Cross stitches as pixels

10 questions to Aheneah

Ana Martins, known as Aheneah, is a young Portuguese artist who mixes knitting techniques to street art.
I asked her some questions to know something more about her works:

1- Let’s start with your name as an artist. Is it the spelling in Portuguese of your real name? How should people pronounce it?

Yes, my artistic name is in fact really logical. You just have to spell, letter by letter, my real name, Ana: “Ah” is the sound of the letter A written, and “Ene” is the sound of the letter N written. Just that!

2- Why did you choose to mix an old technique, as knitting and embroidering, with a visually contemporary style? Did you invent this mix or were you inspired by something you saw previously?

I’ve grown up seeing my great-grandmothers, grandmothers, and mother sewing, knitting and embroidering together. I remember seeing them sharing tips and magazines.
It was inevitable to not want to try, so I started to ask them to teach me. Somehow, I’ve always wanted to be part of that ‘club’ and, when I joined, I found the best way to spend my free time while learning something new.

However, my perspective about embroidery changed when I stumbled upon cross stitch. One day during my graphic Design Bachelor I saw my grandmother doing cross stitch on a kitchen cloth and it blew my mind. I quickly realized that cross stitches work in the same way as pixels. Two similar units which came to life in different generations, one very traditional, done by hand, and another one which has emerged with digital evolution.
As I was studying graphic design, the pixel was my work unit, it was a quick step until I understood the potential of cross stitch. I didn’t think twice before experimenting and taking it to another level.

3- I saw you started using paper and, only after, you decided to expand to walls. Recently you also did some works on plexiglass, wood…  Is there a different approach using different media?

I started naturally by using paper, as I was studying graphic design and was familiarized with this material.
With the influence of graffiti, it was just a question of time until I had the willingness to take my pieces to the street.
Surely, different supports require a different process and even graphics.

4- Do you plan to try other materials in the future?

It is always super challenging to try new ones and to understand how it changes the final result.
Right now, I’m challenging myself to get back to the fabric and understand how I can keep up with the impact using the traditional medium.

5- Your working method is divided into precise different phases and I suppose some of them are very long and repetitive. How can you bare to screw all the nails or to fix all the wool crosses?

My work process is very curious: I always start working on digital software to plan everything including the final pattern. I move quicker that way.
After that, it’s time to pick up the needles, threads, scissors and do the manual production. In some cases, I go back to digital to finish it. I often say that I’m always jumping from analog to digital and vice versa.

When making cross stitch walls this is even stranger. One day I’m at home with my grandmothers preparing the wool loops, and suddenly, the next day, I’m in a workshop working with power tools, wood, screws, and nails. Of course, this is a super slow and intense process.
Nowadays, for the production phase, I always work with assistants from my team or, when it’s possible, I always try to invite the community to be part of the process. It’s a super enriching and sharing experience working with different people, with so many stories and tips to exchange.

6- How can you make your wool street-art last longer? I mean, is there something you spray on your works to make them waterproof or long-lasting?

Yes, I apply a varnish to protect the wool from the rain and sun. However, my work is ephemeral and I keep that in mind. Its durability always depends on so many factors: location, sun, rain, humidity, etc…

7- Can you tell me something about Semear?

Semear is a piece I’ve installed in Figueiró dos Vinhos, a city in the interior of Portugal best known by the naturalism painters that lived and worked there. That was the reason I decided to work on the portrait of a peasant woman.

8- And what about Estau’s installation and Quadrilatero cultural’s cube?

Estau’s installation was the result of my very first participation in a street art festival. It was really challenging to work inside that huge structure-cage while working officially in the public space for the first time. I took the chance to experiment with some ideas I had and to play a lot with colours and textiles while creating a dynamic that people could get involved with.
Regarding Quadrilatero, the project is all about 4 Portuguese cities and that’s the reason I produced a graphic for each of the 4 sides of the cube. Inspired by the history of the 4 cities (Barcelos, Braga, Famalicão, Guimarães), I’ve selected 4 historical spaces as a starting point for the narrative of this piece.

9- The book about Means Sans is very interesting both because it is not entirely made by printed paper and because you created that specific font to be embroidered. How did you have this idea?

Means Sans was a typography course project. My teacher challenged us to create a typeface for specific usage. I didn’t think twice and decided to draw a typeface to stitch. By the time there were already some, but all seemed super traditional and dated to me. I decided to design a brutalist, sharp and bold font to incorporate into my experiences.

10- You also animated some of your works like B for Plano B created along with Joao Varela. Can you tell me more about this choice?

By the time I was doing my degree, there was hype about animation and motion graphics.
New digital ways of produce it have been released and everyone was realizing fresher animated projects. I was being super influenced by that, so I decided to merge my work with animation. Surprisingly, using one of the oldest animation methods: stop motion. The final result was fascinating and the fusion between digital and analog became even more clear when looking at this project.

Useful links: Aheneah’s website
Instagram page
Facebook page

Photo credits: Aheneah, Mariana Vasconcelos, Rute Ferraz, Pedro Seixo Rodrigues, Sara Pinheiro

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