Ana is an artist and designer from Bogotá, Colombia and has been a treasured part of MIXD since the beginning. She has a BFA from the Art Institute of Chicago and is currently pursuing an MFA in ceramics at the University of Arkansas. Interrogating what it means to live with an object, Buitrago transforms sculptural forms into functional pieces with an emphasis on geometry, symmetry, and balance. She welcomed us into her studio for a conversation surrounding her background and practice. Read up on our discussion below.
MIXD: Tell us a little about yourself and your journey as a ceramist?
Ana Buitrago: My journey as a ceramist starts back in Colombia. I call Bogotá, my hometown, an ‘Orange city’. Every building has a ceramics component, from terracotta bricks for buildings to roof tiles for houses. However, it wasn’t until I was at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, when I took a class that I found clay. I remember touching clay and it was an immediate connection. It was the first time I was touching the material I had been surrounded by my whole life. Since that moment my curiosity clicked. It’s a material that allows me to allude to anything I want, and the processes and techniques are infinite.
M: You are currently pursuing an MFA in ceramics at The University of Arkansas, how has this opportunity shaped you as a creative?
AB: This opportunity has allowed me to grow my artistic practice and be very ambitious with my pieces. I was living in Colombia before coming here and it was very challenging not only because it was during the pandemic but also because of how resources are sourced there. Many materials that I have been working with I couldn’t access there, which made my practice change a bit. In my time at University of Arkansas I have included other materials into my practice like wood and metal.
M: Your pieces are inspired by Pre-Colombian cultures and modern infrastructure. Balancing two themes can be challenging, what are some difficulties you’ve encountered regarding this?
AB: I think the main challenge in balancing two topics is how to combine them together and how much of each I want to add into the pieces I make. Pre-Columbian pieces are present to reference highly crafted pieces and a way to connect with my heritage through these intimate and ceremonial pieces. Infrastructure comes into play as an everyday aspect of my work. As I exist in the present day, what I can stumble upon influences my thinking. I have also been able to encounter a lot of parallel between Pre-Columbian pieces and architecture forms.
M: Your work encourages a dialogue between artistic expression and functional design. How do you see your work fostering conversations between artistic and design communities?
AB: For me it’s very interesting how society has really split these two fields apart. I think they have something to offer to one another and I am interested in the intersection between art and design when appreciation and functionally overlap.
M: What is your central vision or desired outcome when placing your ceramics in spaces within the context of interior and architectural design?
AB: One of my main goals is interaction. I like people to touch and feel the cold and the softness of clay. Even though clay is associated with fragility and delicacy it is a very strong and durable material. During my process I always aim for clay to look like many different materials within one piece and I imagine people touching the piece and realizing it is the same material just different processes.
M: What is your favorite piece that you have created and what was it inspired on?
AB: I don’t know if I have a favorite, the constant feeling for me is that what I am currently working on is what I feel most excited about. In the upcoming pieces I will be incorporating more hardwood and bronze. As I keep on expanding my artistic practice, I think I have built a voice that when I look back I feel is very true to who I am and why I make art and that is the most gratifying feeling.
M: Walk us through your creative process. How do you begin conceptualizing a new piece?
AB: I go to Colombia every 6 months since my family is there. I think that is where the magic starts. I get very inspired and connected to my heritage which ends up in ideas for pieces. My creative process starts with a memory as I roam around the streets and places of my hometown. For example, last time I was there I found my grandparent’s passports. The time before that my grandma’s bedroom lamp and the dresses she made me when I was growing up. They ended up being the starting point for my last installation ‘La Distancia Entre Nosotras’. I perceive objects and space as memory and emotional vessels. I like to layer memories and create a space in which the viewer can connect through specific objects.
M: When choosing your techniques do you consider if they reflect historical and contemporary aspects in the final piece?
AB: I think ceramics per se carries a historic connotation. It has been used for thousands of years and it is impossible to break those connections. As a Latina artist I think it is important to highlight ceramics and challenge the niches that have been linked like the daily objects and building purposes. This vision moves me to challenge and explore the boundaries of ceramics.
M: Looking ahead, where do you see your artistic journey taking you? Are there any new directions or themes you are excited to explore?
AB: I will be graduating soon and there is a lot of new work for my upcoming thesis where I will be intertwining concepts of home, identity, nostalgia, and space. Once I graduate, I want to have my artistic practice shared between the States and Colombia. That is a challenging goal, but I envision myself assisting art residencies in the U.S. and traveling back to Colombia to keep my studio practice. Being in Colombia allows me to have constant input and material exploration, which ultimately benefits my works.
There are several projects I have been working on in collaboration with craftsmen using new material like upholstery textiles.
M: Could you share any upcoming exhibitions, projects, or collaborations that we should keep an eye out for?
AB: Exciting news I will be at a Latin American Art show at Gardiner Gallery- Oklahoma State University, titled Modos de Ver (Ways of Seeing) along with very established artists like Edra Soto and Rafael Lozano Hemmer. I will also be participating at an event during Miami Art Basel.
M: Lastly, how can people interested in your art connect with you and learn more about it?
The best way to connect with me during these technological times is through Instagram. I get a lot of people asking about my work or sending me emails and I am always open for conversations and absolutely love studio visits to share the behind the scenes with people!