Isabel Diana is a printmaker currently studying at OCAD University. Her artistic practice focuses on personal content, childhood memories, and current social issues in relation to the idea of what it means to be a female in our society. She has a strong focus on identifying as an adopted Colombian raised as a Canadian immigrant in a multicultural household, as well as a strong interest in Roman and Greek Statues and the representation of white idealized bodies. Most recent body of works have been influenced and focused on American College Heterosexual Hookup Culture and the treatment of women within it.
MultiplicityTO: Printmaking is one of the more laborious forms of creation. It’s repetitive, involves multiple rounds of testing and precision, but ultimately produces distinct and unmatched results. What led you to take on printmaking as a practice?
Isabel Diana: I think I was exposed to printmaking in Grade 11 at the Dundas Valley School of Art. I took a class there, silk-screening, which is now my main method. As a kid I knew I wanted to get into arts, I never excelled in other educational atmospheres. So, the arts were always kind of the game plan. Although I didn’t draw or paint, I couldn’t do those things. I just found proportions were something I’ve never been able to understand. But, through printmaking, I found connections to photography and digital realms, and how to transfer that method into it. I think that’s why printmaking has always been a more comfortable way into art. Over time it developed because of graphic design elements that I learned throughout the years and that have influenced my practice to be what it is today. As well as text and language which is something that’s really important to me. Through printmaking I was able to naturally allow those things to live within the space. Compared to drawing and painting, which is completely different.
MTO: Additionally, with your relationship with zines, is it part of your printmaking and overall practice? Or do you find it to be more of a personal outlet and pursuit?
ID: I love zines. I’ve always wanted to create a zine with a purpose – whether that be as a factual format to disseminate or not. Currently, that’s what I make a lot of because it allows for language to be created. Text is often included in a zine. It’s hard to see a zine as just images; it kind of does need that beginning, middle, end and I think currently does as well for my practices. As does the idea of the multiple, and how we create work so that other people can have it. A zine allows for more of an object art form in that sense, and is where my art is currently.
MTO: Would you say it is easier to flesh out your ideas with a zine versus maybe like a single print series?
ID: I think when I started the single print, it was all I ever thought about. But now it's different; tapping into such complicated topics, the need for a zine being that you can’t just hit it with one image, and especially with the introduction of text. You can’t tie everything together for the audience and allowing for multiple emotions to occur – you need the timeline of the pages and so on.
from "American Heterosexual Hookup Culture"
MTO: We think of multiplicity as living, being, and working in more than one form, and challenging the idea of binaries. How do you relate to this concept, in terms of your identity or your work?
ID: So my personal identity is a South American woman being raised in a North American atmosphere. By that, I mean I was raised in a multicultural North American home. My father is Quebecois, my mother is Brazilian, and my brother and I are Colombian. Within my personal space, it's complicated at times just because I visually represent myself in a manner that is very North American, but my heart and soul is so South American. So, I think, with my work – it’s complicated.
MTO: Can you talk about or expand on your project My Identity?
ID: I did the project on identity through my experience of being adopted, but I focused on the language tied to it and how people say phrases without knowing what it means. And within a context, a lot of the phrases were based out of context of discussions about adoption, or concepts that are romanticized in Hollywood. These conversations were ongoing from the time I was born until I did that project. It was a very curated part of my life. But the problem was that within a conversation it seemed really natural, but out of it, I found problematic statements in what they were saying. One that stuck with me my whole life is: “So when are you going to meet your real mother?” In an informal conversation, people are saying that and it’s not even taking the time to realize how problematic that is to say to someone. You can’t assume that’s what someone’s identity is. So, the project was that I put all of these phrases on a t-shirt and took photographs of myself wearing the t-shirts with a very straight face, looking directly at the audience, and they were presented with a response on a silkscreen which was then sewn into the flat photograph. What the paper held was my response. The response I had written for that specific image was: “I already did, the day I was adopted.”
MTO: So, your work My Identity deals with the concept of living in multiples in a confrontational way. You explore your identity as a Canadian immigrant as well as someone who is adopted, questions and answers, and especially written language versus tone/interpretation. Can you tell us more about your need to distinguish the phrasing “Happens to be adopted” and “I am adopted” and how this relationship with words and language ties your project?
ID: When I realized why I was thinking about adoption and the context of societal viewpoints and not just my own self, that was a statement that I kept coming back to. It's a construct that society views as so clearly one way, and I view it in such a completely different way. I think it comes down to: “you are an adoption”, “you are adopted”. Yes I am, both phrases are completely correct, but you can’t place it on me because I own that identity, I will forever own that identity. You may think you understand it, based on what you’ve seen in a Hollywood movie.
There’s this societal belief that people are convinced your parents will never tell you that you’re adopted. Which again, does happen in certain situations. But if you’re raised by, say, your sister – it happens but no one can assume that. I am adopted and I’m proud to be adopted, it’s been my truth my whole life. So for a person to be like, “You are adopted!” – is this mind-blowing, mind-fuck that just happens to you. I can’t connect to the feeling that a person is feeling about it because it has already been such a warped feeling for me.
Photographed by Ana-Luisa Bernardez
MTO: Your personal identity is a theme that you approach often in your work, like within your “you don't belong here” postcards “branded: adopted”. As is the theme of culture or multiculturalism. How has Canadian culture, Colombian culture, or both influence your art?
