In Conversation with Maria Liebana: The High Cost of Beauty
Maria Liebana is a New York-based Latinx artist who explores materialism, consumerism, superficiality, and vanity through her work consisting of mixed-media, sculpture, works on paper, and video. Liebana holds both a BFA and MFA from Pratt Institute and Maine College of Art, respectively, and is based out of her studio in Long Island City, Queens. Drawing inspiration from pop culture, fashion magazines, luxury items, and cinema (particularly the films of Wong Kar Wai), Liebana addresses issues of beauty standards and social status through her evocative, engaging works. In works such as 'Speedy', 'Celine's Resurrection', and 'It Bag of 2012', these highly-coveted status objects are abstracted and stripped of their luster. What was once beautiful and glittery is now unsightly and distasteful. A clever way to question the origin of the desire for these items in the first place. Another example of duality that is equally as compelling is Liebana's exploration of women's beauty standards in society. In her video 'Yo Sufro Para La Belleza' (translated 'I Suffer for Beauty' into English), Liebana illustrates the pleasure and pain of adult braces, the physical agony that must be endured for the idealized 'pretty smile'. Gallery Gurls talks to Maria Liebana during a recent studio visit and further delves into the inculcated belief of the high cost of beauty.
Gallery Gurls: You and I have our shared viewpoints on materialism and consumerism and what they mean to us, but can you expand more deeply on those philosophies and their direct relationship to women in New York City.
Maria Liebana: I think materialism and consumerism go hand in hand and are relatable to a certain population of women. These objects we consume and collect regardless of what they are - handbags, headphones, shoes, coats - are signifiers and symbols. Signifiers identifying who you are, who you want to be and the lifestyle you live or wish to live. In New York City, image plays a huge role in the everyday life. What you wear and carry communicate to everyone.
There are consistent themes of fashion, pop culture, and social status which all play large roles in your work. Specifically in the titles for pieces such as 'Speedy', 'Queen Bey', 'I Wanna Be Kate', and 'It Bag of 2012'. What kind of dialogue are you exploring/sharing with yourself and the viewer?
The dialogue I am exploring in the worlds of pop culture, fashion, social status and even the art world are the roles of inclusion/exclusion and desire/repulsion, which carry the same context and meaning in Spanish. It’s my play on the groups that I observe from the outside and want to be a part of, what I see everyday on television and walking in the streets of NYC. I am seduced by the glamour, the production and attention of it all. Then my repulsion seeps in, do I want to be superficial? I shift back and forth and it tends to come through my work, the play of desire and rejection. Instagram gives me a quick hit of what is happening in the worlds I am not included in.
You openly embrace elements of kitsch, camp, and gaudiness in your work. How do these components contribute to the specific language in your work?
I love, love, kitsch. I unapologetically allow it to enter into my studio and work. It falls into both roles, the beautiful and the grotesque, becoming a contradiction. It seduces with all its glamour, sparkle, colors and performance.
"I love, love, kitsch. I unapologetically allow it to enter into my studio and work. It falls into both roles, the beautiful and the grotesque, becoming a contradiction."
In the chandelier series (works on paper) you beautifully draw these opulent, ornamental objects with human teeth dangling from them. Are you having a deeper conversation about beauty standards and perhaps societal pressures for women?
At the time when I was creating these pieces, I had braces. I had braces for seven years of my adult life and that’s a long time. So much was done to my teeth and so much more could've happened but I opted not to move forward with surgery. Throughout my twenties I was constantly trying to fit myself into the mold of typical beauty. I was having a conversation with myself, the object trying to conform to standards of beauty. If women can see that in the work and then the work is doing its part to invoke thoughts and reactions.
In terms of your gender and ethnicity, how dominant are these identities in your work? or do you lessen these identities? I particularly felt them present in the 'Lipstick Kisses' series which seemed intensely personal and sensual.
It is personal. Femininity is present in the works because there is no denying that I am a woman. I tend to be drawn to what society deems as feminine. As for ethnicity it is evident in the titles and by my name I am Latina.