Like counting prayer beads while saying the rosary, each stitch in a series of embroidered textiles is part of a meditation on religion and personal experience. Nico Mazza's hand-stitches tapestries focus on the role of cultural and religious backgrounds in the shaping of her personal feminism. Her work often compares religious iconography from her Catholic upbringing with representations from popular culture, including portraits of celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, and Drake. "In religion and in sex, we objectify the body, especially the female body. It is sacred, it's carnal. In my work this objectification is crucial as I explore the idolization of the female body as a free thing in a pen. These figures can act out as much as they want, but there is always something looming. I have no fear when it comes to depicting erotic images, religion, women… I don't want to censor my fantasies—or my oppressions," says Mazza.
The daughter of a Portuguese native who emigrated to the United States when she was young, Mazza tells Creators that her mother's upbringing was very austere. "She was raised with old world values of her Catholic motherland, and my grandmother's iron fist," says Mazza. The ideas in Mazza's work are informed by the experiences of the women in her family, as well as her own upbringing. "I remember being at my grandmother's house after school, masturbating in her room—under the covers, hiding from the votives of the Virgin and photos of Jesus that loomed over me. I felt such a heaviness. I would say to myself, 'Okay Nico, this is the last time you're ever going to do this or you will go to Hell.'" Creating embroidered textiles is how Mazza chooses to revisit these experiences and consider how they developed her view of the world. "Through my embroidery, I allow myself to be free to express the moving parts that make up my personal feminism," says Mazza.
In addition to her cultural heritage, Mazza says that genetics also play a part in her chosen medium. "I owe my nimble fingers however to my grandmother. She is a seamstress and like many Portuguese women with swollen ankles and a hunched back, she is a master of thread: lace making, crochet, sewing, weaving… you name it. For many years I saw these things as craft rather than art and rejected the process in my practice. I started incorporating embroidery into my paintings in the last five years and slowly the paint faded away completely."
For Mazza, embroidery is about more than just combining imagery based on her personal history, because the process itself also mirrors the nature of the construction of identity that she hopes to express. "I draw the image on fabric in sections and slowly fill the space of my hoop, inching it bit by bit as the whiteness of the fabric is slowly eclipsed with image, color, and texture. There are no take-backs with embroidery. Every stitch is a hole left behind. And there is nothing more heartbreaking than trying to rip out a bad decision and suture it back together."
Nico Mazza is currently working on a new series titled Portraits of My Mothers, featuring embroideries based on stories, anecdotes or feelings she's collected from the women who raised her. See more of Mazza's work on her website and Instagram.