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In conversation with Hugo Huerta Marin: author of 'Portrait of an Artist'

by Iman Sultan

"If there’s one incredible project that captivates and inspires other people, that’s when things truly start happening and changing."
A photograph of singer Flossing hunched in the middle of some red fabric
Image: FKA Twigs by Hugo Huerta Marin

Hugo Huerta Marin was in upstate New York with legendary performance artist Marina Abramović when the germinal idea for his book, Portrait of an Artist, struck. “I remember having this big desire to take her portrait in a very candid way, the most candid way possible. So I took a polaroid, I interviewed her, and it was just a way to depict her mind, her self, and her essence,” Marin recalls.

Initially an art exhibition, Marin’s seven-year-long project blossomed into a hardback book featuring 25 interviews and polaroid photographs of trailblazing creative women, who pushed the boundaries in the cultural realms of art, film, fashion and music.

Marin speaks to Radical Art Review about his conversations with these larger-than-life women, the importance of resistance in art, and how culture can be used to create and inspire social change.

How did you go about choosing the different artists, actresses, and fashion designers featured in the book?

These artists broke the mould and changed the game and culture in a way, so that was a good starting point. But it was also very straight-forward to me because their work speaks to me on many levels, and artists like Cate Blanchett, for instance, don’t only work in film, she’s done a lot of things within art and photography. And I can go on and on about [actress] Anjelica Huston and her impact on fashion, everything she did was [photographed by] Helmut Newton. And with fashion designers, it’s the same, like Miucca Prada is such a big name in the fashion industry, and yet, she’s always provoking and implementing these themes of resistance within her work. That’s what connects all of these interviews and portraits: these female artists are pioneers.


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Why do you think pushing boundaries is important, especially social and political boundaries? How is that important, not just for art, but for the society in which that art is being made?

I think using art as a tool for social change is crucial, because that’s when the culture is shifted. If we stick to the conceptions of the system as it is, then minorities wouldn’t have any exposition or be highlighted, because [oppression and exclusion] are already so structural. And when somebody who is not a cis, straight, white man comes up with an idea, and defies the status quo, it’s incredible. I think that’s what art should do, it should raise questions, and push the limits. That’s how things get normalized over time too, but someone first has to start this revolution or resistance.

I just remembered, Cate Blanchett said the same thing in your book, that ‘art is a provocation to have dangerous conversations’.


A lady with black hair sits at a desk and rests her head on her hand, she looks at the camera.
Image: Jenny Holzer by Hugo Huerta Marin

You spoke about the role of politics in art with artists who have also been activists, such as Yoko Ono and Annie Lennox, or people who have used art as activism like Shirin Neshat and Tania Bruguera. What exactly were you thinking when you approached them about the role of politics in art?

I’m very interested in these concepts because I think art has space for everything, every sort of expression. And when activism and art join, the result is groundbreaking. I was trying to understand where the mindset of a political artist is situated. What are their influences? What is the drive behind making a project that can talk to 10,000 people in the street, and not only a small group of people in a gallery circuit?

Jenny Holzer is one of my favorite artists. She uses language as art, which I find fascinating. I remember reading Truisms and being blown away. It’s a text that anyone can read on a piece of paper. But then what happens if you have a projection of this text in a mountain, or in a government building somewhere advocating for justice?