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Paloma Tendero is a visual artist that works across photography and sculpture, exploring themes around genetic inheritance, hereditary illness, identity, and cycles of life. Through photography and sculpture, she represents periods of changes, pain, and metamorphosis the body suffers when it lacks control. She works around dualities: between the inside and outside, health and sickness and the transmutation from one to the other.
Paloma was born in Spain, where she graduated with BA (Hons) in Fine Arts at Complutense University in Madrid. Following that, she graduated with MA in Photography at London College of Communication, where she won a mentorship prize with her project Inside Out. Since then, she has been exhibiting and participating in artist residency programs such as Sarabande, The Lee Alexander McQueen Foundation in London, 2020. The Austrian Federal Chancellery in cooperation with KulturKontakt in Vienna 2018, and Health and Wellbeing through the arts programs, Free Space Project in 2017. Her artwork is part of the Hyman Collection, it has been on show in A Picture of Health at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol 2021. Live Flesh, London 2020; Political Bodies, Galleria Cavour, Italy 2019; Corporeal, AA Collections Gallery, Vienna 2018. Recent publications include Wallpaper Magazine and the Royal Photographic Society.
Artists Q&A with Paloma Tendero
by Dr Claudia Milburn
Q. What first inspired your practice?
My first projects started with the exploration of somatising, the subconscious transformation of psychological conflicts into organic symptoms. And, likewise, how a physical problem becomes an emotional issue.
Q. What has been your background/training, and how influential has that subsequently been?
I was born in Spain, where I graduated with BA (Hons) in Fine Arts at Complutense University in Madrid. Following that, I graduated with MA in Photography from London College of Communication. My work is very organic and flows from one medium to the other; I started working across photography and sculpture, combining both media.
Q. Can you tell me more about your subject matter and the motivation for your work?
I explore themes around genetic inheritance, heredity, identity, and life cycles. My artwork comes from my personal experience with illness.
I am interested in how other people make us; in me, I can see my parents and, at the same time, my grandparents. We take and receive qualities from each other. In the same way, we inherit the colour of the eyes; we take genetic disorders and habits that influence us throughout our lives.
Q. What is the inspiration behind the specific works in the exhibition, and how do they sit within the context of your work to date?
Célula is part of the Célula Madre Series; Célula Madre literally means “Mother Cell”, which in English is translated as Stem Cells. I found microscopic views of a genetic illness that runs in my mother’s family lines and that I inherited at birth. In the work, I contorted through performance into a sculptural form and physically overlaid it with a knitted representation of the struggle between biological determinism and self-will.
In Flawed Beauty, I mixed mediums, making a performative work and placing myself as a sculpture on a plinth, enveloped by imaginary cysts. The idea was to redefine beauty. Some of the most significant classical sculptures in the world are broken and missing limbs; however, they are highly precious and appreciated by society without questioning the body’s flaws.
On Mutability is focused on the impact of genetic inheritance and fertility, questioning ideas around bringing life to the world, and balancing internal and external factors through Papier-mâché eggs, made of empty egg cartons. The work represents the idea of Atlas, carrying the world’s weight on one’s shoulders.
Q. Who or what has been your greatest influence as an artist?
A mixture of things has greatly influenced me as an artist. I was exposed to art from a young age, my grandfather was a painter, and we used to go to all the museums in Madrid every time he visited. My mother used to do pottery and paint ceramics, and my dad is a photography lover.
Some of my artistic influences come from women artists, such as Louise Bourgeois, Frida Kahlo and Hanna Wilke. I admire the way they deal with their struggles and traumas and their way of working and documenting the reality of their physical and mental health.
Q. What is the most challenging element of your practice?
Like most artists, I think there is a big challenge in creating new work and having to work for a living, and rejections from art competitions don’t make it any easier. The challenge is to be patient.
Q. The works in this exhibition encourage the viewer to think about the female form and the politics of the gaze. Can you expand upon this from your perspective?
My art research references the vision of the disease as a metaphor; until the mid-seventeenth century, diseases were considered phenomena that did not belong to the body and were not part of the normal processes of the body. Starting from the premise of classical Greece, The Ancient Greeks invented the notion of the ideal body, a designed body that, even though it has been redefined through history, keeps falling into ideas of perfection: humans aspiring to have the same attributes as God: ageless, sickles, for women to be a “Venus”, a goddess of love, beauty, sex and desire, prosperity, and fertility. Unrealistic ideals become a burden for women and take the female form further away from what it is.
Q. Can you discuss why the body as an object has become the main vehicle for expressing your ideas?
I have always been fascinated by how our bodies communicate messages without needing words to explain our feelings. The body enjoys, suffers and is the container of our emotions, organs and thoughts, and it suffers periods of change, pain, and metamorphosis outside our control.
Q. The tension between vulnerability and empowerment is a unifying theme in the artists’ works presented in this exhibition. Can you talk about this in relation to your practice?
I reflect on the vulnerability of the physical shell and its genetics, and the desire to celebrate life despite illness, representing the beauty in the flaws and errors that can occur in the body.
Q. What issues, in your opinion, are female artists facing in the contemporary art world?
Some of the issues I am noticing is that grants and awards are often going to young artists or recent graduates. However, someone can be older and still be an emerging artist or at the beginning of their art career, age and time are not a proportional equation when many artists must work for a living, so their art careers are slower, however, if you add up to the cultural imbalance weight of parenthood, many women artists are left behind, as they can’t keep up with everything, often having to choose between career or family.
Q. What are the latest developments in your work?
I got a new body of work in mind, I have started experimenting with recycled materials associated with illness such as mattresses, bedsheets, and pillows, creating wearable sculptural pieces inspired by medical archival material.