A Q&A with Lido Pimienta
Interview and photo by Krista Robinson
Videofag, Kensington Market’s beloved storefront cinema and performance space is set to close following this year’s series of exhibitions. Before the PWYC venue closes its doors for good, Toronto-based Colombian artist Lido Pimienta will take up residence, unveiling her first solo art show, running this Thursday (Jan. 14) through Jan. 24. The self-professed “powerhouse” hasn’t stopped performing, producing and creating since releasing her debut LP Color in 2010. Pimienta is set to release her newest album La Papessa later this year, but would scoff at the notion of sticking with just one medium. Her new art exhibition TRAD(E)ITIONS dives deep into the origins of exotic foliage. It will feature ten original paintings and subsequent trading cards describing the genesis of exotic insects, plants and fruits.
Long Winter: You’ve been described as various things from “multi-disciplinary artist” to “experimental pop star,” but how would you describe yourself right now?
Lido Pimienta: I am a mom, a young mother, an immigrant. I’m a multi-disciplinary artist, working in music and art, writing, and illustrating. There are all sorts of creative realms I’m comfortable with because that’s what I’ve been doing forever. I grew up in Colombia, with immense freedom and no restrictions or age gaps. Growing up as a teen, I was with people who were 10-20 years older than me. I was playing at bars when I was 11 years old. I got exposure to all these things because people just look at you for who you are as an artist, more than at your age. I was lucky that the people who were around me were very careful with me. We just value art so much. That gave me a sort of maturity that has brought me to the point that I’m at now. I guess, to summarize, I’m a precocious, brown artist.
Tell me a bit about your upcoming exhibition.
It’s called TRAD(E)ITIONS, with an emphasis on the e. It’s a play on the words "trade" and "tradition." I’m looking at each piece as a gateway between what we consider traditional, what we consider exotic, what we consider normal, and what we consider culture. I’m telling the story of the Africanized bee as a colonized subject. Just like the rest of us are. I’m looking at insects, seeds, and fruit grown in America, only that are not from America originally. We think they are, because traditionally, it’s what we’ve had on our tables since we were really young. I’m doing all sorts of fruits and vegetables that we take for granted here.
Were you influenced mainly through your own personal research?
Yes. I’m obsessed with foliage and gardens and plants. I was just looking through my science books and I was like, “I wonder where the papaya is from…” From there it just opened a Pandora’s box. It’s just interesting how no one knows where anything is actually from.
It’s also a political commentary on “superfoods” like kale and avocado, that are super popular, that are often consumed by vegans. [Vegans] forget that the people who supply [these superfoods] are migrant workers who get nothing, who are treated like slaves... And yet they’re worrying more about the rights of animals. So it’s a combination of different concerns and ideologies but seen from the point of view of a botanist. In studying these fruits and vegetables, I’m discovering a whole history of colonization that we don’t really understand because we don’t necessarily see vegetables, fruits and insects as colonized subjects.
We’ve always wanted to work together. They booked me for a series of shows that was looking directly at mental health, and I did a performance there. We became friends from there and when they said they were doing new programing I said that I could propose something and see if they like it. They loved the idea and that’s that.
Will you perform during your exhibition?
Yes. I’ll perform for sure. It’ll be packed and sweaty and gross. I’m probably going to have workshops too. I’m going to use the space as much as I can.
What’s your main focus right now: music or visual art?
I can’t separate them. They’re always the same. I am as focused on my music career as I am on my visual art. My visual art pays for rent when I’m not doing music. When I’m doing music I just focus on that and I make art on the side. There’s a season where you play the shows, then you chill out, and for me, that’s when fall begins because my touring revolves around my son’s schedule.
Is having multiple jobs basically the norm in the arts industry?
Everyone that I know has multiple jobs. I don’t know a lot of people who just make art for a living, [among] my peers. Arts funding, even though it’s a blessing, is also a curse because so many people depend on it, and not everyone can get it. It’s difficult because our art is undervalued because we’re Canadian, which means that we have an inferiority complex. The “Keep Calm and Carry On” expression is so embedded in our culture that we don’t express ourselves and we don’t ask for what is right when it comes to valuing our work. You have to hustle. I hope I don’t have to work for anyone else but myself. If I have to, of course I will, but at this point I’m pushing hard, using all of my resources so I don’t have to. It’s scary, but Walmart is down the street, and they’re always hiring, so it’s OK.
