MEET OUR JANUARY CREATIVE: THE EVER-TALENTED VANESSA BARRAGÃO!
A Portuguese artist that discovered her passion while working in the north, Vanessa Barragão brought her talents back to her roots when she moved to Albufeira, a seaside town in Algarve. Working alongside both of her grandmothers, and always staying close to the environment that inspires her the most, Vanessa uses recycled yarns to create intricate tapestries, rugs, and wall hangings by hand. Her portrayal of these underwater ecosystems takes the watchful eye on a journey to the seaside: a visual encouragement to take care of the planet and everything that inhabits it.
What are your main sources of inspiration? Name 3 references for your work.
My main source of inspiration is - and has always been - the sea. Especially the corals. Not just for their beauty, but also because they allow me to pass on a message about the negative impact of pollution on these natural environments. But it’s not just coral reefs that are disappearing as a result of our bad deeds. In addition to the sea, forests also face enormous challenges.
My concern with sustainability is also reflected in the type of materials I use. One of these is recycled wool, which comes from the northern textile industry’s waste and stock end. The production of my parts could not be manual, without using any machine. I am inspired by ancestral practices and the work of older people, namely my grandmothers, from whom I learned many techniques.
Do you have a routine or ritual to enable creativity? Share it with us
I've always had a lot of inspiration, I never needed to try. But now, because I've been focused on work for a long time, I realized that I need to stop and give myself time to feed my creativity. Taking a week off, or taking a vacation is essential, to finding inspiration. Only recently have I realized that this is something that isn’t just necessary, it’s also beneficial in order to remain inspired and creative.
When did you start thinking about making this a professional thing?
When I started pondering, I was studying fashion design at the university. However, it was during my master's degree that I realized that fashion was not what I wanted and that maybe it was textiles.
I then started looking into how to make clothes by hand with a collection of handmade woolen threads, but these could not be used on the clothes because they had to go through a chemical process. It was then that I began using them in tapestry - namely in pieces for the wall. I always liked this more artistic part, something that wasn’t so commercial, as are the clothes, and I immediately sold the first tapestry I made. This helped me realize that something I considered a hobby could actually sell and become a business. I was amazed and thought “How is that possible?”, but I decided to let this natural process flow.
I worked for a while in a carpet factory in the north, but whenever I left work, I’d go home and continue to work on my pieces, which I sold in local markets. However, the work was growing and I needed more space - not just for the pieces but also for storage - and in 2018 I opened my first studio.
Do you use your fashion style as a way to express your personality/creativity? And has fashion ever been a source of inspiration for you and if yes can you give us a concrete example?
Basically, textiles are my inspiration. I have long since stopped focusing on fashion. I’ve really focused my attention on textiles as an art, and not something to apply to clothes.
What is your favourite work and what does it represent within your line of work?
Heathrow is the work that has most impressed me. It has a personal, more sentimental meaning because there were many changes in my life during that period.
The piece is 6 meters wide, 2 meters high, and includes the world map, some flowers, and the Kew Gardens. It also took a long time to make: about 5 months.
A very important element of this piece is my grandmothers, who also helped me finish part of the crochet. They’re not only an inspiration but also part of my team! They do these things, and then they do these, and then, as you can see, I always apply these little things. At the end of it all, not only do I love something with a powerful message, but it also helps my grandparents feel useful. They feel that they have come to life with these projects and they love to see the final pieces displayed around the world. It’s better than staying at home in front of the TV, right?
Do you use your art to convey any social or political issues? If yes what are the current movements you relate to the most?
No, I am not a big admirer of politics and I want to focus on what I do without any concrete connection to that medium. I’ve moved away from these movements a lot. I think that what I try to do is to make people a central aspect of my pieces. This work is meditative work: it forces us to stop and focus on the weaving movement, which is always the same.
I think that one of the big world problems is precisely this: people are so busy. We live in a world that never sleeps, and we end up not allowing ourselves to stop, reflect, and get to know ourselves. I would like to pass on this message with my work and give people the freedom to think about it too.
Do you think it’s important to be part of a creative female group? Are you part of any in particular? Do you have a female role model you relate to?
I'm not part of any group, but I do think it's important to be surrounded by creative people; of course, with women too. This because we have potential, and we have a "power" greater than men. We are much more sentimental, we feel more, and that is a point in our favor. When united, we are much stronger.
Do you have a role model that you identify with?
These questions are always the most difficult for me! All people are special in their own way and have points with which we identify and admire. When I meet people, I try to see those parts, and I try to learn from them too. Some women who are a reference for me are my mother and sister.
If you have multiple collaboration requests from different brands, what is the reason for you to collaborate with a specific one?
It is important to maintain the location: being local, being ecological, being natural. This more environmentalist part is important in brands, especially sustainability and an interest in ecology. I have some requests for collaborations that I don't accept because they go against the way I see things.
Do you identify with Unreal Fields? How?
I do because Unreal Fields is a Portuguese brand that produces in Portugal, and they are a team of women only. I also consider that we both incorporate the aspect of femininity in our work.
If you could participate in a photoshoot with a pair of Unreal Fields shoes together with one of your works, which work would that be?
I’m working on a personal collection, in honor of having returned to my roots. The work includes natural wool from the sheep, where I go through the whole wool process myself, and I think it would fit quite well with the Statuette Camel. The collection itself will have shades of beige, brown, and dry greens - the colors of the land here, and the inspiration behind it will be the Algarve.
What's your favorite UF shoe model?
Follow Vanessa's work here