Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Erica Rivera Interviews Aza Abe (née Erdrich)

For artist Aza Abe (nee Erdrich), 2016 was a year of firsts. She became a mother and launched her inaugural solo show, “Synthesis,” at All My Relations gallery in Minneapolis.

“I’ve always wanted to be an artist. Ever since I was a kid, it was the only thing that I really wanted to do,” says Abe, who has created in mediums as diverse as comic art, beading, still life drawings, paintings, and book covers.

An orderly artist, Abe plans her paintings, chooses colors, then fills them in by grids. Symmetry is one continuous thread in her oeuvre; indigenous aesthetics, which she says come naturally to her as an Ojibwe woman, are another. Flowers, feathers, wildlife, and nature are frequently incorporated into designs that burst with celebratory colors that evoke the patterns of star quilts.

Abe was thrilled when approached by All My Relations gallery about doing a solo show. She was six months pregnant when “Synthesis” opened in March; it closed just a few weeks before she gave birth. “It was a really special time in my life to bring my work out there,” she says. The hardest part wasn’t the preparation for the show, but the relinquishing of her art. “There were certain pieces, especially the beaded pieces, that took a long time to make. It’s an intimate and meditative process. Selling them was hard.”

Abe has found it challenging to balance motherhood and art, but she’s motivated by her mother, author Louise Erdrich, who raised a house full of children while prolifically writing books. Though she hasn’t been painting much lately, Abe does sketch her son while he sleeps.

Given this change in her personal life, as well as the current political climate, she anticipates that the focus of her work will evolve. “It’s really inspiring having created this life, and it’s a hard time, thinking about what’s going on in the country right now with our upcoming leadership,” says Abe, who recently spent time at the Standing Rock protest site among the water protectors. “I’ve always been drawn toward the beautiful, and to symmetry, and to color, but I want the meaning [of my art] to mature as I do.”

Originally published in City Pages in January of 2017.