Four coconuts bobbing in the glow of a golden round orb, tickled by a frame of large green agave plants. Another look, and in the right top corner a flourish of handwriting reveals a notation that reads, “4 breasts in conversation with the sun.” The round mounds perched on the voluptuous female figure come into focus, and they are indeed breasts. She, this ubiquitous female form is composed of soft, clean lines, embossed in rich brown hues, and enveloped in lush tropical colors. This combination of tawny tones, feminine silhouettes, and island landscapes filled with sun, flora, and serenity has become the signature aesthetic for emerging artist Bianca Nemelc, who creates her very own Garden of Eden, where black and brown female bodies are not only celebrated, they are safe.
Jewels Dodson: How did your artistic journey begin?
Bianca Nemelc: I’ve always been creative and I’ve always known how to draw.So, drawing, I couldn’t even tell you when or how I learned how to draw. That was just something that I’ve naturally done. I was more a paper and pencil kind of person. I would sketch in my notebook, then put it away, and no one has to see it. My grandmother’s brother is an artist in Holland and I’ve always been around artistic things, but it was never like I didn’t take drawing. It was just something that I didn’t think anything of, it was just drawing. For a long time, my practice was drawing myself naked. For the majority of my girlhood I was drawing myself naked [motioning to her waist] from here down.
I would look in the mirror. I’ve always been very connected to my body. I’ve always been connected to the physical part of myself. It was just something that I took up. I looked in the mirror and drew what I saw. I was never really good at drawing faces. So my face was never the center of what I was drawing. It was always the breast, the body, the curves of the body.
From there, I took it onto canvas. My partner is a painter too, and we’ve been dating for almost eight years now. When we first started dating, I would help him, so I learned how to mix paints and how to work with paint. I took what I learned and I applied it. My style came from that naivete of not knowing what I’m doing and creating shapes out of what I know things look like with pencil. And my painting practice organically grew into this beautiful passion for a whole other world that I didn’t even know I was going to enter. From there, it’s been like a learning experience, me just painting and nurturing that aspect of the craft. I didn’t go to school for art, that wasn’t my trajectory. It’s just something that happened. In the last few years, it’s picked up and now I’ve taken it on professionally.
What is your familial background? Tell me about your family.
Around the time I started painting specifically was around the time I was doing some documenting with my grandmother about her family lineage. She’s very, very about oral history and storytelling. She did extensive research on things like her family and our family back to like the 1700s. I even have an heirloom! So she’s always told stories, but, as an adult, I was like, tell me and I’m going to write them, and we’re going to do this little project together.
I was learning a lot about my identity, the places I come from. On my mother’s side, Dominican, my father’s side Indonesian and Surinamese. My great, great grandmother was an indentured servant in Suriname. She came over from Indonesia, on a boat, unknowingly. It was around the time that slavery was abolished in Suriname, and they were looking for indentured servants. So they went to Indonesia, and India, and a little bit in China, and that’s how they got the labor.
So that’s how my great-great-grandmother ended up in Suriname. My great-great-grandfather was on a plantation in Suriname, which now is a Dutch colony. So my family goes back and forth between Holland and Suriname. Then I have family who was in the Nazi rebels. There’s all this stuff happening, I have Jewish family, Indonesian family, Dutch family, Surinamese family. You know, all these different cultures melding together. Then there’s my Dominican side and some Portuguese; there’s all this stuff happening.
So when you’re being told all these stories, you realize the complexity of identity, really, of what makes me up. The melanin in my skin is so much more complex than what it is you’re looking at. And that kind of goes for everybody. It’s so complex because I think, especially in this time, there’s this black and white looking at things, your identity, where you come from. Your experience here in America is different from a person’s experience in another country and all these different things play into identity and who you are.
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