Joana Da Costa: Art Bitches

22-year-old Joana Da Costa has an infatuation with bitches and bling. Like her favourite hip hop artists, Joana explores themes of female sexuality, consumerism and urban language within her films. Utilising modern technologies, her work transcends digital animation and collage into 3D printing. We talk to her about urban feminism, dancehall and Louis Vuitton.

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Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am 22 and I am Portuguese, I was born in Portugal and lived there until I was 18 and then I moved to London. At the age of 18 I was applying for universities, I randomly tried my luck just before the deadline and applied to the University of the Arts London. I got in. When I got that opportunity I just decided to move. I wasn’t fully aware of it then but living in Portugal at the time was actually choking my voice as an individual and I just felt I wanted to escape that. And you know I’ve got to give you the sad story on this one because without it I wouldn’t be built this way. I dealt with a lot of racism, classism and sexism in very personal experiences from people around me that were traditional and felt threatened by what I represented. So I left, completed a BA in Graphic Design. I guess I chose Graphics because I didn’t really know where my art fit in and I had always had a great interest in image making (I actually only started to understand what I was about on my third year). Plus a technical film course didn’t really appeal to me. When I started to produce work I just got into exploring the social frustrations I had built up.

 

Why did you first start experimenting with film as a medium for your artwork?

I started to become really drawn to working digitally, as I felt it was the only medium where I could fully recreate the images and sounds I visualised conceptually. My thought process has always been very chaotic, I think of something and my brain will fire away image/ word associations, some cool thing that I forgot I had stored in my memorised stock of eye candy and my work aesthetic has always been very true to that chaos. I felt like my interest lied in image making but making images was too stagnant to translate what I was thinking. I wanted there to be a ‘remix’ of voices, sounds, visuals, footage I saw online when I was procrastinating, just like in my head. So I experimented with film and it just felt organic to how I thought! This didn’t really go hand in hand with the degree I was doing, the degree at Camberwell College of Arts was a very traditional, typography, graphics course, so I completely went a different direction to that and taught myself in all the video and sound editing, animation, 3D modeling software.

 

Your two films so far use hip hop as a key reference. What are the themes you are discussing and how does hiphop help you explore them.

During my childhood and teens I was heavily influenced by the fabulous 2000’s hip hop music videos I saw on MTV. My friends were all hip hop heads as well, we always went to nights, events, underground dance battles. It’s a culture that’s so interesting to me, so I have always read about it and it just felt natural to produce work on it. But as you will get to see in my future work, my influences went beyond hip hop, I was exposed to a lot of kizomba, kuduro (Angolan music), reggaeton, brazilian funk, dancehall. Latin and Black cultures are just beautiful to me. Nuthin but a Bougie Thang was about humans’ growing relationships with objects and Bitches Be Like… was about urban feminism, so really I used hip hop as a source for both of these because it is a culture I know about and which I have enough knowledge on to have an opinion.

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You use animation and contrast that with manipulated clips from music videos. How did you begin making animations and why do you style your videos in this structure?

I procrastinate a lot, but luckily I always procrastinate with things that are very close to my interests which ends up serving as research. I was watching celeb interviews and music videos, and I realised that all of these were a physical product of the culture I was researching so I just felt like why not use it? I wanted to show what these people were saying and doing in these videos, so why go around it and produce something arty that says basically what they were saying, why not just get that footage and show it? Animation just really filled the gap. It acted as my opinion on this footage, but in a visual way. I treat audio in the same way, that’s why you can hear all that chaos in the background, it helps to give the documentary a voice and show viewers what my opinion is on this footage. Without the animation and sound, they would just be the original youtube videos with no real standpoint.

 

What software do you use when making your videos?

I use everything from Adobe Premiere, Photoshop, Flash, After Effects and Maya.

Bitches be like… explores female sexuality and sexual liberation as empowerment. Are female hip hop artists problematic in any way or are you supporting these artists?

