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Ave Maria

words Zarah Cheng
All works are from Maria's portfolio.

Where are you from?

This is a difficult question to answer, because I have had a bit of an unusual life. I was born in Bulgaria. However, I have not spent any significant time there in the last 16 years. I left to live and study in Los Angeles and a few years later moved to Montreal, where I lived for 10 years and became a Canadian citizen. Circumstance then took me briefly to Hawaii, and then on to the Netherlands for two years (that’s where my daughter was born), and now I live in the UK. So I often ask myself that question: where am I from? And I guess I am from all sorts of places, yet from nowhere in particular. I am a Bulgarian by birth, Canadian by choice and lately, British by circumstance.



How are your images created?

I always believed that if an image had a great concept, then it can exist in any medium, and its impact would remain the same. You will be surprised to learn that my first collages were created in PowerPoint, because of the simplicity and speed. But with time, I developed concepts that could not be realized by simple cut-and-paste, so I had to learn to use a more sophisticated technique. I mainly create in Photoshop now. This also lets me create high resolution works for prints, and allows me to move beyond just the digital presentation on Instagram.



You have a series of images that incorporate art history icons with corporate logos.  Can you tell us more about the narrative here?

I like using images that are well recognized, because they are already filled with layers of meaning. It is fascinating to combine iconic images because something interesting happens when you join well-known elements that you rarely see together. The icons shed part of their original meaning and take on an entirely new dimension. 

In the original painting by Batoni, the virtuous Diana is disciplining her child, Cupid, the god of desire and erotic love, by taking away his power. By replacing the bow with the Nike swoosh, the moral interpretation is transformed into one that is less stark, and evokes the thought of a mother holding a consumer product away from her child - imagery we have all seen at many stores. Collage art forces you to see old, familiar images through new eyes. I love exploring such contrasts and paradoxes in my work.



You recently moved to the UK from Canada.  How has this change of environment influenced the way you approach your work and art in general?

I have gotten very used to changing cities and countries but that has also made it more difficult to settle and grow roots. The more you move, the harder it is to stay, and the longer you stay in, the harder it is to walk away. The move to the UK was largely due to unforeseen circumstances and was never planned. I am close to Manchester, but far enough that I am still living the village life. It is the first time in a long time that I have lived in a small town and I do miss the buzz of the big city. However, I find that the slower pace of life has helped quiet down my overactive mind, somewhat. I love the British sense of humor and hopefully I can channel some of it into my work.



On Instagram, you post under the moniker: @bellayperversa.  What does this phrase mean to you, and how does it represent you as an artist?

I chose the moniker bella y perversa because it was catchy and feminine. It also balances and contrasts well my pseudonym Ave Maria, which is also feminine, but in an entirely different way. I love Carl Jung’s works and his theory on archetypes.  I suppose, in a way, ‘bella y pervesa’ embodies the primal archetype of the seductress, the woman as an object of desire, while ‘Ave Maria’ is the pure, virtuous female, the nurturing mother archetype. I think both of these archetypes are part of me and, in fact, all women. I chose these names because of their inherent duality. They represent the themes of paradox and complexity that flow through my art.



Many of your montages have a very uncanny quality to them, reminiscent of famous surrealist artists like Maurice Tabard.  What fascinates you the most about dream-like situations?

To a certain extent I am a very realistic and logical person in my everyday life – a classic INTJ Myers-Briggs personality type. I think the surreal dream-like quality of my art is the voice of the other side of me, the more intuitive, less rational side.  When I get caught up in the reality of my daily life, through my art I find a place where anything is possible.  That temporary place, on the border between dreams and reality, is where surrealism lies. There our subconscious gives shape to our deepest desires. I think we always desire most passionately what we deem to be temporary.



What do you think happens at the end of Inception?

At the end of Inception it becomes clear that Saito (Ken Watanabe) is the only one who is able to perform the ‘difficult’ act of inception; but he does it the old fashioned way, by exploiting human nature.  Saito manages to convince Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) that returning home to his children is possible, and that he (Saito) can do it for him. Saito is so successful at planting this idea in Cobb’s mind that Cobb is able to walk away from his totem in the end scene and chooses to be with his children, because this is the reality he has accepted for himself. The beauty of it is that Saito managed to do this simply through exploiting Cobb’s innermost desires, by planting the seed that he can make Cobb’s problems go away. 


What do you miss the most about Montreal?

Walking down the sidewalks of Saint Catherine Street during evening rush hour.


What are you listening to right now?

“Godspeed” by Modeselektor.


What creeps you out the most?

The light at the end of the tunnel ;)



You can follow Ave Maria on Instagram: @bellayperversa

Posted on June 3, 2015