Danika Maia Talks About Her New Project ILLUMINATE

She effortlessly organized these very special Nordic-influenced artists from diverse cultural backgrounds. Watch what happens when they're asked how art can change the world.

Written by Danika Maia
Featuring Beldina, Eirdis, Katharina Stenbeck, and Julia Sørensen

Social media might seem to be all skinny-teas and Bali-glows when you look at it from a certain angle, but below the surface is a growing, buzzing, flourishing arts community that is eager to grow their voice and band together outside of the internet to foster change. About a year ago, I stepped foot into an interactive art experience in Los Angeles that changed my life. I saw an arts community that was so eager to come out, to showcase their art, to support their friends, to experience something new and cultural – and they all found out about the show through social media. In this moment I realized that I had the tools to create everything I wanted right in the palm of my hand.

I began curating the concept through Instagram, with the intention of getting this wonderful art and music from different cultures out of the internet space and onto the ground where I knew people were waiting for it with open arms. I started to reach out to any artist I found interesting, book events without ever having produced one before, and running my social PR so hard that I’m sure I’ve lost more than a few friends with my incessant posting. But it worked. In six months, I created ten shows in five cities and three countries, using Instagram and Facebook as my catalysts for everything. Each experience includes art from across mediums, live music, and sometimes culinary fare as a way to showcase local and foreign cultures. It has become my absolute passion to introduce the world to new artists and creatives, and I’m very excited to introduce the Girls Are Awesome audience to the four ladies below.

This Saturday, I am opening my first co-curated exhibition ‘Illuminate’ at Heron Arts in San Francisco, showcasing artists and musicians from the Nordics and The Bay Area. The show will feature 13 artists across sculpture, photography, and painting, as well as one live music performance – only 3 of whom are not women. I believe that art can change the world through cultural exchange, helping people to embrace diversity and cultivate empathy. I sat down with four amazing artists from ‘Illuminate’ who all come from wildly different cultural backgrounds, to talk about their views on the concept.

 

BELDINA – Singer

Where were you born, where did you grow up and where do you currently live?

I was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden but my family roots are from Kenya and I currently live in Los Angeles

What influence do you think your cultural upbringing has had on your art?

I never learned how to put myself in a box but as a young black girl from Kenya I just wanted to belong somewhere. Growing up in Sweden was a trip to the point where I lost myself in being the truest version of me ’cause I always felt so different and everybody was just looking at me like some sort of dark alien, if you will, not knowing that I was dealing with these internal wars.  My whole life I’ve been judged as too European or too African but like FUCK why can’t I just be me!? Then you start to think, well maybe being me isn’t good enough, etc.. All these toxic thoughts would go on in my mind (and still do from time to time) so the only escape that I found to be me was, and will always be, through my music and through my expression. I produce beats and write my own songs, play the drums, all types of instruments, dance ballet and teach hot pilates – I even model but the thing that will always speak to me the truest is music. I know that this is what I’m gonna be doing for the rest of my life.

What is your impression of art from The Bay Area?

Nowadays everybody’s talking about “the culture” but real culture shift takes place when you support what is uniquely great and not what is popular or hot right now. This will actually be my first time in San Francisco and just this concept alone is shifting the culture forward by connecting different parts of the world together in one space for one night.

How do you think art can change the world?

Art can change the world by teaching us not to be afraid to love. You can tell what mood a person is in from the colour of their makeup or clothes. It’s the same with paintings or even in music. My melodies expose my inner life from the darkness in some of them and you can tell how I’m feeling from the brightness in some of them. In my opinion, the bottom line of art as a creator whether I’m in the studio, at a performance or even sitting at home – it’s all love. I just want to be of inspiration to those who are afraid of it.

 

EIRDIS RAGNARSDOTTIR – Fine Artist

Where were you born, where did you grow up and where do you currently live?

I was born in Reykjavík, Iceland. Though having a Chinese mother and Icelandic diplomat as a father growing up, I’ve lived in Reykjavik, Tokyo and Beijing, moving between the countries every 2-3 years since birth. Following the frequent change in homes, I moved to New York for college. I am currently situated in Iceland, but will be moving to China shortly. So far, my longest stay in one consecutive place has been New York, which lasted 5 years.

