Vibrant, charming, multi-faceted and engaged, Nico Mazza is a magnetic kind of woman. She lives her passions, speaks her mind and explores her heart. This is evident in her work as an artist, a tango dancer, and the co-founder of the women’s creative collective She/Folk.
More than a year ago, Nico moved to Argentina for an artist residency and to dance. As an artist, she explores the idea of women’s work and feminine sexuality in her fiber art and embroidery. Her work is direct – both conventionally beautiful and conceptually challenging, even explicit. As a dancer, she considers the culturally instilled gender roles, and what that means to her identity as a feminist.
In addition, she founded She/Folk with her best friend, Arianne Keegan (you go, girls!), and it is through this endeavor that we at BYOM connected. Through She/Folk and its flagship project, She/Lore, Nico and Arianne provide a platform for female creatives to share their work and their insights. We’re just thrilled to support the work of that incredible group, and share the perspectives of this singular young woman.
In this interview, Nico explains how her Catholic background influences her art, why she explores her fantasies on the page, how dance provides another insight into her experiences as a feminist, and why she’s obsessed with the Kardashians. Here we go…
- Age: 26
- Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Education: School of the Art Institute of Chicago
- Field of Interest: Fiber, embroidery, patterns
- What’s Your Favorite Thing About Yourself? My intuition
- What Inspired You Today? The broken sidewalks on the streets of Buenos Aires. They are patterned and beautiful shades of blue grey, but they are often in pieces and will spit at you if it rains. Inspiration comes from both love and hate. 😉
- What Are You Currently Reading and/or Listening To? I’m currently reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and listening to lots of Gillian Welch.
- Are You Working on Any Projects, in Work or Out, That You’re Excited About? Im currently working on a large embroidery of Kim Kardashian as the Virgin de Guadalupe and a series of other large-scale embroideries. Outside of my art practice, I’m living in Argentina to continue my studies of tango dance. This mean lots of embracing, happy (sometimes hurting) feet, lots of sunrises and little sleep.
Questions + Answers
You lead She/Folk, an incredible women’s creative collective. Could you talk more about what you love most about the collective, and your vision for its future?
She/Folk is the love child of myself and my best friend Arianne Keegan. The idea seeded after a series of conversations amongst us and a larger group of girlfriends about our gendered experiences in New York City (where we were all living at the time). We were all kind of sitting around and sharing stories and realized that as women, we face similar conflicts, share common experiences, and are often battling some iteration of patriarchal institution.
She/Lore, our flagship project, aims to share these voices and those of as many womyn as possible to create an anthology of perspectives. The collection is ever-growing, and our goal is to showcase individuals and the sanctity of each unique experience, while also highlighting commonality, which is sure to emerge, and to ultimately to get to know the many women whom we build this space with. Sharing is key. Often, we don’t speak up because entrenched and subtle – and some not so subtle – forces keep us quiet. We need to make our voices known.
On a personal level, I would say that I have just begun to have my “Feminist Awakening.” Honestly, I was one of those people who said that as humans we should ALL be equal, but simply having this idea does little to address the fact that we are FAR from that and the many complex layers of inequality that exist. I didn’t really see the big picture and how gender, race, class, education, privilege, and a host of others things all paint inequality.
I am aware now that as women our lives are STILL at risk – our ability to feel safe as we are walking down the street, to be respected by our peers, to be represented by our government, to make decisions for ourselves, to have access to healthcare, to be heard – is constantly being jeopardized and we are constantly having to fight for it. She/Folk is constantly evolving with us as individuals, as community organizers, as collaborators, as contributors, and I feel that through this platform we can continue a conversation and directly involve ourselves in and hopefully inspire activism that will affect change.
Your art-making, from fiber painting and drawings to performance, is a fine balance of subtlety, sexuality, detail and message. What are the main themes you’re exploring in your work, and how did they develop?
My mom was born in Portugal and emigrated to the US with my grandparents when she was very young. She was raised with these old-world values of her Catholic motherland, and my grandmother’s iron fist. She rebelled until she was old enough to leave the house.
I spent a lot of time in the crosshairs, but I grew a profound respect for the traditions that my grandmother held so dear, as well as the freedom sought by my mother. I think my work is toeing this line by using “women’s work,” while the subject matter revels in tearing this tradition apart.
