HAIL MARY: An Interview with French Artist Soasig Chamaillard

Artist: Soasig Chamaillard, Super Marie
Super Marie by Soasig Chamaillard

I begin this blog here, with the decision to feature artists' works that have similar themes to my own: that of spirituality, religious iconography, ritualism and popular culture.

About a month ago, I came across Soasig Chamaillard's Super Marie and was struck by the magnificent revisioning of the Virgin Mary as superhero and it made me think of that icon's interesting history within the context of African spiritualism — a topic that I explore in my own practice. Judith Gleason, for instance, has a great book called Oya: In Praise of an African Goddess, in which one is able to see how religious icons connect to a variety of traditional myths and popular culture. Oya, the goddess of change, independent women and hurricanes, in the West has been transformed into Storm from the X-Men (a powerful female comic book figure); additionally, throughout Gleason's book, similarities in reverence (e.g. runjembe beads to the Catholic rosary) are highly noted. So it's interesting looking at Chamaillard's work and all the different attributes she resurrects in religion's most popular female figure.

For all intents and purposes, with all that I'd like this platform to explore, Chamaillard is perhaps the best choice. I conducted an interview with her over the month of February this year to discuss her sculptures, iconography and the development of her work. I have reproduced this interview in both French and a loosely translated English text. I'd like to thank Soasig for taking the time to participate in this discussion and to Sandra Haar for her assistance from the onset.

KAREN MIRANDA AUGUSTINE: Soasig, first, tell me a little about yourself.

SOASIG CHAMAILLARD: J'ai 31 ans, je suis française et je vis à Nantes. J'ai fait mes etudes aux beaux-arts entre 1996 et 2000.

I am 31 years old, I am French and I live in Nantes. I studied Fine Arts between 1996 and 2000.

KMA: I read that you first worked in illustration and design. I found that interesting because designers work so much with icons and symbols that connect with the average person and to potential consumers. Plus, your work plays so much with icons and consumer culture. Why did you make a transition to create sculptures and how did your illustration and design background influence this change?

Artist: Soasig Chamaillard, Sainte Barbie
Sainte Barbie by Soasig Chamaillard

SC: Quand j'ai commencé à travailler dans l'illustration, je n'avais pas beaucoup de clients, comme beaucoup d'illustrateurs débutants. C'est pourquoi, parallèllement j'ai developpé pour mon plaisir, des petites figurines de monstres. Poussée par mon entourage, je les ai proposé à quelques magasins nantais. Mes créations ont étés reçues avec beaucoup d'enthousiasme. Et donc, pendant trois ans, je travaillais presque exclusivement à produire des objets en serie pour ces magasins. Mais pendant toutes ces années, je ne faisais plus de création, uniquement de la production. J'ai réalisé que je produisais pour satisfaire « l'autre ». Je voulais plaire. Le moment etait venu pour moi de changer. Je me suis senti prête à m'affirmer en tant qu'artiste. Je voulais m'exprimer librement, pour moi d'abord, et réaliser des objets unique. J'ai donc arrêté toute production pour les magasins et j'ai commencé des créations personnelles unique. Je pense que mon parcours influence forcèment mon travail de création, mais cela est incoscient et difficile à décrire pour moi. Je crois que mon travail d'objet en serie m'a permis d'acquérir un savoir faire, un trait de pinceau plus sûre. Mon travail d'illustration m'a peut être apris à simplifier les choses pour les rendre reconnaissables par tous.

When I started to work in illustration, like many who are new to the field, I did not have many clients. This is why I started to make small figurines of monsters, just for my own pleasure. Pushed by others who saw the work, I propositioned them to some stores in Nantes. My creations were well-received and with much enthusiasm. And thus, during those three years, I almost exclusively worked to produce these objects for these stores. But during all those years, I created only to produce. I realized that I produced to satisfy “the other.” I wanted to love what I was doing. The moment had come for me to change. I felt ready to affirm myself as an artist. I wanted to express myself freely, for myself first. Therefore I stopped producing for these stores and I began to create solely for myself.

