Strawberries are everything
It was November 1995 in Milano, I was studying in the Academy N.A.B.A. when it started. In the grey streets of the city on my way to class I found a blue basket of juicy pretty strawberries at the frutivendolo (green groceries) and bought them to make them my subject of research. They were like precious jewels that caught my eye. I did my first works on Strawberries. surprising me by their power of staying. A passion for drawing, painting, sniffing them, playing with compositions and materials, techniques, writing…wondering… why this obsession?
With the years I understood some of the whys and the works became more choreographed, conceptual and purposed. I felt that I have found my voice, my story.
I refused to curators and galleries to show them in exhibitions for years, - I felt that I haven’t finished the series, not yet, not yet…
In 2000 I started the Artist Book as a colloquy with my father. His memoirs, my art, the family photographs from Europe, from Uruguay; built a story of 320 pages. A tale in 3 parallel languages Spanish, English and Hebrew, with a bit of Italian and German as my life, where the multicultural realities mixed, twist, and merged. The book took 11 years to make, other artistic projects came, two more babies too. It required a lot of work and a good team of many people to find the way to balance in -the pinks, the greys, the texts-in this big art project. To achieve it the way I wanted it, the way I imagined it.
My father Enrique Okret who opened my eyes to art, was colorblind and could not find the strawberries in the European forest. His Paradise was so difficult to recognize! The artist book is a troubadour project.
January 2012 the first time they were first exhibited, a show in Venice, 3 moths at Ikona Gallery, 3 months at the Jewish Museum. The book gets out, only 8 copies like the 8th day of the covenant. One copy stays at the Israel Museum.
Although the strawberries kept always coming, sometimes showing up unexpectedly by themselves others thoroughly invited. Now I know that, they shall always be present somehow in each series, they are my personal iconology. They could be read as mile stones in my life, in my personal art history. Strawberries as sensuality and vitality. Fleeting dots of hope that confronts us with our vulnerability and with a limited time on this planet.
The berries are beautiful always even before they ripen, when perfect and even still when they are already rotten. Art gives them eternity against the fugacity of their existence. They stay forever in the almost alchemical gestures capturing them, registering a quasi-metaphysical presence. Maybe my art tries to give Strawberries a longer existence to keep their energy of naïve hope vibrating for a bit more.
The berries are not only the shape of the fruit itself, but symbols, signs of a personal artistic vocabulary iconography.
The juice, the taste, the texture, the color in all its shades, the shape, their smallness; give me a sense of hope. A consciousness of the fragility and beauty of existence.
There is another aspect of the pink of the strawberries, it has become very popular in the so call Pink revolution of the women march, pink power!
To not be afraid to be a woman to the end, to rejoice in the power of being a woman, that includes our vulnerability. Being strong by being a total woman with a womb that bleeds, creates life and relates to mother earth
My art searches for the beauty of something unclear, difficult to defined, blurred like a womb seen from the inside.
By adding pink to an image, I am saying I was here, I exist, I am present. Alejandra Okret
Alejandra Okret in conversation with Nurit David, February 2019
N.D: "Frutilla, Fragole, Strawberries” is the title of a large and beautiful book you published in 2011, following many years of preparation. In addition to your paintings, it includes photographs from your family album and texts from your father’s memoirs. Your parents emigrated from Europe to Uruguay, where you were born. Finding a passage in the memoirs that recounts feasting on strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries and other berries until the mouth was stained blue, while expressing the essence of Europe as a realm for yearning and longing, illuminated for you your enthrallment with strawberries for so many years. Actually, you are totally a “strawberry” yourself, albeit a large one…and I can imagine that all this strawberry craze is strongly anchored in the origins of your family. A nectar that binds and accompanies you and in which you are together wherever you are: from the forests of Europe to Uruguay where the family used to eat strawberries as a ceremonial act; to Israel, where you discovered even larger, sweeter strawberries; to Italy, where you lived for six years and where, one day, on your way to a class at the Academy, the beauty and color of the strawberries drew you away from your academic career. In fact, strawberries take you as far away as Japan.
A.O: Yes, sakura, the cherry blossoms, are like strawberries with cream.
N.D: The way I see you, it’s as if your base is somewhere else and those paper strips, immersed in pink, tie you to that place. You surround yourself with these ribbons, that connect you to that mythical strawberry zone, the source of which is in the family. What is Uruguay for you? To begin with, you have an accent that you just can’t get away from.
A.O: I never tried to. When I land in Montevideo and smell the scent of the city, I know I’m home. On the other hand, Israel is a home as well. When I immigrated to Israel, my father asked me how I would cope with this double identity. My answer was that here, in Israel, everybody comes from somewhere else.
N.D: But perhaps in your work, with its red juice, you create something essential, the opposite of a melting pot? Something that, at the same time floods, melts, removes borders. What was it like in your parents’ home?
N.D: If we take into account Israeli culture, it’s difficult not to think of Yona Wallach’s poem, “Strawberries” with the line: “When you come to sleep with me/ wear a black dress/ printed with strawberries”. However, I don’t think that you share the poem’s extreme, sexual tone.
A.O: I love the transparent threads. (From the poem: "...strings will lift you up/ invisible or visible” N.D). I have this duality within me. On the one hand I am heavy, and on the other, I feel very light. Despite the excess weight, inside I feel like a light-footed little girl, running and jumping. When I paint, I’m that little girl again, my soul unconstrained, elevated, doodling away, painting freely.
N.D: And if I’m already holding her books, what about “...a little blood/
just a little blood to top off the honey...”, is there any blood in that red?
A.O: I think that blood is life, but I have a problem with violence; in films, for example.
I look for the sensuality in a porcelain cup; in the mixing of colors; in the way the paper transforms to the touch of the brush.
N.D: You’re an aesthete?!
A.O: Exactly. That’s what I’m looking for, an intense sensory experience.
N.D: You believe in your sensations and feelings. Aren’t you afraid of not being credible, authentic? … don't you fear emptiness?
A.O: No! Certainly not! I am so full I could burst!