Your art exhibition is going to be part of the last set of exhibitions ever at Videofag. What’s your opinion on independent spaces run by people who really believe in art and music?
That’s the last time that we’re going to see that gallery, but I think they’ll come back in a different space. At least I hope they do.
It goes back to what we were saying about the competitive nature of arts funding. It is exactly projects, exhibitions, gallery spaces and artisanal centres that should be getting all the funding because they are curating the most exciting artwork coming out of our city. It’s disgusting how most funding that goes to arts in [Canada] is mainly going out of the country anyway. Ninety per cent of the stuff you’re going to see here is by old, dead artists from Europe. It’s important that galleries like Videofag, Younger Than Beyoncé, Whippersnapper etc., are archiving, documenting, preserving and promoting art made by artists now. That makes me really excited to be able to participate in the last exhibition series at their gallery. It’s an honour to me. Let’s hope that it can bring in new people and money.
You’re often very vocal about your political views on social media. How do these views influence or inspire your art?
My artwork and my music is all driven by rage. When you’re from a different place, it’s hard for you to ever feel comfortable. We have to hold this guy [Justin Trudeau] accountable to all the promises that he made. I need to see it with my own little eyes.
You just graduated from OCAD. What’s your take on getting an arts degree (or any degree) in 2015?
First I went to Western, which was a bad decision. Then I went to OCAD, which was also a bad decision, but at least it was in downtown Toronto. I was able to have my own art career while I was a student; learning the only way I know how to learn, which is in the streets. Now I have a degree… which I haven’t even opened! It’s good because now I am able to express myself really well when I have to beg the government to give me money to be an artist.
So you were going to school, and you’re a mom, and you’re working all the time. Looking back, how do you feel now, being a successful artist in Toronto?
It depends on how you consider, or determine, or define success. For a lot of people, I am very successful. But those people are mediocre and don’t know what they’re thinking, because for me, success is Drake or Rihanna. That’s when I’m going to be successful. Again, because we’re Canadian, we’re content with crumbs. For me, I still have so much more to do. I started in music in 2010, and my album [Color] blew up, but I was too young. I had no training when it came to the music industry, so people took advantage of me. What I’ve been doing since that era is educating myself and making sure that people don’t fuck around with me when it comes to getting paid. When you’re a single mother, it’s imperative that you have priorities. My priority is my son. If I have to go and do a show, and I don’t know how much money I’m going to get, that’s irresponsible. So, yes I am successful, in that, I am able to give myself the worth that I deserve and not waste my time.
Do you have hope in the future of Toronto’s art scene?
No… I don’t. I’m usually a very positive person but apathy is such a disease in our generation and people compete. It’s difficult to separate the scene from the system because the system makes us competitive and hate each other, it doesn’t make people want to come together and fight that same system. There’s no one to blame when it comes to artists. I’m not too hopeful; something huge has to happen before all of us come together. Bad things, terrible things need to happen. It’s going to be years until people start protesting, until people start organizing.
Will you be a part of it?
I am a part of it. I am a revolutionary. The fact that I am black and Indigenous and I get to tell a promoter if I can or will play at their show… That’s power. The fact that I am a single mother who takes her child to school everyday with a full-stomach, that’s revolutionary, because the system is constantly telling me that I can’t do that. But I refuse. When I am on stage, I tell people exactly what I’m feeling and exactly what the songs are about and it inspires people, but it also scares people. I’ve had people spitting on me, threatening to kill me. I’ve had people telling me to go back to my country. But I don’t care. Maybe if I wasn’t so political on stage, maybe if I just showed a little more skin or sang in English about love I would get closer to Drake. I’m stubborn, though, so I’m going to do it my way.
TRAD(E)ITIONS runs Jan 14-24 at Videofag. Visit the event page on Facebook for more information.