Artist: Soasig Chamaillard, Sainta Claus
Sainta Claus by Soasig Chamaillard

KMA: Your statuette, "Sainta Claus," is very interesting. When Santa Claus became an advertising icon for Coca-Cola in the 1930s, it seemed to change the identity of the European Saint Nicholas to a commercialized symbol of Christmas and Coca-Cola in general. Can you discuss what you were exploring within this work?

SC: Je voulais souligner que tout se mélange dans notre sociètè: culture-religion-publicité ... Ici, Sainta-claus est utilisé par coca-cola. Et sainta-claus finit par faire oublier que Noël est la naissance de Jesus. Le mélange de ces trois symboles permet de faire réfléchir sur notre sociètè. Ce n'est qu'un jeu d'observation, de comparaisons, de superpositions. Je ne juge jamais. Je montre à voir seulement.

I wanted to stress that there are so many connections and exchanges in our society: culture, religion, media.… Here, Santa Claus is used by Coke. And Santa Claus ends up making us forget that Christmas is the birth of Jesus. The mixture of these three symbols makes it possible to reflect on our society. It is only one play of observation, comparisons, superimpositions. I never judge. I show to only see.

KMA: I love Super Marie. Some have said that Superman has been strongly associated with Jesus. In the Hindu religion, Jesus would be like their god Krishna. It is so powerful to change that Superman image to the Virgin Mary, a woman. What were some of the ideas that you had about this piece while you were developing it?

SC: J'ai trouvé intérrèssant de confronter ces deux icônes. On peut y voir plusieurs choses. Si on considère que La vierge Marie est une représentation de son époque, alors on peut y voir la « super-woman » de notre époque, c'est à dire une femme hyper active, qui travaillle et s'occupe de sa famille en même temps. Il y a aussi un lien intérrèssant entre les comics et la religion. Les supers heros donnent clairement une vision du bien et du mal. Leur super pouvoirs nous rapellent aussi les miracles liès à la religion. ET chacun peut y voir encore d'autre significations...

I found it very interesting to confront these two icons. One can see several things here. If it is considered that the Virgin Mary is a representation of her time, then one can see her as a “super woman” of our time, i.e. a super busy woman who works and deals with her family at the same time. There is also a very interesting bond between comics and religion. The superheroes represent clear visions of good and evil. Their super capacities clearly represent religious miracles. AND one can still see other significances there….

Artist: Soasig Chamaillard, Embrasser
Embrasser by Soasig Chamaillard

KMA: The Virgin Mary is the patron saint of sinners. Many religions view homosexuality as a sin, and it is so beautiful and interesting to see your piece Embrasser with two Marys kissing, painted in gay pride colours. The heart shape of their embrace is a wonderful love symbol. Could you comment on the making of this work and what ideas you were trying to explore?

SC: C'est par hasard que j'ai trouvé les deux même bustes de la vierge Marie. Au debut, je pensais travailler sur la géméllité. Puis, en manipulant les deux bustes, j'ai constaté qu'ils s'imbriquaient parfaitement, nous donnant l'impression de s'embrasser. Je me suis dit « quel beau message d'amour cela serait! ». Car je pense que la religion doit avant tout être un message d'amour, et qu'il est bien regrettable que parfois, les hommes oublient cela. Si Dieu est amour, comme le pense les chretiens, alors je ne pense pas qu'il soit contre les gens qui s'aiment, quelque soit leur sexe où leur origine. J'aimais aussi le jeu de mot avec « embrasser », car ne dit-on pas « embrasser la religion » ? C'est une belle image...

It is by chance that I found the two same busts of the Virgin Mary. At the beginning, I thought of working on them together. Then, by handling the two busts, I noted that they were imbricated perfectly, giving the impression to us of embracing itself. I said to myself, “What a beautiful message of love that would be!” because I think that in religion, above all, there must be a message of love. It is quite regrettable that sometimes we forget that. If God is love, as Christians think, then I do not think that it should be against people who like the same sex. I also play with the pun of “embracing,” because don't they say “embrace the religion?” It is a beautiful image….

