Exploration of Self: In Story, Materials and Performance
Hunkered down in a stone cottage during a fierce storm on the coast of Ireland, Enzina Marrari felt like she was inside her own art work. She often created from stone or rock, materials selected as metaphors for weight, heaviness and loss.
It was fall 2017 and Marrari, a visual and performance artist, was living and working in the cottage for her residency at Cill Rialaig Artist Retreat in Ballinskelligs, a small traditional village on the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricane Ophelia had just battered the coast and now Storm Brian was knocking down trees. Everyone was on notice to stay indoors. From the loft, Marrari watched the storm — and free-ranging sheep.
“They were just hanging out like nothing was happening,” she said. They looked content, eating and lying around.
Back in Anchorage, she sat at a Kaladi Brothers trying to work out a key element for a three-part progressive performance she was creating through her Rasmuson Foundation Fellowship. For the final stage set, she wanted to evoke a house but hadn’t settled on the material. Then she remembered the sheep.
“The only thing they had to protect themselves against harsh weather was a coat of wool,” she said. “As a metaphor for protection, I knew that the house needed to be made of wool.” The thought of using a material that was soft yet durable, malleable yet strong, intrigued her.
And so began the “arm knitting” of a set house framed by wood for her performance piece “of relation.” A group of 10 knitters, artists, friends and Facebook friends took part in an experiential knitting circle with arms as giant knitting needles, a method taught by knitter — and in “of relation,” performer — Meghan Kim.
We are part of something
Her most ambitious work, “of relation” uses movement and materials, song and stories, silence and dance to illustrate self, family and romantic love, building on her earlier work, “of love.” Marrari hones in on physical materials as metaphor, such as hand-dyed indigo for the memories it evokes and experience of creating it. She explores entanglement and connections through the ebb and flow of bonds that thin but don’t break. Her creative collaborators — dancers, knitters, textile artists — gave her the opportunity, she said, to realize the work. The piece was performed last fall in Anchorage and will be in Homer this September. Audience members move from one room to the next, bringing them into the show as participants.
“Ultimately it is about creating opportunity for connection, feeling like you are part of something,” Marrari said.
In part one, two women sit back to back, connected to each other, one self with two sides. For 10 minutes, as one knits, the other’s sweater unravels, a scene of futility. In part two, performers wear handmade garments hand-dyed with natural indigo, a plant found all over the world. In the last one, in the arm-knitted house, a couple wearing a single connecting garment push against and pull each other while a series of personal interviews recorded by Marrari play for the audience.
“I wanted to show that what we experience on an intimate or isolated level is often a shared experience or a shared feeling,” she said.
Often in her artwork, she explores themes of the social, personal and political elements of the human experience, the personal truths of fear, loss, identity and struggle. She works in many mediums — sculpture and drawing, mixed media and performance — but first explored writing as a career.
Art as a way to be vulnerable
In college, she knew she wanted something different, and when the thought of Alaska came to her mind, it was a sort of “aha” moment. For a young woman born in Chicago, it presented something unknown and filled with possibility.
In Illinois, Marrari was majoring in creative writing with a minor in art. When she transferred to the University of Alaska Anchorage, she reversed the disciplines, making art her major. One notable mentor was the late Hugh McPeck. Marrari said he was “my drawing and sculpture professor, who really taught me to believe in myself and the value in my work.” In addition to her artistic practice, she has worked as an adjunct professor at UAA and a curator. She recently was hired as a Rasmuson Foundation program officer.
Her artistic career informs her professional life. As she puts it, “I think being an artist provides me with a different lens to work professionally in the arts.” The dynamic benefits the community as it adds her artist’s perspective to standards and processes, building bridges between artists and art lovers. Marrari establishes deep relationships with other artists, resulting in collaborations and explorations beyond “of relation.”
Marrari’s two decades in Alaska have been a profound journey that have made her an integral part of the community and have made possible strong and meaningful work. “Of relation” confirms Marrari’s ability to bring in experiences and concepts that transcend time and place. Each viewer conducts their own narrative. For Marrari, it is both universal and autobiographical.
“It’s an invitation to see the most raw and vulnerable self,” Marrari says. “My art form is a way for me to be vulnerable.”