ID: I think the only way Colombian culture comes in is my personal identity, and with directly onto what my blood line is and what I physically look like. That is Colombian. My cultural identity though, is Brazilian and Canadian, because I was raised in these cultures. So, not even Canadian, it’s French Canadian. So, to me, this tie to Canada is very warped. I see this as a place of multiculturalism, I see this as North America. And I’m grateful for this country, but I was raised in this educational system so my views on colonialism are based in a Canadian viewpoint. And I’ll wear the Canadian title as a Citizen, but do I want to identify as Canadian? Not everyday. But, that’s what it comes from. It’s something I’ve noticed being in Brazil, and even in the US, is that people don’t ask your ethnicity necessarily...it's more like "where are you from?" – and it’s Canada. I’m from Canada. I was raised here.
MTO: Do you find yourself falling into a space in the creative industry (i.e. OCADu grads), or creating a space for yourself?
ID: So, printmaking is very different than any other program and it’s merging officially with publications. It’s really good, but it’s kind of collapsing as its own independent thing. I found that within the last 3 years alone, a lot of people that we’ve viewed are not necessarily artists, but entrepreneurs.
MTO: Can you tell us more about your aim with the “creating a conversation” project and what it confronts and asks of the viewer?
ID: I guess that was just a random day. I was trying to process a lot of things in my own personal life. At the end of the day, I think it speaks to a lot of people: a lot about identity, of me trying to place myself in so many different spaces, and not necessarily feeling at home in any. And that was just the photos where I use film and I get it developed but then it just sits on my computer and it was kind of me wanting to be like “oh does it even exist as a narrative?” So in a sense, you could view it as the shape that’s placed on all of those images, and can I self impose myself in these places whether I’m wanted there or not. Can someone do that? Does it work? Does it bring it back together. I don’t know the answer, but I think you can find it, especially if you tag your place and your ownership on it.
MTO: Have you identified a process you hold as an artist, particularly as a print-maker where steps are more fixed? Or does your work stem more organically?
ID: I do come from a very digital background, and that’s how I process information best. That’s how I feel comfortable illustrating my work if I do use illustrations. That’s where I feel comfortable using the photographs, and from there I can morph, change – whatever. Because of that, there are some print methods that work more in line with digital. So, screen, relief, but polymer plates, or poly plates, that’s what that machine makes. That machine will make a stamp type of plate, that you can then write on these types of presses, but it allows for you to use a digital starting point instead of having to hand carve. I think over time, like when I was in first year and second year, I declared that I was going to be a classic printmaker, that I was not going to use digital because digital isn’t print. Over time that changed so now litho is my new low-key passion. I haven’t had time to do it, but I was hoping to be able to transfer digital into that realm and see what happens. And then riso, which again is a completely digital based form of printmaking.
MTO: What is a type of work or an artist that has been most inspirational to you in your life?
ID: The Shirt by Shelley Niro, my piece My Identity is based off of that. You can read about it in the essay, she uses t-shirts but she uses her body. It’s a lot to speak on, like the treatment of colonialism on land. It’s such a powerful piece to me and everything about it, especially because I didn’t know it existed. I didn’t know colonialism was colonialism, I didn’t know that residential schools happened, and I think it made me realize there’s so much we don’t know about the world. It also made me question a lot of my own identity. As a settler. I am a settler on this land, I can’t deny that, and where does that speak to also being an immigrant, but an adopted immigrant? I didn’t decide where I was going to live. Not my choice. I was a bébé. So that is something that opened up so many doors for me.
Stylistically, I’ve always pulled strongly from Barbara Kruger. She is the icon beyond icons. I saw one of her works for the first time in the summer and I cried in a chair. But there is something so powerful about her work in the sense of her not even being in the work, and especially me being there as a printmaker like Barbara Kruger is. It’s something I’ve strived to do over the years, to detach myself from my work and allow it to stand on its own. Even if my face is in it, that’s fine, but you don’t need my artist statement to understand what’s happening. A person can read it, and look at it, and know clearly.
MTO: What are you working on now? And how did you get involved in travelling to Boston?
ID: So that actually was the reason I came to OCAD. I wanted to go on exchange. In high school I lived in Switzerland for 6 months and I realized I don’t know what home is, and I think a lot of that has to do with my own identity, being raised by people who didn't call Ontario home, but do now. I think viewing other places, viewing different societies, makes me feel at peace. It makes me feel not as stressed. I was also accepted to McMaster, but when I went in to my portfolio interview, the only question I asked them was, "What’s your ties with international exchange?" and they told me they didn't have any. But OCAD did, so I did it in my fourth year – which means I delayed my graduation by a whole year just to do an exchange. But it was the best experience of my life.
I also got to work on a topic that wasn’t personal; it is personal, but it was removed. The topic, hookup culture and the idea of it exisiting in the American College culture and underage drinking. But bringing it back here I realized, "how do I view myself in this culture?" Whether I do or not as a woman of colour: what does that mean? Where do you live? Those are newer questions of identity I'm asking and confronting. Next year my thesis work will be based solely on revisiting the topic of being adopted, and just exploring it as a concept through different routes.
'So when are you going to meet your real mother?' In an informal conversation, people are saying that and it’s not even taking the time to realize how problematic that is to say to someone. You can’t assume that’s what someone’s identity is.