Artist: Soasig Chamaillard, Sainte fruits et legumes par jour
Sainte fruits et legumes par jour by Soasig Chamaillard

KMA: How how do you decide what powers to give to each Mary statuette?

SC: Parfois j'ai des idées que je mets de coté pendant longtemps avant de trouver la « bonne » statuette. Car je travaille toujours sur des statuettes trouvées en brocante. Et parfois, c'est la statuette qui m'inspire une réflexion, à cause de sa position par exemple. Finalement mon travail est rempli d'heureuses conicidences, de rencontres, de promenades et d'associations d'idées. Parfois cela va très vite et parfois cela est très long. Je fais les choses intuitivement et souvent je réfléchis à mon travail lorsque celui ci est terminé.

Sometimes I have ideas that I put off for a long time before finding “the good” statuette, because I always work on statuettes found in second-hand trade. And sometimes, it is the statuette which inspires a reflection to me, because of its position for example. Finally, my work is inspired by happy conicidences, meetings, walks and associations to ideas. Sometimes it happens very quickly and sometimes it takes a long time. I make things intuitively and reflect on the piece when it is finished.

KMA: How long have you been working on these statuettes? What steps do you take in creating this work?

SC: J'ai fait 12 Statuettes en 2007, en une année. Parfois j'en réalise une en trois jours, et parfois, j'en réalise une en 2 mois. Il n'y a pas de règles. Ce qui est sûre c'est que je ne suis pas aussi productive que d'autres artistes, car j'ai besoin de laisser les choses mûrir à l'intérieur de moi.

I made 12 statuettes in 2007, in one year. Sometimes I finish one in three days, and sometimes I finish one in 2 months. There are no rules. What is certain is that I am not as productive as other artists, because I need to let the ideas mature inside me.

Artist: Soasig Chamaillard, Sainte Geisha
Sainte Geisha by Soasig Chamaillard

KMA: What types of responses have you received from this work?

Pour l'instant, j'ai beaucoup de retours positifs et d'encouragements pour continuer mon travail. C'est important pour moi d'avoir ces retours, car même si je fais ce travail avant tout pour moi, la reconnaissance de mon travail reste toujours un moteur qui me fait prendre confiance pour avancer plus loin.

For the moment, I have had much positive feedback and encouragement to continue my work. It is important for me to have this response, because the recognition of my work always serves as a vehicle that gives me the confidence to advance further.

KMA: Have you ever been accused of blasphemy?

SC: Non...pas encore! Mais ça viendra surement! Je sais que le magasin à Paris (Magna-Carta) qui vend quelques une de mes statuettes à parfois des problèmes avec des chrétiens. Cela me désole car je pense alors qu'ils n'ont pas bien compris mon travail. Je ne cherche pas à choquer les chrétiens, je mène simplement une réfléxion sur la spiritualité aujourd'hui, dans notre monde. Je me sens respectueuse de l'icône de la sainte vierge, mais nous n'avons pas tous la même notion de respect, j'imagine.

No…not yet! But that will surely come! I know that a store in Paris (Magna-Carta), which sells some one of my statuettes, sometimes encounters problems with Christians. That hurts me because I think they do not understand my work. I do not seek to shock the Christians, I simply carry out a reflection of spirituality today, in our world. I feel respectful of the Blessed Virgin icon, but, I imagine, we all do not have the same concept of respect.

KMA: Is there a new art project you are working?

SC: Je vais continuer de travailler sur les saintes vierges pour l'instant, car j'ai encore beaucoup d'autres idées et j'ai accumulé beaucoup de statuettes dans mon atelier également!

I will continue to work on the Blessed Virgins for the moment, because I still have several other ideas, plus I have accumulated so many statuettes in my studio as well!

Soasig Chamaillard's work can be purchased in Paris at Magna-Carta, 101, rue du Bac, 7th District. She has published two volumes of her artwork. One volume focuses on Soasig's visual art, and an additional publication focuses on Soasig's illustrations. A third book of Soasig's design work is currently in development.

IMAGES: Images have been republished with permission from the artist.


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