Next on the docket in my #WomenInBusiness series, is a bit of an odd one, but a welcome one. This wonderful lady shares similar attributes to mine in having a great name, wild and crazy hair, and great taste in music; her name is Flavia Nasrin Testa.
Before I get into the meat and potatoes I’d like to touch on some format changes and a little perspective from my end in regards to what my vision is for this project. This series has seen many renditions in its short lifetime, so I’d like to add a bit of structure for the sake of fairness on the part of the businesses that are being highlighted, and the author who is doing the highlighting.
Don’t worry I’m not going away anytime soon – this experience has been so positive and has connected me to so many great people over the course of its existence that I wouldn’t give up writing these if I wanted to. It’s a great joy to hear the response from people in and out of the internet who mention how cool it was to see and hear about their friends who own these businesses, their products that have helped them in their everyday lives, and the awesome services that they provide. I’d like to keep this series running for a quite some time because I’m passionate about small business and I love the connection among business owners and creatives in the Chester Municipality.
I’d like to announce that this series will now be once a week on Friday afternoon. This will free up enough time to work on my own business venture, and give me enough of a buffer to work with the business owner and gather content surrounding their enterprise and personal vision, this way they are represented in a completely non-biased and intimate way. This would fit more into my vision of what this series should be; an in-depth article into the entrepreneurial spirit of these women; a quality over quantity approach, which I think people would appreciate
I hope people like this change, and I’m looking forward to watching the series take shape over the course of its history!
Since the inception of this series I’ve been making articles highlighting the storefront operations within the village of Chester, but this time around I got to go to beautiful Blandford to visit my very first artist, and get a taste of the lifestyle; and the personality who holds that illustrious title. I was excited to connect with someone who has lived the life of the creative for so many years and learn a little bit about myself in the process.
When I get to her studio, it was exactly what I was hoping for, a little annexe in the corner of Blandford down a couple dirt roads, nice and safely tucked away from the world, but just close enough to the coast as to allow for a quick trip to the ocean for a refresh. A spot where someone can just think and be free to make art, art that you would not expect an artist to make. She calls it “outsider art” and “radical”, I always thought that’s what art was supposed to be, but then we got to talking.
Born in Iran and adopted into an Italian family, Flavia has been art inclined from a young age. She mentioned how as an only child “…it was easy to pick up a pencil and my sheets of paper and just self entertain on long trips with my parent’s”, who were working with UNESCO at the time. Growing up, she was never in one place too long, being to places like Haiti, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, before eventually settling in a town called Erin Ontario in the early eighties. Her first taste of the Maritimes was when her father bought a house in Mahone Bay where she got to spend a bit of her time as a youth taking in the coast in the summertime.
She doesn’t look too fondly on her school years, but she recalled that she would have rather have been spending her time doodling in her notebooks, and never let it take away from her studies. After she finished high school she decided to travel as much as she could before returning to study, visiting places like in Canada, the US, Mexico and Italy.
When she did finally decide to go back to school she eventually returned to Nova Scotia, enrolling in linguistics and International Development at Dalhousie, where her artistic career began to take shape and her style began to solidify, through work in fanzine publications.
If you’re not familiar with zines (pronounced ZEEN or short for fanzine), they are a self-published art magazine. They can contain art, and language, but the goal was to simply put your material in someone else’s hands to have them interpret, read, and view. You can say they’re like a blog in a sense, but they aren’t. These were physical books, where the technicality of the artist or the publication wasn’t the focus, it was the expression of images, and profit was not the goal; it was the freedom to say and create no matter what the subject is.
Since her publications in the earlier days, her works can be seen in zine archives in Canada and the United States to this day. Flavia even gets the odd message from people who have recently viewed her work in places like St Petersberg Florida at the Museum of Motherhood.
After her schooling she spent a great deal of her career, being a translator for the European Commission in Slovakia, and only last year has returned from living and working in Italy, where she made her art in parallel to her working career. Since moving back to Nova Scotia she has decided to go full time in making her art, and take a chance to see how far she can take it when she can devote all her time and energy into doing so.
What sets her apart from a lot of folk art isn’t just the subversive nature of her work, but the depth and overall scale of it. You won’t find any lush carefully brushed in landscapes here, it’s all about exploration of her imagination. Everything she does here is intentional, from her minimalistic choice in colour to the figures she uses as a focal point, it’s all done in an emotional and creative way; each element applied with a purpose with just enough room to breathe in the composition.
There is a huge variety in what she shows us as well, this is where you get the sense that she’s on to something because the only real similarities from work to work is her line styling. She knows when to switch up the mood and where to focus on details, especially when it comes to the faces she creates, which can feel very real and very human; an accomplishment when creating illustrative work. It reminds me of a lot of Picasso’s two-dimensional work, such as his famous “Weeping Woman” piece from 1937.
When asked about her subject matter:
“I like people to think with my work, and that’s one thing I’ve noticed with the commercial art being pumped out everywhere. It makes you feel good, it’s nice, and there’s lots of talent, but I don’t think it makes people think. We live in a time where the industry is just waiting for artists to come out and just speak.”
In the world of 24/7 Trump news, and an internet that is out to sell you the package deal to happy living, it rings true. It was refreshing to speak to someone who has not only lived the art lifestyle but has sort of developed her philosophical ideas around it as well.
One of her works previously posted to her Instagram depicts a character who looks much like herself, looking up dartingly at the viewer with the word “occhio” replacing the right eye of the character (occhio meaning eye in Italian). An image that feels much like a revolutionary propaganda poster in aesthetic, a sort of poster for an artist that is in revolt.
It was around the middle of the interview, we were discussing a bit about this very series when she dropped this one on me, and it was something I couldn’t help but think about quite a bit since the interview. She doesn’t mince words when it comes to what the role is of art is to the viewer.
“When you make a piece of art, you must realise that people are sick of fake news. The role of an artist is to be pushing boundaries and when you stop doing that, you’re just not doing your job”.
Since agreeing to take her on for this article, I’ve just been sifting through her stuff, and it really does feel like one of those fanzines from the 2000s. Something new on each page, each message carefully crafted and designed to reach a place that we try so hard not to reach in our day to day lives. Sometimes you get to a page, look very hard and realize that Flavia drew a piece of you that you never knew existed. For me I found myself drawn to the “rise up, and be true to yourself” message, there was always a piece of me that doesn’t like the way art is sold to the masses, and how people consume media with a simple like or follow, which is designed to cater towards the popular, not the beautiful or artistic.
She wants us to know that art isn’t just something pretty that carries a high price tag so it’ll look great with your designer couch. Art is supposed to show you humanity in it’s best and worst forms, sometimes pretty, and sometimes desperate and terrifying.
She’s not for everyone, but I think she likes it that way. Imagine being that artist who tries please everyone while trying to be true to yourself. Sounds like a recipe for unhappiness to me.
I asked her towards the end of the interview where she sees herself in ten years, which was a question I was asked not long ago myself. She thought it over for while I was photographing her and she finally admitted that just getting good at what she does, and being able to do this full time was her goal. She explained that she doesn’t even need to be recognized, or even remembered a hundred years from now; but being able to properly express herself and maybe have that one guy stumble upon her work one day and say “what the heck was going on here!” is all she needed to feel fulfilled in her creative journey.
Currently, she works on her art and is following that dream of creating for the sake of creating in her little annexe in Blandford. Next week she’ll be at her display in New York City talking about her work and will be releasing some material to galleries in Vienna Austria, and Turin Italy in May.
Check out her work on Instagram:
And on Facebook
Cheers until next time.