Inspired by emails from 'Leo', a stranger and follower of her work who is intersex, Angelica Liv 's latest paintings explore her own gender identity and what it means to see life "free of the chains of gender binary". Her most honest and confronting series to date, it will go on show at AKA Berlin this month.
Titled Together, in the End, the show features one acrylic on canvas piece along with 18 smaller Sumi ink on cotton paper works, all inspired by a candid series of autobiographical emails from Leo, a follower of the Colombian-born, Berlin-based artist who is intersex and reached out to share his story having found something relatable in her work. Through each painting, we learn what Leo's personal and direct outreach allowed her to recognise as common ground. As such, rooted in her illustrative style and developing into larger-scale painted work, Angelica portrays an imagined place where "we" can mean whatever we want it to.
With the subject line of 'My Unique Story', Leo's email reads: "I am Leonardo, I am 30 years old, and for five years, an 'anomaly' has been detected: I am a person with intersex. In appearance and genitally, they see me as a male, and in fact, I am normally, but within me, I also have active female organs, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries and a vaginal canal about 3cm, but I have it...and likewise, I also menstruate, I have hormonal attacks and everything that gives us month after month...and yes... It's hard and hard to believe; why? Because even today, in the middle of 2021, we are a bit unknown to society."
The introductory email sparked something in Angelica that she didn't realise existed. "I was starting to understand a lot about myself and a lot about him," she tells Creative Boom. "I started to think why is this person actually doing this and why is it through me that he thinks he can do this? I basically started to realise, talking to him, that he had this really deep nostalgia for belonging to something. I saw that there was this thing in common with a lot of people, this thing that you want to belong somehow, through what is going inside you, not what is going on outside you – not how you look, how much you weigh, what colour your skin is.
"In these conversations, I realised that this is something I have also lived a lot. I have some connection to the diagnosis of mental illness, and I realised quite late, and I think that all of this time and some of the crises that I've been through in my life had a lot to do with this, and I didn't know that I had this diagnosis. We both lived our lives trying to be somebody, without knowing that we were way more than we could grasp before intervention."
Angelica continues: "I think mostly it's about belonging in spite of our individuality, but I guess along the way something we also shared, that we also thought was really troubling, was that we don't know people like us, so we've been basically making up language our whole lives to try to explain how we feel, and trying to explain these things to people that have no fucking idea and treat us like we're crazy or damaged goods sometimes. It has a lot to do with wanting to belong and be seen with the best intention, not just people trying to overanalyse what is different about you and why you might not belong – in a place, a group, a relationship, a city or a country."
Angelica describes the works in Together, in the End as "unapologetic" and a move away from her previous play on humour – something she would use as a way to process struggle and explore vulnerability and pain in a hopeful voice. She says: "This is a step forward for me in being really open about more personal narratives. For some time, I worked a lot with humour or based my work on finding narratives that would make sadness or pain funny because that is also what makes me feel good about things: that I can laugh at them.
"Taking my work and using it to show that there's also a side that is actually sad and deep and difficult, is in this case, what really makes this work the end of an episode in my career. I am not scared anymore, and I actually have enough language and tools to write and connect with people now, like Leo finally connected with me."
Together, in the End by Angelica Liv is on show at AKA Berlin until 31 October 2021. Speaking of "life beyond the show", the gallery adds: "Leo will continue to fight to have his uniqueness accepted, and Liv will stay close to her practice as a way to connect with the outer world."