I am celebrating the females that I portray in this video, and when you hear the “Bitches be like…” voice in the background it is a juxtaposition of how some males refer to women versus how women have reclaimed these words and use it themselves from a position of power. It’s always been so weird to me why men are congratulated for being open about their sexual side and women are either, seen as prudes if they don’t touch on the subject or as sluts if we share it. The way I see it, either way we are condemned, so we might as well be true to ourselves and not pass judgment on other females that are doing the same. I am not saying we all need to act sexy and speak on it, but what I am saying is that it is important to have the freedom to do so if we like. So that video was a celebration of women in the hip hop industry that are sexually mature women, that embrace themselves holistically, their erotic side included. It also goes further to celebrate women that have reclaimed derogatory words such as “bitch”, “hoe”, “thot”, “slut” and are using them themselves. They are taking all the power that these words have, in a way that disarms whoever wants to use it in a negative way, kind of like: “since your going to call me a thot, here, I said it first, I’m a thot, what now?” Basically giving these words a new empowering meaning, girls have the freedom to act however they please and the freedom to embrace their sexual selves, the same freedom that a man has.

 

Its really cool that you did 3D printing of your models used in Nuthin but a Bougie Thing, talk to us about the significance of those objects and the process of having them 3D printed.

Thanks! I guess it felt weird to me to have a whole video about objects but then it all being moving image inside a screen, I wanted to bring them out of the film format as physical objects so people could appreciate their form, shape, design and beauty. I had the objects as digital 3D models and I found a 3D printing company that I worked with to get these objects printed. I wish I had the money to get the Louis Vuitton bag printed to actual size though!

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I wanted to explain Nuthin but a Bougie Thang because that video is basically a visual translation of a chapter in a book I wrote called Bougie Slaves. The book examines hip hop’s love for goods through the theories of ancient and new philosophers and concludes that our relationship with objects is a part of our natural human condition. But the actual chapter that I chose to illustrate in this video was one where I compare hip hop’s love for goods that can be seen in music videos to objectum sexuality, a sexuality where people fall in love with objects. I came up with that when I was watching music videos and thinking what if I were an alien from another planet that didn’t know anything about our capitalist ways, and I watched these music videos – I would actually think all of these artists were in a loving relationship with these objects, as these objects were being so sexualized and given a main role in these videos. So when I watched a documentary on objectum sexuality, and I compared what they were saying to the music video visuals, I thought they complimented each other. And even though this comparison is completely exaggerated and not true, the fact that these two things actually complimented each other and that this comparison had even grounds to be made, only comes to show how deep our relationships with objects really are becoming.

“Ultimately I respect people who don’t act stupid to what’s going on.”

Are there any other female animators or film artists that influence your work?

“To be honest, I haven’t been super on it with finding other female animators and film artists because for these past two years I have just been in my cocoon reading and doing my own ideas. But I see dope females everywhere doing dope things. Recently I came across Smart Girl Club and it’s this group of young women, the singer Princess Nokia is a part of it, they have a radio show where they discuss womanhood in such a beautiful way and at the same time it’s real to the struggles of today’s urban feminism; Venus X is a DJ, works with the brand Hood By Air, and she gives her unfiltered opinion on being gay, gender, class, race and art; Junglepussy is another amazing rapper speaking out on the struggles girls go through; Amber Rose was a stripper, she’s been posting the sexiest pics on Instagram with the captions ‘HOE, MILF, THOT’ and is now doing a Slut Walk and writing a book, How to be a Bad Bitch; Lola Monroe, another rapper that has created a positive female empowerment movement called Bosset Mafia. I mean for me their art doesn’t need to be in the same medium as mine for me to get inspiration from it. Ultimately I respect people who don’t act stupid to what’s going on.”

 

What are your aspirations as an artist?

“My aspirations are just to continue making my art and being able to pay my bills with it. I don’t want to compromise my artistry for money, I know social critique is not cool these days but I don’t care I want my work to be raw always (and beautiful). I also want to start dipping in different areas though, like motion tracking, sound producing, writing and music video production.”

 

Tell us about your upcoming projects.

I am currently working on a ‘traditional’ documentary, I filmed in Oaxaca, Mexico, two years ago. In 2006 everyone, teachers, kids, mothers, artists were out on the streets protesting and because the media was all controlled by the government, everyone started doing graffiti on the streets as a way to communicate the real stories of violence and oppression that were happening. It focuses on the importance of social critique in art. When I finish that I’ve got an idea for another video that I want to focus around the sensuous female body, the way it moves when it dances, its eroticism, strippers, and for that I want to learn sound producing and motion tracking.”

 Thank you Joana

 

All images and video courtesy of Joana Da Costa 

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