Mexican Artist Belén Berdeja on Celebrating Intrinsic Beauty
By: Valeria Ramos
Belén Berdeja is a 26 year old, self-taught artist from Mexico City whose art tells a story of the pain, beauty and power of being a woman.
Personally moved by her art, I interviewed Belén in the hopes of learning more about what inspires her to make art. What I did not expect, however, was the powerful message she would convey about what it means to be a woman in a society that is not always accepting of our freedom, and how she uses her art to challenge that notion.
How long have you been creating art?
I believe I have created some form of art since I could grab a pencil. I have sketched since I was really young, maybe ten years old.
How did your interest in art begin?
I have memories of my parents taking my four siblings and I to art exhibits, museums and all kinds of cultural events when we were little kids. I recall not liking every piece, but certainly being curious and really moved. Sometimes, I would cry because I saw a painting that I felt was too sad or bold in some way. I also remember the joy of seeing something beautiful.
How would you describe your artistic style?
I think my style is bittersweet. I am careful and detailed in some parts of the paintings (mostly the eyes) and violent with the rest. The women in my paintings are somehow hurt. These wounds are not only seen through their expressions, but also in the manner I paint them. I say they are violated by my painting knives. At the same time, you can see the love and passion in their eyes
Women seem to be the focus of your art. Can you tell us a bit about your passion and inspiration behind the empowering images you create?
It has always been about women. I’ve said that I have sketched since I was little, and it has always been women. I did not realize it, though, until later on. If you happen to be born a woman, it’s tough. Beautiful, but tough. We are unconsciously badgered, from a really young age, to become a certain type of feminine ideal. Pretty, fragile, thin, flawless—a series of attributes that change according to culture. But the most common and worst word of all: feminine. We are not only required by society to be this way, but actually bullied into it.
We are constantly and slowly being chiseled as girls and as women, to become this impossible and crazy ideal of what a woman should be according to society. This not only messes with our physical selves, but it goes deeper, into our minds and hearts. And it is not only about looks. It messes with our conduct, our psychology, our every thought and emotion.
Our value as women decreases or increases depending on how well we meet these requirements. And we do not realize that our value as women, and as human beings, is not conditioned. It does not change depending on anything. Our value, and our beauty, are intrinsic. I say this because I have experienced it. I grew up in a social group where girls have to be a certain way. I got lost, and wrongly learned to think that I needed to become a certain type of girl. I suffered through anorexia, and there was a time when I thought I’d become an alcoholic. It messed with the way I viewed sexuality. It messed with the way I cared for myself.
It has been a long journey, and my art has been a sort of catharsis. If you observe my paintings, all of them tell a similar story. A story where the subjects are beautiful but wounded and trying to tell the world that this is not okay. That they will fight it. I want to make people think about this.
Was there a moment you realized art was your calling?
I think it was a gradual thing. Art was always inside me and I have always loved it, but I did not know I was an artist. After quitting university, I began to see the possibility of making art a way of life. But I was also scared, I did not feel good enough, brave enough. I started blocking those negative thoughts, and made myself think in a positive way, even if I did not feel it in my heart.
I told myself “You can do it, give yourself time, work hard and good things will come. There was a key moment, sometime in 2015, when a friend, with whom I was joking about being an artist, told me with such a serious face, “Belén, but you are an artist.” I paused, then finally felt it. Yes, I am. When I began to tell people that I was an artist, and actually believing it, something shifted inside me. It was not until this happened – my calling myself an artist and believing it – that I realized fully and completely that there is nothing I would rather do with my life. Words and thoughts are so powerful. I truly believe that having good thoughts is key for life. Sometimes we do not feel it, but if we think it, eventually good things will come our way.
Where do you find inspiration when it comes to creating new pieces?
Inspiration is a funny thing. It rarely comes just because it feels like it. I try to keep myself full with new experiences – I observe, go to art exhibits, watch films, listen to music that enriches me with emotion. These things keep me creatively, intellectually and emotionally charged. Then, I work hard. I sketch even if I don’t feel like it. I sketch until eventually an idea comes up. That weird thing we call inspiration normally comes at odd times, while I am in bed unable to sleep, when I am at a coffeehouse, or when I am exercising. It rarely comes when I want it to. It is annoying and cool at the same time.
What does your creative process consist of? Do you have routines or habits you frequent?
I normally look at lots of pictures and observe lots of faces, then I sketch until I have one drawing that fully satisfies me. Then, I use that sketch and redo it on the canvas using pastel. Sometimes I don’t go through that process and just paint without a previous sketch. Music is key. Always, always music. Or BBC news. Or Friends playing in the background.
Do you have a favorite medium?
Oil is my favorite medium. It is really noble to work with, you can modify it and make beautiful textures. I also love to think I paint with the same medium as all the great masters I admire, like Klimt.
What is the most satisfying part of creating art for you?
I have two favorite parts. One is the moment when I see that I am achieving what I expected, which is always the expression in the women’s eyes and bodies. They have to have a piercing look that strongly says something, that will make the viewer feel and hopefully think. The other is when that actually comes true, and a person tells me how strongly they feel about a painting. Someone actually cried one time, when she saw one of my women, and that was a moment I will never forget.
What advice would you give to anyone pursuing art as a passion or career?
Trust yourself, be patient and kind to yourself. You can either be your own worst enemy or your best ally. Choose to be the second option. Art is a difficult path, because it is so full of uncertainty. But uncertainty does not have to be something to be anguished about. Accept that uncertainty is part of the process, have hope that eventually things will fall into place. Continuously repeat to yourself “I am good at what I do” even if you do not sell your pieces easily. Do not let others make noise inside your head. Many people will tell you to make more decorative or commercial pieces. Do not listen. If you were born to be an artist it is because you have so much to give; do not let that go to waste. The world is sometimes slow. Give the world time, give yourself time, and there will come a day when people realize this and then you won’t have to worry about being seen or heard.
An artist in every aspect of the word, Belén’s beliefs on the power of positive thinking and the importance of acknowledging one’s intrinsic beauty and value are what make her work so captivating. Belén’s artistic purpose of celebrating and inspiring women allows her art to speak louder than the voices of those who attempt to stifle and limit women.