2016 was a crazy year for art, culture and design – so we thought it’s time to look back at things with an artist who seems to define the time we live in; meet Xaviera Altena. A Dutch illustrator who’s driven by feminism and pop culture. We’ve talked about the biggest fails of 2016, race and gender issues, Beyonce’s Lemonade and her look on the American Presidential Elections.
Before we kick off – can you introduce yourself?
“My name is Xaviera Altena, 25 years old, born and raised in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. My work is known for its typical lines, shapes and bold colour-use. I’m influenced by the modern- and 90′s pop culture. My highlight of the year? Lately I’m more focused on topical social developments and subjects like feminism, race and gender. It was all because Beyoncé released her ‘Lemonade’ album. I realized I wanted to focus more on feminism and social issues in my own work. I wanted to stand for something, and not just make drawings without a message.”
For ‘The biggest fail of 2016’ we’ve picked the Brexit. What was your personal biggest fail of this year? “
I actually didn’t have a big fail moment in 2016. I worked my ass off, and all my goals for 2016 are turned into reality. Like joining an agency and I worked on some really cool stuff. So I don’t have a big failure moment. However, I do agree that Brexit is a big failure moment, but also the election of Trump is one of the biggest failures of this year. Where do these right-wing convictions come from? Apparently people are unhappy for a long time without politicians listening to them… And now everything is escalating into political extremism, because some white dominant peeps are using this dissatisfaction for their own good. I think the biggest fail of 2016 is the lack of understanding we have for each other, and the lack of trying to really listen, we just judge from a safe distance.”
Muhammed Ali, Bowie, Gene Wilder, Prince, Leonard Cohen and many more. Unfortunately a lot of great people died this year. Who inspired you the most?
“It is hard to pinpoint one person who inspires me, because this is a variety of people, and sometimes it’s not just people, but styles and movements as well. Like I said, Beyoncé’s Lemonade was a big turning point for me personally, because I then came to the realization you need to represent something as an artist. Make a statement. So now I feel more connected to other artist who are also making statements, mainly women. A book that inspired me enormously this year was ‘Girlboss’ by Sophia Amorusso. It is very clever written, and it is about how to persuade your goals and how she achieved hers, which is really inspirational. I was also inspired by Sanitgold and her show “99 cent”, about the mass consumerism and being obsessed with your selfies. All these pioneers have one thing in common: daring to make people reflect on existing standards, and the dare to challenge the masses to educate themselves or think differently, which is just awesome!”
2016 has been a good year for new brands and collaborations. From Rihanna x Puma, to Takashi Murakami x Pharrell and Alexander Wang x Adidas Originals. What did you think is the most exciting collaboration of last year?
“I really agree with the Rihanna x Puma one. I love the fact that even though it was a year full of t racism, sexism and extremism – a black woman with a lot of girl power successfully collaborated with one of the biggest brands on earth. I think it is awesome to have some girls on the frontline and to be presented as bad bitches who can do anything. Personally I would love to work together with a brand like Monki. It’s a worldwide concept, but they did not lose touch with their mission: make girls feel empowered and fabulous!”
2016 was also a year where millions of #foodporn photos and #fitgirls photos were shared. Since you’ve been illustrating so many fit and unfit girls – what’s so fascinating about this?
“I find it really interesting because it has something to do with never being satisfied with yourself. We, boys & girls, always strive to be fitter and more beautiful. Next to that there is the addiction to sugar and other crappy food (there is even sugar in bread!). We were raised in a society where you’re not challenged to think about the food you eat, you just consume. So on one hand you are battling your weight, and want to look good, but on the other hand we like to go out, drink alcohol in the weekend, and eat fast food. Which are complete opposites, two things that contradict each other. And therefore, you are always unhappy with yourself. I find this modern contradiction super interesting…”
We all know that guns don’t kill people, but people do. Unfortunately, 2016 was also a year of war. Luckily your SHOOT LOVE project brings a little joy to the world. Can you tell us more about it?
