Artist Spotlight: Yanneth Albornoz

There are very few people that you encounter accidentally in your lifetime with whom you can strike a spontaneous four hour conversation as if you have known each other for a very long time. Usually when that happens, you are left with a sense of peacefulness, energy and a feeling of belonging because these people are letting you into their world, they are sharing their energies with you and, while most of us just pretend to be, they ‘simply are’.

The first time I met Panamanian artist Yanneth Albornoz, it was at your typical weekend social gathering. She was so charismatic and spell-bounding that we sat down and started talking for hours about....everything.

Naturally, a few months later, she was already involved in the Saigon cultural scene, in fact she was asked to participate in the second edition of the Saigon Artbook and was invited to be the second artist in residence at Saigon Outcast.

Last week we decided to meet for a 'proper' interview just before Kristopher Kotcher's exhibition, or at least that was the plan since she is so energetic that it was very difficult to keep her still. As soon as she walks in she greets me from the entrance with her warm-greeting “Hola, mami!” and she starts showing me her on-going work for her Saigon Outcast residency.

She has been working on a concept very dear to her – the love and support for popular culture. She combines the aesthetics that she has inherited from Panama with Vietnamese street food and popular, everyday items that  are sold at market stalls.

“In my country, we do not have graffiti or street art that you would find in Western cities. Our equivalents to that are the hand-made drawings, logos and posters that small or local shops make to advertise their products. They cannot afford professional advertisementd so they do it themselves. They still try to imitate the aesthetic of big brands ads but they do it by hand because they do not have the resources and also they are not often artists or graphic designers.”

She is currently working on posters on BVC plastic sheets to advertise, for instance Pho soup or Banh bao, everyday products that are not promoted as much as branded ones. There is both an intent to reinforce a sense of pride in them and at the same time there is a hint of joyful irony behind it. I particularly like the poster about Nuoc Mam (fish sauce) N.5 which obviously recalls the expensive Chanel perfume. “I chose to use BVC plastic sheets because they go very well with the concept of inexpensive and popular but I have also used glitter and sparkles to play with the idea of fake that is often behind branding.”

The colours are bright and often in contrast with each, clear references to the street shops of her hometown.

Yanneth graduated in Branding and Graphic Design and has been working in advertising for many years in Panama and in Europe, “I like to play with and joke about mass-manipulation. I have worked in advertising so I cannot be totally against it otherwise I would be a hypocrite, but what I am against are the lies that big brands sell to the general public, especially when they attack feelings or morality. I do not want to perpetuate established trends, that is why when I am asked to do a job for a client, I try to understand the client's essence and transport it into the work I am doing.”

It is often said that art should live and should be seen independently, separated from its creator; in this case it is really hard for me to separate the two because Yanneth's creations are so much the reflection, interpretation of herself and her life, “I grew up without museums and art books. So I really had to use my imagination to work out how subjects could look. I like to re-interpret things that surround me but first of all I like to re-interpret myself.

At school they only teach you the technical, not how to look inside yourself. If you learn to truly know and respect yourself then you can apply the same to others.”

Her residency will end the second week of February and it will include a final exhibition and a workshop for students. For more details, check Saigon Outcast’s page.

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