Artist Alexia Caamano created a series of illustrations that intertwine women’s bodies with green foliage in unexpected ways
By Gita Subaran
I discovered Alexia Caamano’s series titled les femmes plantes (women plants) last year at a gallery in Paris and instantly fell in love. Drawn to the array of greenery that sprouted from their neckline, these women had no apparent identity, yet I could somehow identify with them.
After looking into the work of the artist, I found that Alexia likes to identify as the mother of her woman-plant creations and has nurtured this project from day one. Initially, her designs were intended for a clothing brand but soon became a series of illustrations on their own. A few weeks into the lockdown, I spoke with Alexia about the nature of her work and how she is tackling the current situation as an artist.
Where did the idea to start your series les femmes plantes stem from?
When I joined the Toulouse Institute of Arts in 2016, the challenge at that time was to represent the female nude without violence, so without making it pornographic for example. Adding vegetation seemed to me very natural in my approach, and this is because of my youth which took place in Corsica. On the other hand, drawing really served me as a tool to create a hybrid woman that was much ‘sweeter’.
What is your approach and the story you want to tell with les femmes plantes?
First of all I would say that the nude was a way of returning to a more primal state. I wanted a naked body that was removed from all social prejudices, without status; a body without skin color also: I only draw the contour of the bodies. I also desired a floating nude, without mise-en-scène (staging); in order to focus on the study of les femmes plantes as they are. With les femmes plantes, I want to go against what society asks us to represent as a woman. I wanted to tell women: “take a break”.
What were your inspirations for this series?
I think my main inspirations are the interactions with the people I meet. Corsica also has a huge place in my work. I don’t know if I could have created les femmes plantes without living in Corsica. At the same time, I also look up to certain artists.
The first one that comes to mind is Amadeo Modigliani with his portraits of women with black eyes and very short hair; it’s very contemporary in my opinion when you think about it! Alberto Giacometti and Egon Schiele… Lucian Freud for his nude paintings! William Bouguereau, myths, religion, witches, Virginie Despentes!
”The confinement period is, I think, an invitation to rethink our world and I use my drawings as a tool to reason...” – Alexia Caamano
How is the coronavirus lockdown affecting your work?
The last few weeks have been quite violent. I think of Adèle Haenel with her fist raised, the tribune of Virginie Despentes in Libération, and now this disease that’s invading the planet. I think I didn’t realise the magnitude that all these things could take, all this violence received and released at the same time. As a result, I felt that I was no longer consistent with my time and with les femmes plantes as I represent them. So I’m currently taking advantage of this free time to draw: removing color, returning to a more technical and less embellished drawing, and working on a more raw body too. The confinement period is, I think, an invitation to rethink our world and I use my drawings as a tool to reason, so beyond artistic production I also try to be inspired for a new way of life that better respects the planet and individuals.
Given the nature of your illustrations, have you ever been faced with censorship?
Yes, I had two kinds of problems. The first one being when I share inspirations or references with just the faintest nipple, these are automatically blocked. Then, on Facebook, when I wanted to promote my first exhibition in Paris, the event was rejected because the visual did not meet the standards… I don’t know how censorship works exactly, but what is certain is that when it comes to educating women and men about sexuality or deconstructing the usual representations of the female body, then we find ourselves confronted with a problem of visibility. It’s dangerous because we’re constantly shown images that aren’t reality…
Could you tell me more about your new series un serpent dans le cœur?
These animals, and what they represent, have always fascinated me. They have something mystical about them. And then one day I read Vernon Subutex by Virginie Despentes, and to describe the emotional state of one of the characters she writes: “c’est comme un serpent dans le cœur” (it’s like a snake in the heart). Something clicked. I saw this metaphor in relation to what I was experiencing at this moment, this tension between reality and my utopias. I felt like I was completely mistaken with these beautiful plants and colours; and after a while the woman-plant as an allegory of all this, they could no longer give off such lightness.
Do you have any future projects in mind?
I would like to tattoo. I’ve always admired tattoo artists and big tattoos. Beyond appreciating the tattoo as a motif, I find it a nice logical sequel, to draw bodies on bodies. I also like the challenge of changing medium, and then I like the idea that a woman-plant will naturally age, fade, transform at the same time as the skin. I think the time we have in confinement will allow me to finally immerse myself – body and soul – in this new project. Then I have a little dream in secret, which is to make a graphic novel, to tell the story of the women plants.