Art Scout: Venezuelan-Born Nadia Hernandez Makes Politically-Driven Art With a Smile
The Sydney-based artist takes us inside her studio littered with coloured paper.
Nadia Hernandez in her studio. All photography by Lance Laurence for The Creators Project
Nadia Hernandez was born in Venezuela, studied in Queensland, and now lives in Sydney. It’s clear that an emotionally charged sense of location and belonging is central to the 28-year-old artist’s practice.
“When I first arrived in Sydney I thought I was just passing by, and my intention was to only live here for two years. But one opportunity led to another as I started and continued to meet incredible people,” Hernandez tells The Creators Project. In spite of high rent and controversial lock out laws, she’s a firm believer that Sydney is still a fulfilling place to live as a creative person. “It’s got this diverse, resilient and supportive community that makes living here and working hard worthwhile,” she says.
Although she’s firmly planted in Sydney for now, ties to her birthplace are still strong. “Most of the memories that I focus on and recall are from my childhood spent with my family in my hometown, Merida. It was an important time because all of my family were together. Now my uncle lives in the states, my Mum and I in Australia, and my grandparents are still in Venezuela,” she says. “They, and the fact that I was born there—it’s my heritage and culture—keep me connected to the place. When you leave the country where you’re from, where you’re family is from, you never forget it.”
Hernandez attributes her creativity to her grandparents, who helped foster a love of making and inventing. “My grandma crochets and does embroidery—at one point she was even making lamps. My grandpa is a botanist and a poet. When I was little we would make lots of things together like paper, candles, and costumes,” she says.
Venezuela makes appearances in Hernandez’s work, which often revisits the traditions, myths, and songs that make up her heritage. In her piece Traditional Sources, childlike puppets co-opt the iconography of Venezuelan folklore to explore exploration nostalgia, identity and cultural longing. But the young artist’s practice also has a contemporary edge that’s partly informed by her studies. Hernandez graduated with a Fine Arts degree from the Queensland University of Technology with a major in fashion, then completed a graphic design course. “It made everything click,” she tells us. “My university degree was very conceptual, and my design course super practical so it was the perfect combo.”
The clash of disciplines has helped her adapt to a variety of mediums. A clear design influence shines through in her stylised, boldly coloured paintings and collages, and fashion plays a role in installation works like Invisible Hat Paradigm—a woven deconstructed Japanese fireman’s hat that Hernandez worked on with artisanal weavers Carmelo Alizo and Maria Eugenia Davila. There’s a sense of optimism about both Hernandez and her art.
Even when her work contends with political messages—particularly those addressing the social and political upheaval that Venezuela has historically endured—it retains a certain buoyancy. You see it in a series of collage posters that embrace the spirit of the French Atelier Populaire movement. “Positivity is more difficult to achieve than negativity, but it’s more powerful,” she says. “I set a constant reminder to myself to remain positive because it’s more constructive; it goes hand-in-hand with getting things done, with moving forward.”