Life is too beautiful, dangerous and full to set me on one thing. My process is constantly self-reinventing. It is the endless metamorphosis.
Nádia Duvall’s work is eerie and other-worldly. In her performance piece “Black Dress”, Duvall’s movements are steady and calculated; almost graceful. Duvall slowly emerges from a pool of water she calls the uterus into a thin black membrane of ink called skin, the chemical composition of which she had developed herself. At first, the skin depicts a veil, hiding her form and humanity. As she moves further, it clings to her body, becoming part of her. The artist then breaks free from the membrane, separating from the debris and re-emerging as something entirely new. It’s a mesmerizing transformation representing “female significance, my own identity, and my adaptation to society,” Duvall says.
The Lisbon, Portugal-based artist says that water, gesturalism and action painting were the most appropriate mediums to express her grief, her deepest thoughts, and the unconventional lens through which she perceives the world. Nadia explains her abstract style as a result of needing to “express my difficult child history, but hidden beneath a camouflage.”
Despite a cultural opposition to the arts, Nádia spent her childhood drawing, painting, and “creating strange things.” Her family’s expectation was that she’d become a scientist. “At the age of 14 I took some oil painting classes and that’s when I realized that, despite my actual passion for science, the spirit that inhabited me was art,” Nádia says. “I remember that even with a very tight budget I started to buy art books. I began to devour art history books, day and night, looking at all the paintings, sculptures and mixed styles, which is probably why my creations are so complex.”
Each piece is a simulated portrait of my reality.
Other teenagers had pop bands and movie stars to look up to; Nádia had her favorite artists. “Often I fell asleep with the books by my side,” she says. “I felt so close to some of the biographies that I thought only those artists could understand me, and even protect me, during my dreams.”
Nádia made a vow to one day create something new. “I still keep the diaries I wrote with those wishes. Some of them are coming true.”
Growing up, the artist felt “it was a blessing to be surrounded by art ignorance, since it gave me the freedom to think and create whatever I wanted,” she says. “When I look to my first creations as a teenager I find them horrific, but at the same time I can see the purity and feel a bit nostalgic … I became passionate about Yves Klein and his purity (even though I could only properly understand his art years later), Jackson Pollock’s gesturalism and Mark Rothko’s spirit. These were my first influences and they still are. And even though my art has various influences, I always followed my own path.”
Duvall attended a four-year art university, “but from the very first day I began to abandon academia because I always had doubts about its efficiency.” When professors told her what and what not to do, she questioned them, often struggling to develop her work independently. “I was lucky enough to have had professors that could understand my ideas and came to respect my rebellious decisions. Of course, I was going through a risky path.”
The joy of creating is so great and sublime that, at the end of our journey as human beings, all these difficulties are worth it!
Nádia’s love for science persisted during her art studies. “During my first year I began to develop an obsession with chemical mixtures, knowing I would be able to create something completely new that could express my identity in camouflaged way.”
The artist’s process consists of a small swimming pool she calls the uterus, and a self-concocted ink she calls skin. “Then,” Nádia says, “depending on what I want to accomplish or express, everything else can be adjusted and I don’t use the same support on all my works. Life is too beautiful, dangerous and full to set me on one thing. My process is constantly self-reinventing. It is the endless metamorphosis.” Nádia also creates prostheses that transform her human body into something completely new. “I see it as my human evolution,” she says.
Nádia then submerges into the uterus, using her body to manipulate the floating ink from below. “This is an evolving process as it begins with a single spot of ink that, at its own pace, becomes a beautiful floating skin. At that point, I put some supports in the water and begin to handle the skin with my body or prostheses like a meditative dance,” she says. “Each piece is a simulated portrait of my reality.”
And as haunting and curious as that reality is, it naturally comes with its difficulties. “My biggest challenge is to be able to reconcile my ‘survival jobs’, the ones I need to take to have an income, with my actual artwork. As an artist I need an empty and fertile mind to absorb things and use them for creation. ‘Survival jobs’ are physically and emotionally exhausting, and is quite difficult to think and create like that. But it is a common problem of all humankind – the eternal fight between passion and income.”
Another challenge Nádia faces is finding a gallery willing to exhibit her work and give it the proper recognition. “Portuguese galleries are contemporary but still very conservative. They always show the same artists,” she says. “Unfortunately it’s very hard to put my artwork in a good gallery, so when I do an exhibition just my friends appear. I confess, it is very sad for me.” Consequently, Nádia’s currently trying to show her work outside of Portugal.
Nádia says that it would have been nice if her art professors gave her a heads-up on how hard the life of an artist would be. “It wouldn’t make me back up and quit, but at least I wouldn’t be so unprepared or disappointed.” She’s found that the art world is filled with “hypocrisies, politics and nepotism,” and is especially difficult for women. “But,” she says, “the joy of creating is so great and sublime that, at the end of our journey as human beings, all these difficulties are worth it!”
The best advice someone ever gave Nádia came in the form of two simple words: Calmness and perseverance. The answer came from a renowned Portuguese artist she had emailed in a moment of desperation and helplessness. “Those two words really helped me keep going. Of course, you can and should add more ingredients to spice it up and give life a taste of rebellion, adventure and a lot of fun. It’s only worth it when you enjoy it!”