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How do you explore your queer identity through your art?
My work is an extension of my experience that informs the work I create, although I don't think of queerness as the only aspect of my identity as an artist or as a person. I think of growing up in New York City and coming from a multicultural family having greatly shaped my work as well.
My work does reflect my lived experience through a queer lens. A lot of the more recent work that I have made has been about relationships. I’ve made work about queer love and longing that is public but is done in a way that I can preserve the more private and intimate aspects of it through the use of symbols. When I was younger, I created a visual language of symbols so that I could express myself freely and if anyone found it, they wouldn't know what it meant. Now, I like to take stories from my life and embellish them to create a theatrical visual around a specific idea. I have a friend who once told me that my work is mythological; it's like my own world that I bring people into. My use of symbology is very personal and not everyone will know what each mark means. Although I try to make work that has this hidden meaning it is also bold and colorful and accessible to everyone. These recent paintings are an exploration of yearning and connection and wanting to be understood, which I think is a common queer experience.
“I have a friend who once told me that my work is mythological; it's like my own world that I bring people into.”
WORKS BY THE ARTIST
You have worked on a variety of series of works, is there one that is solely dedicated to analyzing queerness?
I've been working on this series since 2019 titled “Neither Here nor There.” My friend Edward Salas and I had a group show together where we explored the ideas of New York City and having a hybrid identity; for me being Brazilian-American and for him being Colombian-American.
Edward Salas (left) and Marco DaSilva (right). Courtesy of Manny Cantor.
In this series, I made building paintings from combined canvases and all of them are bejeweled with plastic rhinestones that I glued on. When the canvases are combined, they create the shape of a building. The origin of the work was I went through a breakup that left me in a dark place. And so I was thinking: "how can I make symbols and create this building that represents a form of the body?" I was mourning the loss of this person and reflecting on dating in New York City. The building looks like the Empire State building, and each building is about a former lover and has symbols specific to them. They're abstracted in a way that just looks like some familiar shapes, but they're very specific to me.
"Neither Here Nor There" Courtesy of Marco DaSilva.
The first works that I made for this series were painted in the colors of the flags of the places where the lover is from. The new version that I made titled ‘Empire State Casper’ are the same exact building shapes and symbols but the color palette is all black, white, and red, so there’s a funerary feeling to it. I imagine the red dots as rose petals falling down the side of these buildings. I like to make everything in a color palette that is specific to a theme. These new works kind of look like a version of tombstones. Through them, I was exploring an idea of unrequited desire and loss, but also celebrating life and continuing on anyway.
"Empire State of Casper" Courtesy of Marco DaSilva's Instagram.
The other piece I just finished is a video called ‘Empire State Karaoke’ which is all about dressing up like a clown. It’s a performance piece in black and white with my vocals singing “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse in autotune and I go into this mode of putting on makeup and drinking and dancing and putting on a wig and I become this clown. It’s about persevering and finding humor in darkness. It’s bittersweet.
What are other motives, themes, or subjects that are important to you and that you like to delve into in your work?
I had a manic episode that was a formative experience in my life. A lot of my paintings after the episode were in a neon Miami Vice color palette because, when I was making it, I was thinking of cheap thrills and the feeling of mania: the feeling of being euphoric, and invincible– so I wanted to capture that. When I was making that work, I was painting in the same four colors for all of my paintings with black marker and different gold materials for three years straight. That work marked a spiritual rebirth that I experienced while manic.
Another influence on my view of the world and my work is growing up in New York City in between two cultures (In New York, I was always considered the Brazilian kid, and in Brazil, the “gringo”). In 2018 I went on a pilgrimage to Brazil to connect to my roots and practice my Portuguese and lived in Rio. I had a spiritual reading that involved multiple visits and rituals to a woman’s apartment that had a big impact on me but left me feeling very unsettled. It inspired me to create work about it and I had the honor of painting a mural about the story at Abrons Art Center for Queer Art Pride in 2019. I was inspired by the energy of living in a tropical city and Afro-Brazilian spirituality.
Marco and his mural for Abrons Art Center for Queer Art Pride in 2019. Courtesy of Marco DaSilva's website.
I also love finding different objects I see on the street or things in 99c stores and looking for ways I can reimagine and give them a new purpose. I am drawn to religious imagery, idols, altars, and rituals just as much as I am with pop and music videos.
Do you have a role model that you've drawn inspiration from when creating your art?
