I turned twenty-five last year, in the midst of a mental shock where, while I wished to be eight years old again to avoid any life responsibility, I had no choice but to face the harsh reality of adulthood. Now, a few months in, I can semi-confidently say that the journey has not been too bad so far. Nonetheless, reaching a quarter of a century (in the middle of a pandemic I should specify) prompted me to reflect on my life experiences – moving countries, love, break-ups, career, friendship, identity – just to keep things on the light side.
Turning to my best friend, art, as I often do during times of hardship, provided me with some comfort: reading stories of strong and empowering women artists has helped me gain perspective on my own life and allow my thoughts to be challenged and caressed as needed. After much reading, daydreaming took over: during one lonely dinner at home, I poured myself a glass of red wine, sat at the table and indulged in my imagination.
A few minutes later, I was transported into my very own trendy studio in Hackney, art hanging on the walls and plants sneaking out from every corner – classic millennial vibe – enjoying dinner with five wonderful women who shaped art history for generations to come. Unmatched dinnerware and pretty flower arrangements were decorating the wooden table while laughters and the clinking of glasses invaded the dining room like a pleasant scent. In this mind-game, I was the host and I had the opportunity to talk with each of these women about various aspects of life. Our conversations gave me strength and reassurance that despite everything, I was not to navigate in complete darkness.
As dinner kicked off, I began talking with Zarina (1937-2020), an Indian-American artist and printmaker who explored the concept of home, loss and belonging through her art journey. She left her hometown in her early twenties, travelling and living in amazing places such as Bangkok, Tokyo, Los Angeles until she finally chose New York as a place to call home. Her artwork ‘Home is Foreign Place’ (1999), an ensemble of woodcuts, collates reflections and thoughts on her childhood home in India through the use of words and images. Talking to Zarina about this artwork, I felt the urgency to share my own story too (a condensed version, as I did not want to bore her too much): I started to travel by myself at the age of sixteen, in a restless quest for a place to call home and landed in London almost ten years later with more questions that clothes in my suitcase. Nowadays I call London home and Italy home home (messy, I know) as a way to differentiate the feelings I attach to both of these places but I often catch myself longing for an inexplicable sense of belonging, somewhere else. At that point in our (fictional) conversation, Zarina put her fork down, looked at me attentively and simply uttered that home is not necessarily a definite place, but it is an idea that lives and changes within us as we move on with our lives; we are and we become our own homes. Speechless by so much wisdom, I returned to my wine.
2. Frida Kahlo
As we made our way through a deliciously homemade risotto – in my dreams I am a superb chef to compensate for my lack of basic cooking skills in real life – I started talking to Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), the renowned Mexican painter. I complimented her on the colourful Tehuana dress she was wearing and the flowers that enriched her dark, glossy hair. She talked so passionately about life, I could sense the love for it attached to every word. Although, she confessed to me that she had experienced a great deal of pain in her life – Frida endured traumatising life experiences such as a bus accident which left her with life-long physical injuries and three abortions – but painting had helped her to process and accept these heartbreaking experiences. She chose herself as her favourite subject to study: introspection fuelled art and her work had become a way of externalising her true emotions and values. Art acted as an umbilical cord from her heart and mind to the outside world. I was mesmerised by it all. I timidly shared that she had inspired me to embrace a new creative outlet during these troubled times, pottery, through which I had been able to connect with myself on a more profound level – the manual labour unbelievably therapeutic – and express my feelings in clunky sculptures. She smiled understandably and offered me one of her flowers, before getting up and starting dancing in my little living room, while the risotto got cold on her plate.
3. Georgia O’Keeffe
I approached Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), a great American artist who made a significant contribution to modern American art through her unique style, as she was happily enjoying a slice of vegetarian quiche – cooked by myself of course. I wanted to thank her as she had been such an inspiration during this pandemic. Her flower-themed artworks enlightened me on a path I had never walked before: a newly-born obsession with flowers. Fresh flowers in my room, dried flowers hanging in bunches upside down in the living room, books about flowers, podcasts about cutting gardens. Flowers and observing flowers just made me happy. She looked perplexed, and understandably so; but she soon joined me in this flower-mania, sharing her interest in shape, colours and fulfilling beauty of the natural world that resonate in her paintings. I continued by praising the landscape works she had made during time spent in New Mexico, poignant with a sense of place and love for the surrounding environment. She looked at me and said: ‘It is a very beautiful world.’* Taken aback, I agreed and I thought of those long months of lockdown, when walking in parks and connecting with nature provided me with such joy and nourishment. Oh man, these women are so wise.
4. Barbara Hepworth
By the time I started talking with Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975), a talented British sculptor, we were devouring the dessert – a tasty strawberry crumble with warm custard. I was so happy she had come to my dinner party – and also a bit tipsy at that point – that I hugged her. She hugged me back and went off a tangent about how the relationship between elements, particularly landscape and human beings, informed her artistic practice which had become more abstract over the years; the active role she had taken in documenting her work and exhibiting her sculptures in a predominantly male-dominated field and the freedom she had enjoyed in experimenting with different materials and techniques, such as wood carving and making bronze installations. I stood there, amazed by her perseverance, her ability to push the boundaries of creativity while successfully standing up for herself. I listened carefully until my mind started drifting away – in an age where self-care is sold at a price, self-confidence, passion and a space for play and experimentation in daily life can be powerful tools to nourish oneself, I thought.
5. Sonia Delaunay
In the wee hours of the morning, after the dinner party had become a dancing party and then more of a gossip room, I sat on the sofa next to Sonia Delaunay (1885–1979), the Ukrainian-born multidisciplinary artist who explored relationships between colours in her work and supported the development of the Orphism movement. Sonia started sharing what she did for a living – I pretended I did not know – which encompassed the fields of painting, textile, fashion and design. In her vision, there were no boundaries between art and craft, they acted one as the extension of the other, and all were the extension of her creative mind. I was blown away by so much creative versatility. For a control-freak like myself, the idea of not having to focus on one single art form, not having to be so selective in my creative pursuits and try to be the best at everything, was so liberating. I understood that I could express myself through many artistic channels – pottery, drawing, photography just to mention a few – and they all piled up, brick after brick, to create who I am. Creativity can take many shapes, some of which come more natural than others, and that is okay. I shall embrace them all anyway.
At 5 a.m. my guests left. I hugged each and all of them (Covid not being a thing at that point) and sent them home with small Tupperwares with the leftover from my delicious dinner – an expression of love. I closed the door and I sat on my sofa feeling tired as hell but empowered by the life stories of these women who had lived inspiring creative lives on their own terms. Finally, as I awoke from my daydreaming, I felt lighter.
Moral of the story: grab a glass of good red wine and lose yourself into art, let it comfort and encourage you especially when the world outside feels dark and scary.
Text by Giulia Cozzi
Photos from: Tate, MoMA, Artsy, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Art UK, WikiArt , Architectural Digest
Giulia is a young arts professional living and working in London. She enjoys learning about art history, new artists and exploring the positive and multi-faceted impact art can have on people’s everyday lives (sometimes through fictional stories).