The work of Hannah Yata is a psychedelic statement of purpose for any willing to take the time and trip with her. Through her work she discusses the female identity, refusing to be confined by socialized prescriptions of vanity and over-sexualized tokenization, as well as the connection that humanity once had to the earth which has been eschewed by modern society and the repercussions of this departure. Check out her interview!
What have you read most recently?
In the Body of the World by Eve Ensler, The Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges, and now the True Believer by Eric Hoffer.
How does the content you consume inform your art?
Much of the content I consume is in search of unraveling the complicated mystery that is human nature and how humans manipulate the world around them. I’ve observed that in the more abstract concepts concerning such things as metaphysical ideas and energies, they bleed together with human themes and often form the psychedelic stories that manifest on my canvas.
How does it inform you personally? What do you seek out to read/watch/experience to challenge and engage yourself?
I tend to reach out and inform myself on things that broaden my understanding on human nature, belief systems, the world as it relates to animals, their behavior and the environment, and also the government: conspiracies, laws, and how western civilization has developed historically.
One of the more challenging tasks I’ve been looking into lately has been seeking out historical documentaries on human experiments and the horrific studies that are done in the name of science. What imaginative cruelty that has been done on humans by other humans that is justified for knowledge, to be more secure, powerful, and in control of the outcome.
For the most part, that burden has been placed on to animal species. However, as more studies have been done, we’re quickly learning how little we understand about living organisms aside from humans. Animals feel, think, perceive, communicate, and have beautiful relationships on a deep level with one other – I believe we will look back one day on how we’ve treated these fellow beings with shame.
Your work focuses almost entirely on the female form, either nude, or essentially so. How would you respond to someone saying that this subconsciously contributes to the objectification of women by catering to the precedent set by our hyper-sexualized culture that women are objects of beauty, instead of substance?
Great questions. So when I first started painting the women with fish heads- the idea was to make them more of a stereotype of western historical paintings. Historically, artists depicted women in nature but it was with a passivity and lack of agency: eyes obscured and body exposed in a way that invited the idea of a male viewer.
It was first that I set out take these elements and twist them: instead of slyly obscuring the eyes, I wanted these unsettling fish-masks that stared with disquieting lifelessness back at the viewer. Instead of lounging submissive bodies, I wanted them in the midst of some sort of narrative where they were independent from a male, or a male’s attention.
My choice in depicting nudes is to be raw and vulnerable- not specifically inviting sex. I think in many ways women are made to be ashamed of their bodies and their sexuality, and in my work, my women are shameless: they exist and act with or without a male audience.
Modern day hyper-sexuality in advertising and culture will tell women they are incomplete with out this sort of male presence, and they are in need of a phallus. As my work has evolved to embrace other animals and masks, it has become a dark play of sorts seeking autonomy for nature. It sets a stage of a psychedelic primal dance that transcends to other worlds: the animals become spirits and are played by women in a world inundated by pollution, or have found themselves in the limbo of death.
What about the idea that by omitting male form, you are further underscoring for your viewer the tacit implication that female nudity is the nudity that should be displayed? Do you think there’s any validity in the argument that an increase in exposure to male nudity would decrease the intensity of objectification of women and their status as the focal point of the sexualized ideal?
It is by the metaphorical idea of phallus that the world is being raped of its natural resources and penetrated for valuable minerals and fossil fuels. To explicitly depict nude males would invite violence in my work and thus undermine the concept that I’m trying to pursue- beauty, spirituality in dynamic struggle with that of women and nature.
How do you think your work is advancing the feminist cause? What about it do you think is a triumph for equality? And how much of that do you think your viewers see? Is there a way to make sure your viewers are informed about your subject matter without telling them outright?
To believe that my work is changing people’s lives or the world seems presumptuous. I accept that the images I create will be digested in their own way by each and every individual viewer. I know that my work is different and to many viewers it usually appears confusing. For the most part I find when they read my interviews and the statements on my website, they understand where my ideas originate it starts to make sense.
In your Info section, you state:
The increasing psychedelic features to her work are inspired by beauty and the energy of nature, while communicating the anxiety and tension she feels brewing in the world.
How do you paint moral injustice? How do you take a social or cultural idea and put it to paper without being explicit? What does that look like in your mind?
It’s probably my romantic ideas of thinking that painting is my poetry that I prefer to make my work more beautiful than gruesome. There’s plenty of horror and dark chaos in the world, and it’s not my goal to perpetuate gloom.
Rather, to me, the main idea is “Despite Everything:” despite the torture, genocide, rape, mutilation, modification of nature, and the general “humans playing god” in the world, there does persist an immeasurable energy, a life force that we haven’t even begun to grasp and that will keep going without us even if we destroy the planet. I believe that despite everything there are good people that are seeking to do the right thing. Despite everything, we can turn things around, animals can survive, the universe can go on…
In one of my recent paintings, “Polymorphous” was based on Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies at the Base of the Crucifixion.” While not explicitly copying his images, I wanted to conjure the same psychology of his work: these three mythological figures that are supposed to punish crimes that were beyond human justice but still stuck, weighed down by some indecipherable substance, in essence: letting the crimes go unpunished. The frustration of seeing injustice in history repeat itself was something I wanted to address with the work, without explicitly laying out an entire plot line of images.
Another painting I haven’t specifically addressed on other interviews is “Hierarchy of Test Subjects:” mutated, hairless rats, are judged by each other and given status based on the size of their tumors. In the background, factories pump smoke and threaten to suffocate other rats. The saying “We buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like, with money we don’t have” sort of resounded in my head with this one. Socially, we are obsessed with how we measure up to the other people in the world despite the fact that one out of every two people will get some kind of cancer, we’re basically a bunch of our government’s human guinea pigs, and we’re quickly burning through fossil fuels that are destroying the planet. So, carrying this idea and taking a step back from looking at the current paradigm, I chose to highlight more in this painting a little sense of humor and ridiculousness.
What, if any, research do you do for your paintings? You mention your masks are a mix of cultures and speak to the relationships that tribes and cultures have with the earth, how do you inform yourself about these cultures and tribes for your work?
Paintings that come from images my mind produces tend to be spontaneous. Once I have an idea in my head, I gather references for it and go from there.
Masks that I incorporate I try to research to understand what significance they have in mythological and symbolic senses, and in what sort of events they are used for. I tend to abstract imagery more at this point because what I really seek to celebrate is the concept of the indigenous- the more primitive societies of peoples ,that have, for the most part, been moved off their land or massacred. Scientists are now discovering that the earth has a vibrational frequency – as all things do. It’s said that ancient people knew this concept as many indigenous people also know today, and that’s why they felt a responsibility to strengthen and reinforce the vibrational frequency of the earth through such celebrations as fire, prayer, singing, and dancing.
Similarly, my work touches with the same notes as a visual perpetuation of those ideas: appreciation of beauty, energy, and vibrational frequencies as they relate to the universal consciousness.
Your work is incredibly emotional and visceral; how do you feel when painting? Are you ever overwhelmed by what you are feeling, and the part of yourself that you are pouring into your work?
Depending on what I’m trying to tackle there’s a bit of anxiety- but usually its a relief to start a painting. Getting things on the canvas is a release- the emotionally draining part is fitting things together and working out the details.
Where is the most magical place you have been recently? The Cuyabeno rainforest in Ecuador. The immensity of the wildlife we saw was mind-blowing: a symphony of plants and animals everywhere you look. The mix of raw, untouched beauty with the adrenaline of knowing there is possibly danger around every corner was intoxicating, sensational, and mystical.