“We sought to voice our ills with everything by using BDSM/fetish imagery to reclaim and shift the narrative on who gets to be “dominated.”
– Vivian Le
As you descend the stairs into the PARANYMPHO ACTIVITY exhibit, in Galerie F’s underground gallery, you’ll see a paradox of themes including femininity (lots of delicate pink color), sexual characters, fetishes, power, fantasies, and sadism. This collaborative show by Isamar Medina and Vivian Le features many layers of themes, stories, and concepts of what Vivian would say create, “visual conversations” for the viewers.
Just take a gander at their Instagram feeds, you’ll easily see a collaboration between them was a no brainer and necessary!
I was able to interview Isamar and Vivian to pull back all the layers of PARANYMPHO ACTIVITY, their friendship, the process, their art styles, and future endeavors!
Goldenxmisfit: How did the collaboration come together including the themes and how did their friendship form?
ISAMAR: Our interests are very specific & peculiar, so we always have something to talk about. I never met anyone as interested & invested in learning about cannibalism as I was. The theme of Paranympho activity wasn't decided per se, it’s always lingering in our conversations & to me, it's a visual representation of our friendship.
VIVIAN: Somehow, we discovered each other on Instagram… I hold Isamar to high regard, and I feel very fortunate to have crossed paths with her. I value our friendship immensely
GXM: This one is for Vivian; Your post on Instagram about the show mentions you view collaborations as “visual conversations” How would you describe this concept?
V: It sounds corny, but I think of art as a language … Written words ARE pictures… I think a piece is successful when it drives discussion with the viewers…. I enjoy collaborating with other artists because it’s my chance to pick their brains and learn about their processes. The sketch or finished product as a result of that collaboration feels like a recording of a conversation or a short story we wrote together.
GXM: Vivian you also mentioned the duality in Paranympho Activity; you and Isamar approached the show as “a form of catharsis” while exploring “agency and power” through “fetishized, vulnerable characters using their gaze and yours.” Can you explain this?
V: The Gaze plays a huge part in how we approach our work especially since our work is figural, the Gaze is always present by default…. In order to reclaim that agency and power within our characters, we try to portray them with a sense of “knowing.” For example, our characters would often look directly back at you. It would feel different if their eyes were closed, especially with how delicate and suggestive they’re depicted.
GXM: And what was the catharsis you two found?
V: As marginalized women, we already know that the world treats us differently. We have to live in it. The art industry is no different. We sought to voice our ills with everything by using BDSM/fetish imagery to reclaim and shift the narrative on who gets to be “dominated.”
GXM: Isamar, the titles of your work seem to tell a story with some like “Of the Shape of Hearts & Humans” and “The Sickness unto Death, and Then…” What influenced you in choosing these titles?
I: All of my pieces are titled after the anime “Neon Genesis Evangelion” episodes… NGE was the first actual series I saw without it being fed to me by television. While I was working on Paranympho Activity, I was re-watching NGE for the first time again since my adolescence. Some themes from the show are loneliness, sexuality, & identity - things I like to talk about & highlight in my work.
(FUN FACT: Isamar shared with us that the opening of their show on Oct. 4th was also the 24th anniversary of NGE.)
“Of the Shape of Hearts & Humans” and “The Sickness unto Death, and Then…”
GXM: Vivian, you have very cheeky titles for your pieces such as “Getting Some Head” and “How Do I Take Up Space Inside of You?” What influenced the titles?
V: I actually like to start with a working title for a piece before I actually start sketching for it. I’ll usually list a bunch of phrases/titles in my notes app on my phone and decide from there which ones I want to use for each piece. It helps me visualize what a piece will look like in my head… It allows me a small window to demonstrate my often dark sense of humor.
GXM: What was the process of preparing for the show: how long did it take? What challenges did you face?
I: Most of our process was getting into a headspace where we were able to explore power play in everyday life & stylize it with BDSM… Preparing for the show took about 4 months… The only challenge for me was making the doll because it was something I have never done.
V: We spent a lot of time planning and I think the only challenge we faced was time… However, it was honestly overall a smooth process. Galerie F was very accommodating. Isamar and I were always in constant communication. We trusted each other to do our best.
GXM: What is your favorite piece you created for Paranympho Activity What is your favorite piece the other created?
I: If I had to choose one “Unfamiliar Ceilings” because that is something I have always had an obligation to draw, if that makes sense. I make up silly scenarios in my head & that was one of them. My favorite piece Vivian created is “Before it blooms” I am a sucker for intertwined limbs, & biting. The color palette also brings me immense joy, I love it!
V: I personally favored my piece, “Picking Up a Bone.” I actually had that idea sitting in the back of my mind for a while and our show presented as the perfect opportunity for me to use it. I really loved Isamar’s “Eva” and “Unfamiliar Ceilings.” I always enjoy it when she uses rich blacks for coloring the latex and lingerie. The compositions are so playful as if they were a part of those cute vintage fashion magazines from the '50s.
