MISSBISH Under The Radar: Visual Artist, Merimart
Merima Repesa, also known as Merimart, is a contemporary artist and illustrator from the DMV area who is not afraid to let her voice be heard. At the young age of 20, she has already held several exhibitions and has showcased her work in spaces like Urban Outfitters and DC’s National Museum of Women in the Arts. Her work touches on women’s rights, minority rights and gentrification that is heavily affecting families in her native city. Earlier this year, she released a coloring book featuring her illustrations that allowed her fans to be actively engaged and stimulated through her art. As an artist, she feels that it's her duty to reflect the times and be the voice for those who are voiceless.
How did you become an artist/illustrator?
For my entire life, art has been the only thing I was ever truly good at. I was not made for sports. I wasn’t musically gifted. I could sing, but nothing like Beyonce. I was the kid everyone looked at in class when a project that involved drawing and crayons was given. Fast forward to high school, I took an AP Studio Art class in my senior year with a teacher who was very critical. I chose portraits for my portfolio’s concentration. This was the year I discovered my love for painting, and devoted 3 hours a day, 5 days a week for a whole school year to practice how to contour with paints. That was when I became an artist.
How has growing up in the DMV shaped who you are and your perspective on art?
I was born and raised in PG County, a very diverse area to grow up in. I’m blessed to have grown up with people who came from different cultures and upbringings because it taught me empathy. Now, in 2016, there are injustices that have been happening that are really being brought to light. I feel obligated to voice what is going on in the area I grew up in and love. It’s a part of me.
Who or what inspires you?
Where do I start? Aside from the big ones like Marina Abramovic and Sanja Ivekovic, I’m more inspired by the DMV creatives like Kevin Chambers aka Flash Frequency, Franklin Thompson and Samera Paz just to name a few. Current events going on the socio-political world are what drives my work, hence the variety of topics you’ll find covered.
Your work touches on various socio-political subjects, from capitalism to race and sexuality. Have these issues always played a role in your art?
Not always. It’s always ranged from portraits of a person I admire or a little doodle. I had sketchbooks full of these perception pieces that were just doodles to me until my teacher told me to start remaking them on larger surfaces. Since the start of the Merimart brand, my symbol has been the evil eye. Asking people to open their eyes to a greater truth is my work’s biggest purpose, and I’m happy I made the decision to continue that.
What sort of dialogue or conversations do you hope will transpire from your artwork?
I’m hoping to evoke communication in a safe way. My work is very playful and child-like for a reason. It allows certain topics to be easily digested vs having it shoved down your throat. A lot of the world’s problems could be solved with simple communication; I’m just working it at a smaller angle.
Do you believe that art has the power to change the way we view the world?
Art is literally everywhere. So if we alter everything around us that’s currently used to make us buy products, vote for people, visit a new place, change our beliefs and values, etc., it can absolutely change things.
A lot of your work is influenced by the DMV’s underground music culture. For those who are unfamiliar, can you give us a rundown about that scene and what you love about it?
The DC music scene is one in a million. It holds a wide variety of genres filled with groups, bands, and individuals who are all incredibly talented. I can’t compare any of them with each other or to any mainstream artist.
“Never be discouraged if you don’t look a certain way or don’t roll with the right crowd. Standards are an illusion for the small-minded. Most importantly, never let go of what makes you happy and your own person. It may take you somewhere you didn’t know you could go."
You released a coloring book this year that not only exposes your audience to your art, but also engages them – tell us about this project…
The coloring books were an idea I was sitting on for a long time. It wasn’t until a month before a show I had at Urban Outfitters that I decided I needed to bring it to life. The book was filled with those playful yet serious doodles I’m known for, and they ended up selling out halfway through the UO show. I re-released them a few weeks later and they sold out in a weekend. My audience is pretty young, mostly around the 18-24 range, so I’m not expecting them to drop major bills on my work. You have to work around that. That’s why the dad hat trend worked really well for many visual artists. You give your supporters something inexpensive and usable that you made, and they’ll rep it forever.
A lot of your work is about creating an interactive experience - why is this so important for you?
To truly set your work apart from everyone else’s, it's so so so important for your audience to engage and be a part of it . Simple canvas pieces that are framed and hung in nice lighting are great, don’t get me wrong. But if I can walk into a room and I’m allowed to touch and use all the artwork in it, well that just opens a whole new door. Activating all of the senses other than sight is something I see myself really utilizing for future work. Exclusivity is out and inclusivity is in.
You recently displayed your work at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC, what was that experience like for you?
My work was in a museum. Like, that by itself was something I could not fathom. The lovely ladies of A Creative DC gave me the opportunity to be part of NMAWA’s "Girl Power" show during the opening reception of their newest photo exhibition. I needed to do something more interactive with this particular show, so I came up with the idea of taking classic ViewMasters (before the digital version) and placing my work in the reels. The idea was a hit. The age range for the show was super broad, so older people were hit with nostalgia and younger people saw it as a cool vintage toy. I was incredibly happy with the turnout that I brought them back for the UO show.
Women are often taught to from a young age that they cannot occupy the same amount of space as men, but how are you using your art to change those ideas and empower other women?
Like any woman who is more established with what they do and who they are as a person, I’m just being transparent with my life and my successes so far with an implied message of “hey, you can do this too!” I have accomplished a lot in 2 years and still haven’t gotten to where I want to be yet, but it’s not impossible and it’s only a competition if you let it be. As far as the boy’s club goes, I know they think and act like girls are inferior, but that will never phase me. I know what I’m capable of and that is all that should matter.
What advice do you have for young artists about pushing boundaries in the industry?
I was an introverted social outcast for most of my life. I didn’t take risks and was semi-good at one thing. I practiced that one thing and worked hard for 2 years (and counting), and got somewhere I never once believed I could be and met people who were just like me. My advice to you is this - anything and anywhere you want to be is achievable. Never be discouraged if you don’t look a certain way or don’t roll with the right crowd. Standards are an illusion for the small-minded. Most importantly, never let go of what makes you happy or your own person. It may take you somewhere you didn’t know you could go.
What does MISSBISH mean to you?
MISSBISH changes the female perspective for me. I don’t have to feel inferior while scrolling through male-orientated blogs and pages looking for something I can forcefully relate to. MISSBISH makes me proud to be a woman with goals, and connects me to women just like me. For that, I am appreciative.
Photos by: Amarachi Nwosu