer before I moved back to Germany 2008.
During this trip I was in Santiago for Christmas and how sometimes "causalities of live" are - my cousin introduced her new boyfriend along with his mother. When we started to talk she told me that she is the head of a rural school in Balmaceda - a very isolated place in Patagonia - so it was just a matter of seconds that I asked her if i could go to visit and bring my brushes with me. … Three month later I was on my way to Patagonia - which would become one of many trips bringing more colors to one of the most isolated regions in the world.
After this first trip I really felt in love with that area so another friend of mine talked to the Culture Institute in Coyhaique, which is the capital of the region - and get me the exterior walls for a Wallflowers Project. Since then I'm in constant contact with them trying to bring more cultural input to this amazing place. Luckily the people started to like my work and so I got to paint the most southern church [in the world] painted by a street artist during the first few months of 2017. - So C.A.LL.E. was born which now is the Wallflowers' youngest culture program. C.A.LL.E. means :
Carretera Austral is “filling spaces” - interventions that aim to bring more cultural activities to these extreme and isolated places and little towns along the most southern highway on our globe.
CN: Do different places, geographically and culturally, teach you new things or does your art change?
Pau: Definitely! Every time I start a new project its like diving into a new adventure and new life lessons. My art has become a melting pot of all my travels and experiences. Beside meeting new people and new places this life offers you again and again a new opportunity to get to know you a bit better which automatically helps me to evolve in my work field. What I try to practice in each spot is presence - to be really present and conscious about where I'm staying - this is the only way to really get the core of every culture and reality you are about to enter with each project. By practicing this ritual, it's not just a way of showing respect to the country you are exerting but also a huge gift you can give to yourself. I think this is something that helps you to get really inspired by a place and its people - allow you to get the vibe, catch new stories, and get inspired by new colors and textures.
CN: I wanted to ask about the topic of migration because it’s such an issue right now in the U.S. As someone who is from two cultures, have you tried to respond to politics in your art or does your art already respond to politics?
Pau: In the mid '80s my family and I were forced to leave my (first) motherland because of right-wing politics. Since then one part of me is always looking for answers and little pieces to rebuild a part of my identity. As a refugee you become very sensitive to political motions and for the constant fight for human rights. In the last years and because of my artistic work and development I got more and more impregnated with the "anti-humanity“ zeitgeist in our society. You can pick any country. People have forgotten to stay for one another. They have forgotten that we are all one. I used to call it "Collective Amnesia“ - in so called first world countries like in Europe or the United States. The lack of empathy is incredible and the easy growth of hate-campaigns is indescribable and a shame for all of us.
In 2015 I was invited to talk about my work and Project Wallflowers at a TEDx Conference in Santiago de Chile - and honestly I was a bit shocked after arriving back there. In my very personal opinion Chile had become a very ill society full of complexes - stereotypes - sexism - classism - homophobia and xenophobia. I got frustrated by so much lack of political awareness, after so many years my parents fought for a better future for this country. I arrived in the middle of a new phase in which Syria got bombed and suffered new attacks. It was around that time when in Germany you started to hear more right-wing voices yelling against the refugees and the beginning of the hate campaigns in the States. The whole world seemed to be in flames and I was just not sure if talking about my work would help to set a point.
So I created a little side project under Project Wallflowers called #STAYWITHHUMANITY - it is an intent to stand against this "recent" course in our collective consciousness. People have to wake up and realize that all the recent incidents are part of a bigger picture that involves all of us. We all need to accept our responsibility in this scenario. Especially in the refugee "crisis" which is just the beginning of a long run and the tip of an iceberg which will crash with us if we are not about to change. We have to stand with humanity and with each other. That's why I started to work more as an ARTivist than as an artist - I want my work to become a tender force for change.
CN: So much of your background sounds like it’s inspired by fleeing these places with difficult histories. Does your art show that? Do you try to show that in your art?
Pau: My work always has been a beautiful way of healing. In Spanish we have the word ARTESANA - which meas the (artistic) crafts(wo)men using old traditions and conserving them in their artistic work / craft ship. If you separate the word in ARTE SANA it changes its meaning in ART HEALS - I fell in love with both terms, and I try to practice them as best as I can in my daily life and of course in my work. Art has been the one thing helping me to understand this world on so many levels and has shaken my consciousness by pushing me to wider my comfort zone. Beside of aiming to become a good ARTivista my dream is to be a good ARTESANA and be able to share the joy for colors. I want to help people to find a little piece of calm in their daily lives - to rethink and contemplate our cosmos as human beings and everything in it. As I said I want to be a tender force for change - and personally speaking I think art is one of the most beautiful ways to do so.