Lisa Nigro  
S t a t e m e n t

I am a conceptual artist working with multiple mediums and across several disciplines. I create both sculpture and interactive installation art. My work is inspired by mythology, gender politics, and pop culture, and I often address the problematics of being a woman living in a patriarchal society. I attempt to challenge modern culture’s views toward Goddess worship and mythological story. Through the use of mythic icons, I try to bridge the gap between HIStory and the present; between patriarchy and matriarchy, and the Old religions versus the New. The incorporation of the elements – earth, air, fire, water, metal, and wood are integral to my work, as is the use of recycled materials and my obsession with process and repetition. Utilizing my interior design and metal fabricating skills within the sculptural context allows me to create environments that are aesthetically pleasing while serving a functionality that is also playful.

As a child, I had yearned to be one of the boys. I wanted to be as strong, as fast, their equal. I built forts in the woods like them, tried to play sports as well as them; I seldom wore dresses, and never played with Barbie dolls. Now I wouldn’t trade anything to be a man, but I still desire that equality I knew was amiss even as a small child. That desire for equality has been a driving force in my art for many years. Much like the forts I built and the games I created with the kids in my neighborhood, I now build fortresses of steel, and playgrounds, for adults and children alike to escape to — a place where our world may be reinvented and where we might imagine that men and women can co-exist on equal terms.

In the early nineties, I juxtaposed body parts and female imagery to create walk through environments that expressed my frustrations with gender politics in a patriarchal society. In 1999, I played out these frustrations ultimately with the construction of a twelve-foot tall Goddess stretched back in an ancient birthing position. Named Diana, after the fertility Goddess of the Old Religions, She served as a gnomon for a larger than life working sundial, with the tip of her crown casting a shadow to reveal the time. By night, She served as a centerpiece for an all woman performance piece I had choreographed. The dramatic igniting of the Goddesses' yoni was the climax to this theatrical event. My intention was to convey a message concerning current patriarchal structures and their relentless destruction of the environment. By re-igniting worship in “mother earth” I had hoped the performers and I were creating a catalyst for more global healing. Diana’s crumbling to the ground after burning symbolized for me the historical struggle between God and Goddess worship that has prevailed for so many centuries, with most female accomplishments utterly lost to written HIStory in the endless wake of patriarchy.

By the year 2000, my “in your face” feminist approach to art making began taking a back seat to more subtle expressions found in the use of mythological story, as seen in Draka the Dragon and Dahud-Ahes the Mermaid. Up to this point, my work confronted and questioned death, disease, aging, and other life issues. Now, I borrow from the past in order to create positive potential for the future, with my feminist views hidden like little secrets within the subject’s mythos. My quest for a “reaction” from the viewer began to unravel into a deeper concern for interactivity between the art piece and the viewer. In a sense, Draka the Dragon became my vehicle for a modern day crusade against the religion I was spoon fed as a child, and institution I most despise as an adult, the Catholic Church. With regard to Draka, there is no St. George to slay the dragon in his effort to save the damsel in distress. This time around the dragon is actually in cahoots with the damsel and they’re trying to protect the world from the horror of George (W) and his cabinet of white knights.

While working with performance artist Linda Montano at UT Austin, I took to heart her idea that Art is Life and Life is Art. In recent years, I successfully translated that philosophy in founding and organizing the annual Burnin’Bush Fire & Metal Arts Festival, and in forming the Sisterhood of the Burnin’Bush, a coalition for women in the arts — my SouthWest alternative to the secret society of NYC’s Gorilla Girls. The Burnin’Bush Festival consists of a weekend gathering for workshops in welding and blacksmithing while camping in the Black Rock Desert area of northern Nevada. I am quite proud of the title and its play on words, and the humor found in creating a true dichotomy between the biblical burning bush and that of the sexual bush (found between a woman’s legs). This event was envisioned so that artists may unite and find empowerment in that unity. By default, it also makes a comical commentary on our president, George W., especially during these trying times of war and horrific disaster. Ironically, the festival is celebrated on the 4th of July, our nations most patriotic holiday of the year, proving further to be a satire on the day we American citizens are supposed to celebrate our freedom of expression in this so-called “land of the free.” As part of the Burnin’Bush Project I also designed and printed currency for the event. These Burnin’Bills were distributed to persons making donations to the festival in anticipation that as years passed the bills would be used for barter. Satire on our government is further expressed through the imagery and words I have chosen to incorporate into these “red-back” Burnin’Bills.

As an adult, I see myself acting out similar desires I had in childhood, to lead and organize my friends in creative and interesting projects. It is through making art, functioning as a mother, and working with my peers that I am further compelled to teach something about respect and love for nature and the universe that surrounds us. I believe I have a duty to honor and serve my past by exposing a bit about the mystical and spiritual, the Old Ways, which have been forgotten by most of society, but were handed down to me by my Sicilian ancestors. My ancestors knew much about embracing a more feminine approach to existence itself.

I see also the craft of seamstress that my grandmother possessed carried into my work, as well as her burden. Rosaria Pedone, like other women of that era living in New York City, married at an early age, had children, and society dictated that they have no opportunity to live out their dreams. Women were forbidden to work (period). As I build my sculptures I attempt to manifest those unfulfilled dreams for my grandmother, for her mother, for my mother, my sisters, my daughter, and for all women, and the women who came before them. All the way back to Lilith and Eve, to releasing the guilt and the burden we’ve carried for too long, of being the evil one, the first wrong doer, succumbing to temptation, and therfor ranking second somehow in importance to MAN (Adam). For every sculpture, or fortress, I construct today, the sticks and tree limbs of my childhood have turned into steel and their strength delivers the ability to sail masses away into imaginary places, and toward dream worlds where evil doesn’t always win. Where, maybe we can find angels there to save us. By interweaving the energies and elements of Nature with art, craft, architecture, design, and function, I can only hope that my work sustains a power which enables others to also envision a different world where equality, justice, and love prevail.

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