Early on I was influenced by the graphic elements of the 80s art scene in New York City: Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. More recently in painting, I am drawn to Nina Chanel’s bold imagery and Juliana Huxtable’s theatrical digital portraits. I have always loved CHICO’s spray-painted murals and NECK FACE’s street drawings that capture a feeling of New York. Patrick Martinez and his use of neon and sculptural painting installation inspire me.
A detail from Juliana Huxtable’s Untitled (Psychosocial Stuntin’) courtesy of The Guardian.
Pop music is also a source of inspiration. Rihanna has been a muse in my paintings in the past, her hand with tattoos and acrylic nails are beautiful to me. When I create a body of work I think of it as an album that captures the color, aesthetic, and mood of what I’m trying to portray. My artist friends making work across disciplines push me to find ways to reinvent myself and my work as well.
"Rihanna's Hands" Courtesy of MarcoDaSilva.
You are involved with mutual aid funds and organizations that support queer and trans people of color. Can you tell us about your experience with these organizations?
Over the past few years, a few friends and I hosted a fundraiser called ‘Free Them All’ with F2L (@fund_the_inside) which is a community-led network, based in New York City that supports QTPOC who are doing time in New York state prisons. We asked artist friends to donate their work and everything sold went directly to support prisoners by paying for their commissary and we organized letter writing for some outreach to these folks who are locked up.
Another nonprofit doing amazing work is G.L.I.T.S. (@glits_inc) that is dedicated to supporting the LGBTQ+ community. During last summer's protests and uprising for social justice after the many black deaths in this country, they were fundraising to secure housing for black trans women in Manhattan. Emergency Relief Fund (@emergency_releasefund) is another network that is a volunteer-led, abolitionist mutual aid project focusing on getting LGBTQ+ and high-risk people out of Rikers Island and ICE detention.
How can other people/allies support these organizations?
Follow these organizations and learn about ways to donate, volunteer, and get involved. Instagram has been a powerful tool for fundraising efforts and it's impressive to see communities show up and support one another.
Piece created specifically for F2L courtesy of Marco DaSilva.
Have you ever lived anywhere besides New York? If so, what’s something you don’t think that many queer people from bigger cities understand about being queer in a smaller community?
I've lived in New York City pretty much my whole life. I grew up in Manhattan, and then I went to school in upstate New York and now live in Brooklyn. I have traveled a lot and I also go to Brazil every few years to visit my family but have mainly been here. I would say when I went to school in upstate New York near Buffalo, that was a culture shock. I definitely didn’t feel as comfortable, and I wasn’t even out back then. There's something about being in this city where there is a freedom to express yourself and not feel judged. But even here there are challenges that we as queer people still face every day.
You were a Visual Art Fellow for Queer Art Mentorship. How did this experience impact your practice and what were some of your biggest takeaways?
I did Queer Art Mentorship from 2017 to 2018, and it was a great experience. It connected me to an intergenerational community. I worked with Liz Collins, who is an incredible artist who does textile installation and large-scale sculptural works. Going into it, I wanted to make something more sculptural so I just worked alongside her and saw her every month and we hung out. We'd go to openings, or get lunch, or see shows together. She helped me land my first solo show and included me in her group show “Cast of Characters” at The Bureau of General Services- Queer Division. There's no model in the art world of a specific path to take, It’s not like going to school to become a mechanic or a teacher where there's like A, B, and then C- the art world is very nonlinear. So, I was also meeting all these other queer mentees through the program, and when we met up we would talk about what we were making and support each other. It’s a real network; it brought me a queer community, and I'm still in touch with a lot of people I met from it.
Image Courtesy of Queer Art Mentorship.
What’s your favorite part about the queer community in NYC?
Even in New York City, which can feel so large, the community feels very small. It feels very local in a way like we all kind of hang out at the same bars and openings and go to the same parties and support each other, which is really great. And the other day I actually went to an opening in Chinatown alone and then ran into all these people I hadn't seen since before the pandemic.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Yes, I am in a group show right now called ‘DAZZLE’ at Beverly’s. Beverly’s was an art bar in the Lower East Side for 7 years until the pandemic hit but is now reopened as a gallery. It's at 5 Eldridge Street, and it's up till July 10th, open Fridays from 5 to 10 pm and Saturdays from 3 to 8 pm. The work that I talked about with the rhinestones is up as well as the video performance piece. The show features work by Sheryl Oppenheim, Haley Martell, and myself, I’m really excited about sharing it with people after a year of being stuck inside.
Image Courtesy of Thrillist NYC.