Brave New Feminist: an interview with artist Annamarie Williams
Annamarie Williams is an illustrator and sculptor whose artwork adds to the conversation of physical, sexual, and mental abuse and inequality. Her work looks closely at the chaos that often surrounds the female body and the uterus.
Williams's work brings together suggestive elements that challenge the concepts of victimization and empowerment within the feminist movement. The backgrounds of her pieces are stained with tea or coffee—the act of brewing tea is often viewed as a feminine, domestic task. Williams constructs garments and her canvases from these delicately stained fabrics. Each garment honors a victim of sexual abuse, and is decorated with symbols to represent each person. Williams allows random stains and blots to be the outlines of various faces and hands, reminding us that the human form is perfect and organic, including its past stains.
Our arts editor, Jessica Eckerstorfer, first met Annamarie while working at Free Arts Minnesota. Jess reached out to Annamarie to discuss her art and her artistic process. [An excerpt of this interview can be found in our recent print edition, Volume 7.]
***Please note: If you have experienced abuse, trauma, or are sensitive to this subject, please take a moment to assess your place and your feelings before continuing on.
JE: What is your earliest art memory? It could either be your own creation, or something you experienced.
AW: One of my fondest and earliest memories is walking down an old dirt road that my grandma and grandpa lived on—or Mammaw and Pappaw, as I called them. I was walking hand in hand with my Grandpa, and I was wearing one of his big white T-shirts that came down way past my shoes. Whenever I went to my Grandma and Grandpa’s, I always wanted to wear one of Grandpa’s shirts for some reason. They had stains on them from years of dribbled morning coffee. I remember walking with him as he would tell me each the name of every bird and wildflower we passed. My favorite was the black-eyed Susan.
JE: You collect coffee filters and tea bags to construct each of your garments. What's the hardest part of working with this material? What's the significance of this material in terms of meaning and artistic process?
AW: The hardest part of working with the material is the fact that I only had so much yardage to work with, so I can’t afford to mess up a garment. The significance of the material was the relation of the tea bag to the domestic.
Many still view the domestic as lesser-than, and I wanted to show that the role of the domestic could be strong. As a single unit, the tea bag seems to be fragile, but when sewed together the tea bags become quite durable, like cloth. For me, this represented a community of people coming together to talk about the issue of rape and abuse.
JE: You've made great strides as an artist within the last couple of years. What's an early lesson you've learned about being a working artist?
AW: Not everyone is going to like your work, and THAT’S OKAY. My work speaks to a feminist perspective, which is (usually) very much accepted within the art realm. However, some artists believe that it is overdone or that I am preaching to the choir. I don’t feel like I am. If there are people out there, including my colleagues, who accept feminism, what it means to be a feminist, and feminist work, then that is great, but not every person will.
I don’t believe that my work can change the hearts and minds of people, but I do believe that my work can aid in generating and keeping the conversation of feminism, rape, and abuse going. Ultimately, that is my goal. There will always be people who say that my subject matter is overdone and is better left with feminist artists—like Judy Chicago or Helene Aylon, for example—but I think that this conversation needs to be kept going until the day that rape, abuse, and a negative connotation of the word feminism, stops.
JE: We know your work challenged individuals at Alma College, where you went to school. What difficulties have you experienced, personally, as a young woman in the artworld?
AW: Sometimes people—even other artists—see me as a cliché and have a here comes the hippie-feminist kind of attitude when they first meet me. They don’t realize that my work speaks to more than that. It points to the fact that many feminist artists have similar experiences that draw them to similar conclusions, and shows that there is a whole community that can relate to each other in some way.
In terms of feminist artists speaking through their artwork about their own struggles of abuse and rape, such as myself, it only points to the fact that rape and abuse happens so often throughout this world every single minute, and that is something that we cannot ignore and need to continue discussing.
JE: You're truly a brave and strong feminist, and we know how exhausting that can be. Given the subject matter, and knowing that having work/life boundaries is nearly impossible when you care so deeply about something, what practices do you take for self-care and reflection?
AW: That is a great question! Unfortunately, I don’t do a whole lot of self-care, which I admit is not good. I think the biggest thing is to take a chunk out of each day, no matter how small it is, or what time in the wee hours of the morning it is, to be with friends. I was extremely fortunate to have a wonderful group of friends, most of whom were art majors with me, and we called ourselves the Emotional Misfits. I still keep in touch with them.
JE: How does courage play into your work?
AW: I have met so many incredible and amazing women throughout my journey, each of whom defines themselves as a victim or survivor of rape and abuse. Not only did I end up finding a community where I could relate to people, but when I talked to people at the opening of my show, there were people who spoke up and said “Me Too.” My hope was that through a figurative representation of abused bodies that people that entered the gallery, who could relate in some way, would know that they are not alone in this world. Every person who has ever told me, or had a conversation with me about their own traumas, that took courage. Every person who told me “Me Too” that took courage. Me coming out about my own traumas in this particular body of work, that took courage, but I felt inspired by others who have come out before me.
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