In the Studio: Amira F. Pualwan

Please tell us where you are from and how you got to where you are today? (A little bit about yourself)

I grew up in Vermont, just outside of Burlington, which was a magical place to become a person.  I studied studio art at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, where I fell in love with printmaking (especially intaglio processes).  After graduating in 2013 I moved to Minneapolis to pursue a relationship and a studio internship at Highpoint Center for Printmaking.  I spent three years at Highpoint in various capacities: as an intern, as a co-op member, and as a resident artist.  I was really like a sponge just trying to absorb as much information as possible while figuring out my art outside of an academic environment. In 2016, my partner and I moved to Worcester, MA for a couple of years so that he could pursue a ceramics residency.  Without access to a press, I used this time to focus on drawing and collage (the work that is featured now).  After his residency we decided to move to Philadelphia, and that is where I am today!  I am currently working at Second State Press in their Fob Holder program, and am about to start the apprenticeship program at the Fabric Workshop and Museum.


What is your creative process like?

I try to make sketching a habit, and it can be helpful, but mostly I just stew.  I’m a classic over-thinker, and if I’m not 100% on an idea or composition I sit with it for a while.  Eventually I’ll see something or hear something that gives inspiration to pull it all together – for some reason this usually happens when I’m in a car.  It’s a process that has given me a lot of doubts in the past, but I’ve slowly learned to trust it.


I understand that your “Fantasy Island” series will eventually contain 100 unique pieces, is that number significant? 

This collage series was started in 2016 during the heat of the election cycle.  I was coming down off of a high of traveling abroad for a couple months and adjusting to living in a new city.  I really just wanted to escape.  I started making these small collage compositions really as a distraction, and thought of them as little islands.  I started documenting them on Instagram and it became a fun experience. As I got closer to 100, it felt like a good stopping point (I’m actually at 94 right now, so it’s not finished yet).  Also I think 100 is a historically revered number of perfection, so it fits with the sentiment of the project being motivated by idealism and escapism.

Would you talk more about your experience at the Highpoint center for Printmaking and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and the role residencies have played on your professional art practice. 

Residencies have been really helpful to allow for the time to experiment with ideas and processes that I wouldn’t otherwise try.  Both the Highpoint and the MCBA residencies I participated in were funded by the Jerome Foundation and came with a monetary stipend, which was another huge factor (turns out, being paid to do something you love feels really good).  Both of those communities are very supportive and generous with their time and knowledge, and have radically different studio atmospheres, which was also really interesting to observe.


What internal and external factors motivate your conceptual choices?

As an only child to divorced parents, introspection is my bread and butter.  I think there is always a war within me that yearns to travel and explore and also to stay in one place and nest – both are a luxury.  The idea of place is a constant in my work, and I think I am always drawing on my past and current emotional experiences with different spaces.


What is the biggest challenge you face professionally?

The time and energy to continuously produce work while balancing a part-time job can be a struggle.  Maybe one day I can make the switch to only making art for money but that is a scary and difficult bridge to cross.  Relaxing without feeling guilty for not working on your art is hard to do.


How has social media influenced your practice?

Social media – specifically Instagram – has been extremely helpful for building community with the larger printmaking community.  I find posting finished and in-progress work can be really motivating and encouraging (as shallow as it sounds, the instant gratification of “likes” can feel really good sometimes) and it is way faster/easier to keep updated than a website.  At the same time, the comparison trap is real.  It can be really hard to not look at other artists you admire and feel like you aren’t doing enough.


What is the role of the artist in society?

I think artists can and should occupy many roles in society (and be paid well for those roles).


What advice were you given early in that has influenced you the most?

Growing up I had a lot of fear of rejection in my personal and professional life, and it is an anxiety I still struggle with.  One day my dad told me not to decide for other people before they’ve had the chance to say yes or no, and it really stuck with me.


What’s the most ridiculous, off the wall fact you know?

I’m really into baking and have recently learned how to temper chocolate.  It’s probably not the most ridiculous fact I know, but seems like a really indulgent little random nugget of knowledge.

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