Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Erika Nina Suárez. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Alright, Erika Nina thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. We’d love to hear about a project that you’ve worked on that’s meant a lot to you.
I recently returned from a 2 month trip to the Hungarian countryside where my mom’s side of the family is from. This trip was focused on uncovering much of my family’s ancestral history and traditions. Growing up, I spent much of my childhood wedged between two mountains in the village of Hosszúhetény.
I could go on about the joyous memories of playing hide-and-seek with my cousins in the rubbled street ’til dark, eating my aunt Zita’s amazing cooking (lecsó is still my go-to comfort food), and even going to summer school to better develop my language skills.
My grandparents and mom left Hungary in the ’80s and settled in West Palm Beach, FL as their new home. After I was born, in between my nagymama (grandmother) cleaning houses on Palm Beach island and nagypapa running a hurricane shutter business, I learned to speak, read, and write Hungarian. I would beg my grandmother to read me fairy tales of Hungarian kings and medieval castles, and when I got too old for fairy tales, we would flip through photo albums of relatives I never knew.
It was through these core memories I decided that I would pursue a photo project to better connect with and understand my heritage. With that in mind, I focused a large section of my visit on an annual winter pig slaughter that has been an integral part of our village traditions for over a century. All of my uncles show up at dawn and collaboratively process a pig for the following years worth of meat.
During this trip, I also discovered that my great-great-grandfather was one of the first photographers in Hungary! Better yet was that his negatives were remarkably preserved. I spent weeks examining prints, glass plates, and 35mm negatives and brought back what I could to Texas.
This project will most certainly be ongoing for the rest of my life, and it will always feel like the most important body of work I will produce in my career as an artist.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
Art, especially the photography world can feel like an impenetrable and exclusive boys club. It can be so frustrating to hear the whispers of people saying “you need to know the right people” when trying to propel yourself into an art career. What makes what I’m doing unique is that I’m disrupting that idea by putting in the hard work to push myself to the front. The edge in my work sets me apart from others. I like to rock the boat…a lot.
Concerning my commercial photography work, my biggest goal with clients is to make sure that they feel safe to be themselves around me. I spend a lot of time talking to clients before and during shoots. I enjoy connecting with others.
What can society do to ensure an environment that’s helpful to artists and creatives?
Galleries and other cultural institutions must be more inclusive and do better about including more emerging and underrepresented artists in our community and across the United States.
As artists and creatives, it’s also imperative to support each other wholeheartedly. The odds are already against us and we shouldn’t be tearing each other down, but lifting one another up. Go to shows. Buy art from your fellow artist friends. Create a community. Have fun together.
Learning and unlearning are both critical parts of growth – can you share a story of a time when you had to unlearn a lesson?
Your successes are not determined by your grades, job title, or how much is in your bank account. Focus on your personal goals, make work that you are proud of, and let that be your guide.
I spent a lot of time questioning my self-worth as an artist during the pandemic. I was comparing the success of others to myself which brought me to an extremely low place for a few months. I also spent too much energy thinking about my failures in my academic career and professional career. Once I learned to be kind to kind to myself (even when others aren’t) I was able to reimagine the life I want for myself… and my dogs.
- Website: www.erikaninasuarez.com
- Instagram: @erikaninasuarez
- Linkedin: Erika Nina Suárez