I had previously published an excerpt of this interview; this is the editable full text version. You can see spreads and access the original interview here. Minor up-dates have been made to the text.
Frida Larios, International Indigenous Design Network (INDIGO) Ambassador, designer and creator of a new pictographic language.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I think it is safe to say that I am a multi-tasker extraordinaire. I went to a private German School (odd thing I know, but it was only a block away from my parents house) in San Salvador where I was raised. My peers in school always remember me painting with a full set of large-format paper, brushes and temperas displayed on my desk while paying attention and participating in a lesson about heavy German, Bertolt Brecht-type literature–all at the same time. I was attracted to both: art and sports since I was a little girl. From five until fifteen I was a gymnast representing my country at international level. I then moved on to indoor volleyball where I was part of the national team for five years and finally settled with beach volleyball. From 1996 until 2003 me and my partner were reigning Central American champions traveling in the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour across Europe and South America. Beach volleyball was my passion, but design was equally as inspiring and important to me, I had learned that since my school days, so I never ceased to do either. It wasn’t easy as it meant waking up at 5am every day for practice so that I could have a full day of study, while I was finishing college, or designing, while I was managing my design studio. Then in 2003 I moved to London to study a masters degree in communication design in one of the most prestigious design schools in the world: Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design sponsored by the government of El Salvador through a sister Fulbright scholarship programme by FANTEL/LASPAU/Harvard. I had already lived on and off in London and the west coast of England while I was completing a bachelors degree in Graphic Design at University College Falmouth.
2. What was the inspiration behind your New Mayan Language Art Project?
Being far away from my home country while living in London, but at the same time being so close to one of the mecca’s of contemporary art and culture brought me close to my own roots. Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design was two blocks away from the British Museum in Holborn, which holds the most beautiful carved lintels in the Maya world from the Yaxchilán site. Being in touch with both: thousands of years old and at the same time the most contemporary art expressions sparked the idea of reviving the dead Maya hieroglyphic language.
There were other important motivations too. As an educator to first year Graphic Design students in San Salvador in what was my first Professor position at the young age of 26, I discovered that they were tending to imitate northern graphic styles. Like in many design disciplines the norm is to look to what is fashionable in the western world, rather than sourcing from your own native background. Au contraire, natives have been discriminated in the Mesoamerican region (modern Central America) for centuries since Spanish colonial times. When a teenager wants to say to another that they are being “uncool” they say: “No seas indio! (don’t be an indigenous.)” This says us a lot of the inner sentiments towards our native ancestors. I am hoping my project is a humble inspiration to those young designers so that they too start looking inside their local heritage for innovation.
3. When did you know that you wanted to be an artist? Ever since I was in middle school. I would sell hand-crafted cards for valentines and mothers day to my school mates. I knew I wanted to become a graphic designer then, but never knew I would be taken beyond that initial call and become so passionate about my culture and its application in different disciplines. Some people take time to find out their intent in life, some people never find out, and I feel incredibly grateful that I have always been guided to do what I love.
My mother has been a flower designer and artist, she has always had an eye for what is aesthetically enhancing in her environment and a love for nature. My father is a master in fito pathology (study of plant diseases) who researched the natural balance between insects and crops. I think this is why I have a systematic and organic way of approaching design. I can actually say I do come from a family of artists and sporties. Gabriela Larios the sister who follows me, is an illustrator and surface designer living in London. She is also a former national El Salvador team representative in cycling. My “little” sister Andrea Jeffcoat lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She studied ceramic jewellery art and is a fab Zumba instructor.
4. What was your discipline in Art School? My bachelors degree was in Graphic Design; my thesis at University College Falmouth was also a culturally rooted project. My masters degree was in Communication Design with an emphasis in typography and historically relevant wayshowing. My masters thesis was my New Maya Language project which was originally inspired by the content of a UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site in El Salvador buried under volcanic ash for 1500 years and unearthed in the 1970’s–similar to the Pompeii in Italy archaeological park.
After our Central Saint Martins masters exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London, I continued to evolve my project–like many of my talented peers who have also been commended for their own unique projects.
It’s been nearly ten years now since I conceived the New Maya Language and it has certainly developed into a multiple avenues project that has life in: sign, typography, surface, fashion, accessory, and educational toy design. It even has the potential to become an iPhone app to teach children about the Maya language.
In my vision: It has no limits. I am willing to expand it as far as my imagination takes it with the intent of making my culture (or a part of it) known to the world, to my fellow Mesoamerican citizens, and to the living Maya themselves.
5. What kind of classes did you teach at the London College of Fashion?
I taught Digital Surface Design for Textiles as part of different fashion related courses. Because of my graphics background and Adobe Creative Suite software knowledge I was able to guide their digital creative process. I was always impressed by their innate ability to express patterns using crafted or digitally generated visual resources. You can see some of my students surface designs outcome in this video on my YouTube channel.
6. How do you currently define the relationship between art & fashion?
All the art and design fields are blending these days, there are no boundaries as brands look to provide their audiences with unusual ideas. Collaborations between bloggers and fashion designers or between actors and musicians, for example, are at the order of day. It would be nice to see even less common collaborations that brought awareness about cultural, social, health and environmental issues to the mainstream public. Only major brands have the power to access a truly worldwide audience and they need to be even more conscious of their role and how they influence even the youngest minds these days.
7. Where can we find your book on the New Maya Language?
The 115-page, 100% hand-bound New Maya Language book is printed on thick 160 gsm water-colour paper, and translated in four languages: English, Spanish, Maya, and visually. It beautifully compiles and decodes the New Maya Language project. The first chapter explains the complex original Maya hieroglyphic language. The second chapter’s large illustrations provide the formula for each New Maya Language pictogram. And finally, the third chapter showcases various design applications used by governmental and private entities.