Sexuality is definitely a major theme in my work. As an adolescent I felt a lot of shame and guilt in regards to my body, my own sexuality, and my relationships with men (good old Catholic guilt). I think I still carry that with me in some way.
In religion and in sex, we objectify the body, especially the female body. It is sacred, it is carnal. In my work this objectification is crucial as I explore the idolization of the female body as a free thing. These figures are free to act out as much or as little as they want. I have no fear when it comes to depicting erotic images, religion, women- I don’t want to censor my fantasies.
Living in Argentina sounds like a dream come true! Could you tell us more about your journey with tango dance? How did you get started and why do you love it?
I’ve always been a nostalgic person – but nostalgic for a time, or a thing that I have never experienced. I like traditions and all the things that come with that. The golden age of tango was around 1935 to 1955, and much of the music we dance to is from old recordings from that time period. I don’t remember where I first heard the music but I when I did, I fell in love with it, began dancing, and was hooked.
Anyone who dances tango will compare the dance to a drug. It really is addictive. The feeling of being embraced by someone and connecting over the music is intoxicating, and it’s not like other dances where there is a formula or choreography – it’s all improvised, and each person has their own style. With each partner you are allowing them to hold you and move you in an intimate way (and vice versa). The dance is a conversation, an encounter, where two people agree to meet in the middle.
I came to Argentina over a year ago for an artist residency, as well as for the dance, and immediately fell in love with Buenos Aires. Dancing here is just different. People have tango in their blood.
The traditions associated with the dance are very much a part of the scene, and there are all these different social situations outside of the actual dance, which are often rooted in old school gender roles and machismo. When I go out to a milonga to dance, I wear 4 inch stilettos and tough skin. I gear up for the waspy men looking for hook-ups, the ones who treat me like a doll they can move on the dance floor (who I have since learned to ignore), the dark stares of judgement of people watching you as you dance, the cliques of uptight professionals, and the fact that if I want to dance, I will have to wait for him to come to me.
As someone who gives zero fucks about any of these things, I have to play a role and be in accordance with these gender roles so that I can be a part of this community to do this thing that I love. As a feminist working to combat these culturally instilled gender roles, it’s a hard place to be in, but ultimately one that I choose. I choose to relinquish my power in this way, in this situation. This ability to make this choice is what is important to me.
That fusion of pop culture and religion that you allude to in your work with Kim Kardashian seems to be really fertile creative ground. Could you explain your message with that piece, and how (in general) you see two disparate spheres interacting?
This summer I developed a fascination with the Kardashians. Yes, I watch the show, follow their Instagram accounts, google their outfits, etc. I started thinking about the Kim Kardashian piece in November after seeing her Halloween dress (she dressed as herself in the AMAZING Givenchy dress), and I thought I NEED to embroider that.To me, Kim is an icon all over the world and so is this image of the Virgin of Guadeloupe.
Pop culture and religion are two of the most luscious image sources for me, and I love the idea of mixing the two together, of pitting religion against images of excess, fame, sex, indulgence. I’m really excited because I’m currently finishing a rendition of the last supper with the entire Kardashian clan.
What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your creative career, and how did you overcome it?
For me the biggest challenge, which I am constantly overcoming, is motivation. Sometimes I can’t pick up my embroidery hoop, I’ll say, “okay in 20 minutes, I’ll start,” and then I say this all day and haven’t thrown one stitch but have just binge watched Broad City until nightfall. It’s a dark feeling, but what helps me the most is to constantly have something in progress so that it’s easier for me to just continue stitching.
Who inspires you?
- Arianne Keegan and Abigail Deatley: Two of my besties and She/Folkers who are amazing activists currently organizing in opposition to the HB 1411 Bill that was just passed in our home state of Florida.
- Sam Vernon: She’s a prolific artist, and an inspiring activist. She spoke on a panel we hosted for She/Folk and really inspired me to read more, to better listen to and learn from others, and to educate myself because it’s no one’s responsibility but my own.
- Noel Morical: Noel is a fiber artist who also works with meticulous technique. She’s currently obsessed with making giant macrame sculptures. We met in college after cutting out paint chips for her BFA project until we couldn’t feel our thumbs anymore.
- Roz Crews: Roz is an artist working in social practice and is constantly creating and organizing community events in Portland, Oregon. She has one of the most interesting and creative minds I know.