As I write in my ArtHop picks in today’s Life section, Nanete Maki-Dearsan in 2011 opened a powerful show at Gallery 25 titled “Ophelia” that tackled the grim theme of teenage suicide. To the artist, that topic is too often presented in popular culture through the same sort of gauzy, picturesque and romanticized lens that gives the Ophelia tale in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” such staying power. In “Ophelia,” Maki-Dearsan pushed back against the enveloping reach of that fictional character.
Now she revisits the theme with Horatio/Ophelia,” which opens today at Gallery 25 as part of ArtHop. In the new exhibition, Maki-Dearsan continues her deromantification of adolescent girls in their self-loathing thoughts of suicide and self-injury. Some paintings reference a contemporary Central Valley “Ophelia” experiencing heroin addiction. The intent, she says, is to open dialogue and bring the issue “out of its secretive loneliness and into the light.”
Another aspect of the show: its big scale. It includes three works that are 36 feet in length.
I was so impressed with Maki-Dearsan’s original “Ophelia” show that I made it one of my Top 20 Cultural Events of 2011. I caught up with the artist via email to talk about her new exhibition.
Question: After that first show, did you immediately begin working on this second show? Or did you take a break from the material?
Answer: There was a progression into the current show. I developed a lot of ideas, while I was finishing the original Ophelia, but those ideas changed before I arrived at the current Horatio exhibition.
Tell us about your concept for this new show.
This new exhibition continues to follow with Ophelia’s journey. But Ophelia is contemporary and in Fresno. Our homeless population in Fresno has exploded and many are young people who have become addicted to drugs such as heroin and meth. This exhibition explores addiction to heroin, homelessness, the family and friends of addicts, Nar-Anon and NA. Both exhibitions use the horse as a symbolic representation of the family and friends of those who are struggling with something. About two-thirds of the way through the creation of this exhibit, I realized the exhibit was not about the addict, but about the family and friends of addicts. It was an interesting revelation. The exhibition is positive and hopeful and strives to educate, particularly the family and friends of addicts, telling them that they are not alone, they have a community of supportive people and there is hope. It is a counter intuitive process to allow an addict to follow their own journey because we want to rescue them, and we can’t. Addiction is a disease and it’s okay that we continue to love them, but we have to take care of ourselves too, and allow them to find their way back. This show is very sensitive to that process. The show also has quite a bit of research concerning heroin.
What is the significance of the title?
Horatio was Hamlet’s friend in the play. He is another character. Many young girls become addicts by falling in love with a boy who is already an addict. Horatio can be seen as ‘that guy’. It can’t be Hamlet, he contains too much meaning to be contained in a somewhat simple symbolic theme to me. Horatio was also a term used by a young heroin addict I have been challenged by, both as a term for heroin and as a representation of some sort of valid character in a young girls journey. He preys on girls caught up in self-loathing. I wanted to take the word back from him.
Talk about the theme of addiction, which is important in this show.
Nearly everyone knows an addict, and there are many forms of addiction. Coffee/energy drinks, shopping and food addictions are common. These don’t typically destroy lives the way class A drugs do, but are representative of the compulsive society we live in. Addiction is a disease and removing the morality from the disease can help us fight this epidemic. AIDS couldn’t be fought in Africa until the moral burden was lifted, and the same has to happen with addiction. Addiction is different from cancer, because a cancer patient doesn’t steal your things and pawn them, so the family and friends do need to protect themselves and educate themselves about this particular disease. This is a disease of the mind, body and soul. My exhibition is very informative concerning positive help in this regard.
You’re passionate about young women not buying into the passivity of the Ophelia character. In the last show, you focused on suicide and women’s self-loathing. How does that connect with heroin addiction in the Valley?
Yes, one of the things an addict must do, to become and stay clean, is to stop associating with those people they used drugs with. This can be particularly difficult for girls who are in love with addicts. Young girls can become addicted to the boys they are in love with. Their addiction to the drug exists, but can be secondary to the toxic combination of hating themselves and loving the boy. There are deeper things associated with someone becoming an addict, such as family issues, self-loathing, etc.
How do you think you’ve grown as an artist between the last show and this one?
Being a family/friend of some addicts, I have grown tremendously as a person. I have been attending Nar-anon meetings and doing the 12 step program for the family and friends of addicts. This has completely changed me as a person, which in turn changed my artwork. I am less afraid in general.
The subject matter is rather intense. What kind of response did you get from young women to your last show?
Positive response. I think putting things out in the open is a relief and helpful. None of us want to feel alone and isolated. An art exhibition, a song, play, anything concerning a topic which affects someone deeply, can be a source of generosity and love for who over wants to be touched by it.
Talk a little about the technical challenges of creating such large pieces of art. Why are you attracted to making such large works?
Large works keep me interested for long periods of time. I’m not very interested in finishing things quickly, I want to be challenged and grow and mature with a painting. I like working on one piece for over a year and be completely stumped about what to do next most of the time. This is how I learn. I also like entering a big painting instead of just looking at it. Big paintings are experiences rather than objects. They are very challenging to hang in exhibitions.