Renowned Peabody Museum, Harvard epigrapher Alexandre Tokovinine describes the works in my book with these words:
“Even though there has been a growing body of scholarly works devoted to the subject of Maya calligraphy, few artists systematically sought their inspiration in Maya letters beyond mere reproduction of certain glyphs and glyphic patterns, usually in the context of contemporary indigenous art. Frida’s project stands apart as an attempt to explore and reinvent Maya calligraphy as a symbolic and aesthetic system from an artist’s viewpoint. The New Maya Language creates its own world that blends Maya imagery and symbolism with Frida’s unique vision in a series of artworks which would make an ancient calligrapher proud.”
The book can be found at the Centre for Typographic Research at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing; at the White House in Washington DC, at the Embassy of El Salvador in The Hague and Paris; at the Museum of National Identity in Tegucigalpa; and in the hands of private collectors in Chicago, Paris, London, etc. It was the only Latin American typo-work selected for exhibition with 80 other from around the world, at Beijing Typography 2009 at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing, China.
It can be purchased at Hacienda San Lucas in the Copan Maya archaeological site in Honduras and be custom ordered online through my website: http://www.fridalarios.com
Do you have artist that you look up to? If so, please tell us? Frida Kahlo, and not because of the name! But because she developed a visual surrealist movement that has indirectly influenced Latin American literature (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende et. al) to date.
And of course: the Maya artists. They were renaissance men. Surely comparable to Leonardo, Rafael, Michelangelo, who were not only fine artists, they were architects, sculptors, interior designers, poets, and even engineers. In other words: liberal innovators. And so were the Maya artists who were Royal scribes and book keepers. In being so they held the knowledge of what they had to write about: history, politics, astronomy, mathematics, and art in general. Their beautiful calligraphic works are quite unknown to a non-Mayanist audience. No artist today can claim to master all these disciplines.
9. How can people learn more about you and your artwork and where to purchase?
The homepage on my website showcases the whole collection of picto-glyphs©. This is the series applied to paintings, prints, fashion, accessories and toy products.
We have a permanent gallery and Frida Larios boutique with my original artworks at Hacienda San Lucas located in the major Maya archaological site of Copán Ruinas, Honduras. Online, Pinterest is becoming a good place to view and purchase my paintings and products too: http://pinterest.com/fridalarios. Here you can also view photos of artworks displayed on collectors’ homes around the world. When you want to order people contact us directly through the contact form on my website.
10. Tell us more about the INDIGO group?
INDIGO is the International Indigenous Design Network a branch of ICOGRADA the International Council of Communication Design. INDIGO is an open platform that connects both Indigenous and non Indigenous designers worldwide in an effort to explore traditional design and its contemporary interpretations. INDIGO facilitates discussion, initiates collaborative projects, exhibitions and conferences but also showcases other relevant initiatives from all over the world. It seeks to understand design that is inspired by or rooted in Indigenous culture, traditions, imagery, lifestyle, etc.
We believe indigenous design should be a present and future innovation reference to designers who look to produce sustainable design concepts. Contemporary designers need to consider his or her local heritage at the time of designing–INDIGO encourages and reinforces this notion.
My role as an Advisor for INDIGO is to create an environment for the exchange of knowledge and ideas. I offer the network local access and insights, help shape projects and initiatives. I am very active within the network of Ambassadors. I am currently a member of the Sarawak, Malaysia International Design Week 2012 programming committee and other committees key to shaping the vision and future of INDIGO.
11. When did you know that you wanted to use your art to help people?
My projects, not only New Maya Language, have always had a cultural component. We used to run a design agency in San Salvador and London with my sister and our projects were used as case studies in various publications because they represented the Central American graphic spirit and style.
12. What are you future project plans? Any more language projects?
As always, I am multi-tasking galore. I just had a baby (two months old today!) and I have another wonderful four-year old. That would be enough for anyone, but not for Frida. I spent 2011 coming up with nine (yes only nine, but each one could be a whole thesis) new picto-glyphs© inspired by the Maya concept of the universe: the sky, the earth, and the underground. That is all I can say about them because they are still confidential and under a special key locked website. From this series I am working on a collaboration with Pattern People to create surface designs. Potential clients interested in this collection should contact us. I am also working on prototypes for a new jewellery collection.
One of the most exciting projects coming up is a collaboration with my sister Gabriela Larios and Miguel Hernández with Latinotype.com to release two new Central American typefaces.
We have a series of exhibition engagements with my talented photographer,husband Tyler Orsburn. The exhibition is called New Maya Life and shows both his intimate portraits of living Maya people and my New Maya hieroglyphics. New Maya Life was shown from November 2012 – February 2013 at the Honduran Museum for National Identity (Museo para la Identidad Nacional) accompanying a major University of Pennsylvania archaeological Maya exhibition called Maya 2012: Lords of Time; at the prestigious Centro Cultural Luis Cardoza y Aragón, part of the Embassy of Mexico in Guatemala; and at the John James Audubon Museum in Kentucky, USA in 2014.
And lastly, yes, I worked on a new language project in collaboration with a fellow INDIGO Ambassador. We hosted a workshop titled: Reinterpreting Malay Iconography into Contemporary Craft and Design during the ICOGRADA international Design Week in Sarawak, Malaysia from October 15 -21, 2012. See: sarawak.icograda.org/speakers
Thank you Frida for taking the time to let us know all about yourself!
Be sure to follow Frida and all her ventures via the following sites: