Ana Teresa Fernandez: Artist in Motion
Whose work shares stories about female empowerment and a surfer whose style is one that is feminine yet fearless.
Last year during a work trip to El Salvador, I met a group of awesome surfer girls while staying with Adventure Sports Tours on the famous surf break at Los Flores. The surf girls and I surfed, laughed and chatted about surfing, our love lives, and cheered each other out in the lineup while surfing some epic fun waves. Ana, one of the mermaids, had a hauntingly enchanting smile that drew me into talking to her and learning about her beautiful art work, which I discovered is as powerful as her surfing style.
Surf Mei Mei has the honor to interview with Ana Teresa Fernadez, and get to know about her interesting life and perspective through her expressive art work, adventure and life in general:
“I am a Sea Gipsy, a full time artist, a sister, a daughter, and a beach and surf-bum!” –Ana Teresa Fernandez
Ana recently performed a piece, “Erasing the Border,” at the San Diego/Tijuana border. It is a digitally recorded art-work, in which she wore a black cocktail dress and 4 inch stilettos while painting over the fence between the United States and Mexico. She scaled a 15-foot ladder and painted a large part of fence sky blue, as to create an illusion of a hole in the wall. It was a peaceful protest for immigrants’ rights during 2012 controversial law changes.
Ana: I was born and raised in Tampico, a tropical city in the Gulf Coast of Mexico. I started to swim competitively when I was 4 until I was 17. I moved to San Diego when I was 11 years old. At first I hated it. Nothing was personal, everything just felt distant. But with time and distance, one gains perspective. I was able to see the opportunities and growth the US had to offer, which in Mexico can be culturally and creatively stifling due to lack of openness or acceptance. I then moved to San Francisco for college and became a full time artist in the city. I learned to surf many years later when I was 30! San Francisco made me more aware and open. It is full of incredible thinkers, makers, doers, [and] provokers at every corner of the city.
Surf Mei Mei: How did you get into art? Tell us a bit about what you do.
Ana: I didn’t get into art. It was always in me. It would come out constantly as something that also needed to breathe out of my skin. I would spend hours in my room by myself drawing on the floor, on napkins at the dinner table, or at school. It wasn’t until I was in college at San Diego, where I took my first official art class and the teacher prompted me to attend a portfolio review at the San Francisco Art Institute. I was given a scholarship on the spot, and the rest is history. I create photo-realistic paintings based on performances or actions that are often socio-political or gender based. I do short films, installations, and public art.
The very first piece of Ana’s work that caught my eye was this photography of a beautifully made stiletto in pink and almost transparent tones. “Ice Queen” is a digital print that is meant to portray how women are told make-believe fairytales when they are little, and become unrealistic about their romantic lives as they grow up. The digital print is based on an ice sculpture shaped on site as it as melts during this shaping process. It symbolizes how fragile our fairytales are as the icy stiletto can be crushed and melted at any moment.
Surf Mei Mei: We met because of surfing and it looks like surfing has been the focus of your active lifestyle. Tell us more about your adventure, ocean and life in general.
Ana: I competed in swimming for twelve years. I started when I was 4 [years old]. I think that is what led my practice in being quiet and being able to concentrate and meditate for long periods of time. It also really influenced my work. So much of it is based and inspired by water—the way light reflects, and the feelings you experience below the surface are some of the most surreal and beautiful moments you can have.
Whenever I go through a break up, there is an openness to meet and re-encounter parts within you, get to know your true self. When you are feeling confident and on top of your game, there is a little more resistance to going into spaces that will make you look like a goof ball while learning something new. This is how I started dancing Tango eight years ago. I am a super visual person and somewhat of a frustrated dancer. I’ve also picked up Afro- Brazilian dance… it is a way to be present or at least exist momentarily in unison with percussions, a rhythm , another partner,… but truly be present. Three and a half years ago, I was breaking up with someone and decided to learn how to surf. After all, surfing is a dance and your partner is the ocean. It was love at first wave. Every single wave is different, every time it is a new experience. It is tremendously challenging and you feel a growth as you practice. You become more expressive and artistic with the waves as your surf language expands. You learn to exist in nature’s cadence, to dance, glide and be part of its movement. It since has become an integral part of my life. I crave the ocean and feeling part of its sway. I’m now picking up Flamenco, and I will tell you it is incredibly humbling to learn the language of movement from zero.
Surf Mei Mei: What kind of direction do you have for yourself as an artist?
Ana: My direction as an artist consistently meanders and grows. At the moment, I am really excited to be working with musicians and dancers. I will be working with Amara Tabor Smith, an incredible dancer from the Bay Area, that does modern, Afro-Brazilian, experimental choreography, and I will be creating interactive installation work for her backdrops; as well as for Flamenco dancer Crisitina Hall in Sevilla, Spain. I’m also creating video works about censorship and a new piece for the Denver Contemporary Museum about immigration. I’m working on a large scale public piece for San Francisco. I love the challenge of existing in multiple mediums; it is like speaking different languages.
Surf Mei Mei: How has surfing and the ocean affected you with your work?
Ana: Surfing has prevented me from drowning in the art world. The inconsistency and unknowing life-style of being an artist is incredibly difficult and unnerving. Your skin is constantly exposed … Surfing blankets the blows and quiets my mind constantly. It reminds me to fall gracefully and truly just go with the flow. Surfing is a philosophy for me.
Surf Mei Mei: It takes a compassionate person to be so committed to work at the level of intricacy you have for your art and surfing. Can you talk about your passion in life?
Ana: My mother is what I call an anthropological photographer that documents the border and my dad is a cardiologist. I mean they look so closely at people’s bodies and spaces and the experiences and stories around them… that is how I was taught to look at the world. They are incredibly compassionate people. So if there is anything I learned, it is to be open and really look at people, at my community, and try to shine light and tell those stories. My work strives to question what we take for granted and as a given, and provide alternate truths.
Surf Mei Mei: Last but not least, can you give surfers out there any kinds of advice to close off this great interview?
Ana: Advice… Oh brother… Patience. If anything surfing and the ocean have taught me, actually forced me at times, is to be patient. Have a direction, be open, but be patient, so when it comes you are ready to take off.
I love traveling. It gives us a better perspective of life while meeting new people and experience different culture. Meeting an incredible artist like Ana Teresa Fernando is one of the reason why we should all should keep on traveling, experiencing different cultures and people and open our horizons with acceptance. After all, life is about dealing with things we do not agree to and accept them regardless.
“The art world is incredibly challenging, uncertain, and unforgiving… surfing provides me with a calm that helps me navigate the turbulent waters the art world holds. Art kept me from having a mediocre life but surfing has kept me from drowning in the world.” –Ana Teresa Fernandez