GXM: Are the themes, messages, and visual conversations from the show reflective of your overall artwork? How would you describe your art style and how did it develop?
I: I think my art is soft, beautiful, funny & alluring. I was always drawing & experimenting, so my style was always changing, yet the same. My biggest fear as an artist is staying stagnant, so I’m constantly running away from that & I think...That's what is helping me grow.
V: To be honest, my work is constantly evolving and I’m still figuring it out. I’ve been interested in drawing doll imagery for the past 8 years since I was a sophomore in college…. Everything outside of art can be an inspiration if you decide to see it that way. Isamar has got me into watching Vice documentaries of small subcultures of people who dress up as latex dolls or of that one Japanese cannibal.
GXM: Isamar, you had a solo show at Grassroots Chicago March of last year, in comparison to that show, how was it to do a collaboration show? Have you learned, grown, or see any major differences in your work from then to now?
I: My first solo show was a lonely process. When prepping for a solo, you want to keep your ideas, your art, everything to yourself until the opening. So, you're very much in your head. This was my first duo show & I couldn't be happier than to have it with Vivian. It was a bit, therapeutic. Learning about each other's process was also fun. It helps you dive into their brain & really pay attention to all the effort/labor they pour into their art. I think from then to now; my characters are less lonely & it shows in their expressions & body movement.
GXM (for Isamar): I also would like to say CONGRATS on your latest collaboration with Dark Matter Coffee for October! I saw on your IG post of your design, “Gloria,” on their coffee bags stating that it’s a female empowerment piece paying homage to Gloria Anzaldúa and Gloria Steinem while “exploring social taboos women face.” What influences you in exploring the duality of femininity and power?
I: I don't believe there is a duality to femininity and power. It is one & the same. Growing up in a male chauvinist household/culture I was always observing and questioning. I didn't think it was fair I wasn't allowed to do certain things because of my gender. Or be tied down to certain responsibilities because of my gender.
Personal choice & freedom is something I value. Being denied certain things because of my gender was an attack on my personal freedom & was unacceptable. As long as I’m me, I’ll keep drawing what intrigues me.
GXM (For Isamar): Designing for the medium of a coffee bag must have been a switch up. What mediums do you like best? Any new mediums you’re trying out? Or that pique your interest?
I: It was! I actually barely started working with digital art. I do like it & it’s very convenient. Right now, Pencil, Ink, and paper are my loves. I think they always will be. Not trying anything new right now but…. I really do want to make a porcelain sculpture of my girls. Carving a block print is also something on my to-do list. ( *Isamar’s IG post feat. details of her coffee bag design)
GXM: Vivian, you created work on Soho House Chicago’s corner walls in March of this year, had you created public work on walls before? What mediums do you like best? Anything new you’re trying out?
V: Before that, no! I had painted a bathroom in my friend’s alt art space (Slate Arts + Performance) in 2017 but it wasn’t formally sanctioned by an organization or agency. I just wanted to do it. I rarely paint walls but it’s fun! My favorite will always simply be a pencil on paper. It’s what I know best and it always feels right. I’m currently trying to mix inks and utilize washes more! At some point, I want to revisit oil painting again.
(Link to Vivian’s Instagram post showing the Soho House Chicago Corner mural she did)
GXM: Lastly, a two-part question first Do you have any upcoming projects, shows, or things in the works we should look out for?
I: Right now, I am at the caterpillar stage again. I am collecting thoughts, feelings & themes I want to flesh out on paper. Besides that, I am curating “Slaps x YCA” & the show will open on the 18th! Also helping my friend Oscar Joyo curate an anime-themed show “You should be watching” at Vault this November. I’m always excited about the future & looking forward to it.
V: I will be a part of an anime-themed group show at Vault Gallerie curated by Oscar Joyo and Isamar on November 8th. I’m currently trying to plan a duo pop-up with my friend, Red for the end of the year as well. Some other things too that I can’t publicly announce right now but hopefully soon. :)
GXM: And what is a dream project each of you has in mind?
I: I have so many dream projects! I definitely, want to have a show with Vivian again, but in LA or NY. I want to make cool posters for female rappers because they're dope. Paint more walls, Work with Marz brewery, have a book of my art in the future. So much! I just want to make cool shit 5ever.
V: There are several. I want Isamar and me to have a show together either in NY or LA (or both) sometime in the future. A personal project I want to do is to make a short hand-drawn animation clip of my characters. Not to monetize but just for fun and to see if I can do it by myself.
Huge thank you to Isamar Medina and Vivian Le for talking with me. Also, thank you to Galerie F for all the unique exhibitions you put together.
2415 N Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, IL, 60647
PARANMYPHO ACTIVITY is on display until October 27th.
If you can’t make it in person, You can also browse the collaboration online and purchase pieces from this beautifully wicked showcase. (There are originals and prints available, for $25 and up!)
Check out Isamar Medina’s artwork INSTAGRAM and her SHOP.
Check out Vivian Le’s artwork on INSTAGRAM and her SHOP.