Multi-disciplinary artist Marla Bendini’s tender and visceral works are a force unto themselves.
For an artist who’s laid low for several years, this 34-year-old’s return to the scene has certainly been remarkable and for good reason. In 2020, she had two solo shows: one at Coda Culture; the other at Cuturi Gallery.
Come March, the latter space will hold another exhibition of her works. In the spotlight: her powerfully personal paintings featuring most prominently the body – headless bodies, torsos, warts and all – that however visceral or suggestive, evoke a tender beauty. They’re also her first shows comprising solely of paintings.
Throughout her decade-long career, Marla – as she prefers to be known – has juggled various disciplines, but picked up painting again last year because she wanted to re-explore a part of her that had been dormant. She works intuitively: Each piece starts with spontaneous strokes before shapes take hold and “reveal themselves to her”.
Artist Marla Bendini
The body is a recurring motif because she loves its ability to communicate “endless things” and as someone who struggles with gender and body dysmorphia, eating disorder and addiction, the process can be semi-cathartic, reminding her to be gentle towards herself as she works through such issues, says the artist who identifies as transgender.
She also hopes to alleviate others in similar situations. “I want my paintings to have an impact, but also soothe and comfort like an aura.”
Below, a condensed interview with Marla.
Can you share with us more details about the pieces you’ve submitted for this story?
“(This piece is titled) Mandi Bunga For A Hardy Fish. Mandi Bunga, meaning ‘flower bath’ in Malay, is a cleansing ritual. For some, it is a way to void yourself of bad luck and start attracting the good. It evokes positive emotions and helps with relaxation of the mind and body. I struggle with gender and body dysmorphia, eating disorder and addiction.
Personal growth and changing environments can be uncomfortable, confusing and difficult for me, like fish adjusting to changing waters, so I humbly prayed for serenity, courage and wisdom. We performed the ritual at the back of the gallery. The number ’67’ refers to the current location of Coda Culture, where I had my last solo exhibition and residency. It was also home to the Independent Archive back then. Both art spaces are very dear to me.”
Would it be accurate to say that the paintings are self-portraits of sorts; a reflection of your state of mind at the time?
“My painting process is often a form of divination, a backdoor access to gain insight into a question or situation. I treat the canvas like a seeing mirror and ask myself ‘What am I seeing here? How am I feeling right now? What I am afraid of?'”
Follow the white rabbit, 2020, oil on canvas, 120 cm x 90 cm