“I started this project right after the shootings in the Orlando night club (USA). It was like the last straw for me. Paris terror attacks, Brussels Airport terror attack, violence against black people in America, ISIS – I was completely done with this whole shit. So I thought, I want to wear something to show people that I stand for something positive and good. That there is still hope, and that people can support each other. That’s why I chose to paint on vintage denim, because it’s the perfect canvas to express yourself with. In this way the ‘Shoot Love’ project started. From every sold jacket 30% goes to a non-profit organisation that helps people who fled the violence in Syria. There are only 3 left, so if you want one: be quick!”
We’ve seen Kim Kardashian’s ass, The Ice Bucket Challenge, Nude leaks by celebrities. What big happening broke the Internet last year according to you?
“I like the mannequin challenge, and how the world can suddenly be so unified when it comes to weird Internet challenges. One internet-baby that I also really liked was the Obama-Biden memes. Where Biden constantly makes jokes about how he has hidden all kinds of booby traps for Trump when he comes in to the white house. Funny, awkward and clever. The Internet did it again.”
Every year various blogs and magazines choose a person of the year. Who is your person of the year?
“Hmm.. This is a difficult one, and I thought a lot of all the famous people I look up to.. As cheesy it may sound, but my person of the year would be my boyfriend; Sneep. He is always there for me, and pushed me through the hard times. When I was angry, sad or down he supported me, and never let me down. He knows what I want, and knows what my long-term goals are for my illustration work. We also give each other a lot of freedom, and understand each other in terms of what we need to do for our profession so we get the best results. If I did not had him this last year, I maybe would have given up this whole artist life.. Maybe this answer is not that spectacular, but it is the truth.”
This year was another good year for art. The most expensive paining Femme Assise by Picasso was sold for 63 million. We know you’ve created a sculpture once, what was that worth to you?
“I spent 15 weeks on this marble sculpture. It took a lot of hard work and patience, but finally after a few weeks the stone got shape I wanted. I did made some sketches on how it should work out, but of course it went all little bit different. However I am still really glad how it turned out, and it’s not for sale, and never will be. It’s my little evidence to remind me that with hard work and anticipation you can create something beautiful. I do however like to work more with my hands in the future. Right now I am working a lot digitally, and I am missing the craftsmanship that this job can provide. So not to spoil to much: I am learning to paint, and I am moving in to a bigger studio next year where I can build, paint and mess things up. Hopefully with beautiful new work as a result.”
Everyone followed the crazy American Presidential Elections. It inspired many artists to create amazing artworks. How did it inspire you?
“Oh I was so angry the morning I heard Trump got elected as the new President of the United States. Obviously I am not a citizen of the US, but this will have big consequences for us Dutchies as well. Especially if you see that right wing peeps like Wilders are directly in the position to say: ‘the people have spoken!’ It’s possible!’ Which terrifies me. Like I earlier in this interview said, the biggest fail of this year is that people developed a certain lack of understanding towards each other cultures/ideas. And that’s both for right-wing voters as left-wing voters. Both don’t want to listen or really HEAR what the other party has to say, and that has caused a huge divide in this society, which is so incredibly sad. Because I think we ultimately all want the same thing: a society where everyone feels comfortable and accepted. Next to that, I do however believe that when Trump was elected it was also a big sign that woman and people of colour still have a long way to go before they will be 100% accepted in this society.”
We know you’re not a fortune teller. But any thoughts on what will happen next year in the world?
“I have two sides: a pessimistic side and a positive side. My pessimistic side knows for sure that here in The Netherlands Geert Wilders will win the elections in March, and that the Netherlands will get more polarized. I am also afraid for more riots in America, in the poor and lower-income cities as well in the North where the Standing Rock protest escalate every day. Also I am curious for how everything will turn out when Aleppo falls, and what will happen with all the refugees. The positive person in me says: if all these negative things happen, there will always be a large group of people that get angry, and will fight for a better future. Suddenly people can embrace each other in order to led a different voice heard. If there is one thing I know, is that from a lot of negativity/bad things, beautiful new revolutions can deflower.”