Filipina visual artist Anna Marcelo’s body of work is characterized by its raw honesty as it tackles deeply personal themes of mental health and sexuality. In this interview, Anna tells us about her creative process, her thoughts on sex positivity, and what drives her to create erotica.
A Conversation With The Artist: Anna Marcelo
HerStyleAsia: How did you start making art? And when did you realize you wanted to do it full-time?
Anna Marcelo: I’ve been making art since I was young. I grew up posting my art on sites like Deviantart, Neopets, and Gaiaonline with my work.
It’s been really interesting how this has evolved into something more to me and into a career. I’m a graphic designer now with clients in New York and Manila while illustrating and making art too. I realized I wanted to do all of this full-time when I realized that I was in love with the process of creating. Rather than the output being rewarding, making art has always been such a fulfilling experience.
HSA: How did you start making erotic art in particular?
AM: I started making erotic art to understand my sexuality. A lot of women and other gender minorities feel confusion with their sexuality, and it was something I was experiencing.
Creating erotic art was for me to explore what sex was to myself, as someone who understands first-hand what sexual violence is like. After dealing with my own trauma, I was interested in also the socio-cultural part of gender trauma and also the effects of it on the body.
HSA: What’s your creative process like?
AM: My creative process is very personal and has a lot to do with my emotions when I process my own trauma. I wouldn’t want to lie and add pretension to it. Making art and illustrating is my way of self-therapy at the very root of it all. Much of my art ends up as a way of me processing what had happened to me and what my trauma is to me.
When I stumble on a concept though, I research on why I feel this way, the socio-cultural background of what I’m going through to provide more connection and context to the art I have. Some of the research involves scientific journals on my bipolar disorder and its relation to sexual trauma or the cultural background of the Philippines when it comes to sex.
HSA: What are you trying to say with your art? How do your works add to the conversation on sex and the body?
AM: My erotica has much to do with my own personal trauma and the body. A lot of it has to do with my own internal processing and not just the act of sex but what it means in different situations. To me, the body is more than just muscle and bone, but also, a container of both societal and personal meaning. Sometimes, we painfully contort our body to different roles that are demanded from us.
I think that sometimes sex positivity is mistaken to be thinking that sex is ultimately always the best option, but rather than that, I want to open discussions of what gender and sexuality are in relation to oneself (especially after a traumatic situation). Personally, making erotica has helped me process what my own sexuality meant to me as a person in both my rejection and acceptance of sex. My work helps me deal with my own personal issues; especially about how society has defined my body through its sexual utility, and now with my art, I am now understanding what my body is in relation to myself.
HSA: Who are your biggest influences?
AM: My biggest influences are my loved ones. I feel a lot of my work is dependent on the environment around me and the socio-cultural context of my own experience. Much of this, includes the people around me, their stories, and how our lives have intertwined. I am also mainly inspired by artists and writers that deal with the trauma, gender, and the body. Some to mention would be Julie Lluch, Frida Kahlo, Brenda Fajardo, Judith Butler, and Gayatri Spivak.
HSA: What are you currently working on?
AM: I’m planning a lot of projects now! I’ve been very keen on continuing my embroidery work so I’ve been doing much more collaborations.
I’ll be doing a project on Filipino superstitions with a Filipina poet. Many Filipino superstitions have a very visceral and concrete effect on the body such as cutting off eyelashes or bathing with one’s first menstruation. It’s interesting to talk about its effect through inherited trauma and coping from generation to generation as superstitions are passed down.
Many people know me for my comics on my mental health so I’m also planning to release a comic zine related to my own recovery and healing with my mental health.