How the Venezuelan-born artist and designer’s work and rituals create important conversations about time, culture, and collective consciousness.
– KEYS SOULCARE
María Elena Pombo wears many hats. In addition to being an artist, design educator, fashion designer, and researcher, she founded her studio Fragmentario to explore the natural world, culture, and collective consciousness. At the core of everything she does is a desire to incite thoughtful conversation. (Ranging from the inspo behind her awesome personal style to how she sources her materials for her latest art project.)
We chatted with her about her work, rituals, and the unexpected learnings of working with materials and perspectives both familiar and new.
Your work sparks conversations about the way we experience the world around us — and how that can shift. What keeps you exploring these topics?
I work with experimental materials. I’m interested not only in their materiality and use, but [also in] the stories they tell. For example, avocado seeds: I use them to dye fabric, but also to create different structures and installations. Or seashells: I began sourcing them about a year ago from local restaurants that were done with them.
I started Fragmentario thinking about ideas of slowness. I was particularly inspired by the slow food movement. Mostly because I wanted myself to embrace a different pace, since I tend to have frantic tendencies. (I was even born three weeks before I was due and every birthday, the letter my parents give me it’s something like “X years ago you came in a hurry and ever since then go go go…”)
How does Fragmentario reflect your own visions for the world and the future?
All my work is super extremely lo-fi because I don’t like being dependent on something beyond me — something I learned growing up in [Venezuela] with a very unstable political situation.
It has felt like a heavy load at times. But when the world shut down in March, I was able to keep doing my work, which I wouldn’t have been able to if I relied on complicated structures. A lot of my work relies on me reaching out to people who are from very different contexts: restaurants give me avocado seeds for my work, factories let me do installations, farmers give me onion skins, and friends in different disciplines offer guidance.
You’ve not only designed your own clothing collection, but collaborated on lifestyle product design with brands like Buffy, too. What can people who love style and fashion learn from nature?
Nature doesn’t let anything go to waste. Everything is connected and it’s honest. You don’t see an avocado growing in the wild in Alaska. Nature knows itself — what it can and cannot do — and where and when it might be appropriate (or not!) depending on its surroundings.
We need to listen to our surroundings, and ourselves, more. It’ll make our lives easier.
What personal lessons has your art and work taught you?
I really like the idea of reusing what people think is trash in unexpected ways, so there’s always something. My family did that when I was growing up, as it was very common there. I send photos of my work to my middle-aged uncle.
And I know he doesn’t care about fashion or the [millennial] pink color that has gotten my work attention, but he cares a lot about the processes I’m putting on display. You can be invested in the process even if you are not invested in the final outcome of something.
What rituals are helping you put that into practice, personally?
Something that has really helped me is slowing down and having a different relationship with my body through walking and observing in general. When I first got my studio in an industrial neighborhood, I’d get mad at the concrete trucks parking on the sidewalk, blocking walking paths and everything. And then I realized that yes, it’s great to have coffee shops and hip little stores, but that the trucks and concrete factories have constantly been here, working and building this neighborhood… and the city it’s in, and I’m in. So I began stopping and just watching them on my breaks, appreciating what they do and how they operate. It’s really poetic when you step back and observe them [in] that way.
Fragmentario starts conversations about time, culture, and collective consciousness. Why are these conversations necessary?
I still haven’t full-on embraced slowness, but I realized [that] I wanted to have a more conscious relationship with time and to better respect it; to understand that it’s finite, and that certain things make sense sometimes and sometimes they don’t.
I work with some very ancient processes, like natural dyes, and try to learn from its history. But at the end of the day, I am a person living in the 21st century, [so] the way I’ll do it is different and in line with contemporary culture.
Today, we have a very strange relationship with this word [culture] — as if it’s something of the past. And, of course, it isn’t. Instead, [it’s] something that responds to the collective consciousness that we are a part of. Something we all need to ask ourselves ASAP is, “What did society collectively decide is okay and not? What did I decide on my own makes sense and what maybe needs some shaking up?”
When can you make room to renew your view of the world around you?