What influence do you think your cultural upbringing has had on your art?

My mixed cultural upbringing and frequent moving between countries resulted in a feeling of separateness not only from my environment but also within myself. I spoke all three languages fluently (Icelandic, Chinese and English) and felt torn between my contradicting identities. Growing up, I struggled feeling whole aside from the moments I was drawing or making music. I’ve been obsessed with both mediums since my earliest memories. Music and art were a language that combined all of me and didn’t require me to appropriate for anyone else to understand. It was enough for me to understand my relationship with art and it’s in those moments when I’m watching the lines form on paper, and the tones appear when pressing down on piano keys, that everything makes sense, and doesn’t need explaining. My relationship with art is perhaps the only thing I’ve not felt needed explaining while the rest of the world always seemed perplexed.

What is your impression of art from The Bay Area?

There are styles and themes associated with Icelandic art, most notably that of which expresses nature. Chinese art is deep rooted in old traditions, and is currently taking on some interesting twists inspired by the West. When I think of SF art, I see liberation in the openness to many forms of artistic expression.

How do you think art can change the world?

Art connects us to ourselves and in doing so, practices our empathy for others. I see art as a pathway to understanding the depth of human experience; a visual metaphor, and in my eyes the only truths are metaphors.

 

JULIA SØRENSEN – Fine Artist

Where were you born, where did you grow up and where do you currently live?

I would say my background is rather unusual.  I was born and raised in Reno, Nevada to Danish parents. My parents moved to the states a few years before my older brother was born.  Although I was raised in the states, I only spoke Danish until I started school.  When my brother and I were young we would spend all our summers and Christmases in Denmark with our extended family. Even though we lived far away, we were and still are very close.  Despite being familiar with American traditions, they were never practiced in my house because my parents wanted us to know and understand where we came from. When I turned 21 I was able to apply and obtain my Danish passport, allowing me dual citizenship. After I finished my BA in San Diego I moved to San Francisco and lived there for three years meanwhile receiving my MFA at San Francisco Art Institute.  Then this March I moved to Honolulu, Hawaii to be closer to my father and brother and, of course, to live in paradise.

What influence do you think your cultural upbringing has had on your art?

My cultural upbringing gave me the ability to look at the world from two different views at once. Being able to not only understand but also interact with two cultures from birth made me more accepting of people and circumstances.  Having said that, when I was in high school, my family went through many hardships which made it very difficult to be far away from Denmark.  My art reflects my both rich and painful emotions about my past memories and how I found my identity through it all.  My work consists of many layers that build up to create a textured surface with marks and wounds that looks almost topographical like I envision our souls would look if we could see them.    

What is your impression of art from The Bay Area?

Speaking from my knowledge of Denmark and Scandinavia, the Nordic countries are very liberal and I believe San Francisco is the most liberal place in the United States.  So I anticipate that artists from these two cultures share many commonalities.  However, given in the political climate in the United States right now, where it seems like we are going backwards in time, its important to have politically charged art.  Art already has changed the world and will continue to do so by challenging people’s notions and opening up new ideas for conversation.      

How do you think art can change the world?

Art already has changed the world and will continue to do so by challenging people’s notions and opening up new ideas for conversation.

 

KATHARINA STENBECK – Interdisciplinary Artist

Where were you born, where did you grow up and where do you currently live?

I was born in Sweden. I grew up in Stockholm and London, then moved to New York in my late teens. I currently live in Ojai, a bit north of LA.

Photo by Petter Löfstedt

What influence do you think your cultural upbringing has had on your art?

I think being made aware of many different cultures at an early age, due to moving and traveling a lot, has definitely shaped me and my artistry. I’m still Swedish, I’ll always be, but I’m also very colored by all my influences from years of living outside of Sweden. I often draw inspiration from folk art and I’m currently exploring ways to incorporate the traditional Swedish Dala horse (a decorative wooden horse, hand painted, originating from the Swedish province of Dalarna) into my work.

How do you think art can change the world?

Art, both the practice of making it as well as the act of consuming it, has provided me with invaluable comfort, understanding (both of myself and of others) and solace throughout the years. It means the world to me.