Interview with Ana Tzarev

16 Aug 2013
Interview by Sam Kee
Photos by Ana Tzarev

Ana Tzarev is pleased to announce her most ambitious work to date: a series of glossy, elegant 15-foot floral sculptures brightening galleries, museums, and public spaces across the globe. These remarkable fiberglass poppies, collectively titled Love & Peace, have travelled to numerous cities. Now it has arrived on our shores. We spoke to Ana Tzarev about her striking symbol of hope.

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Is there any special reason why Singapore was chosen as the first Asia stop?

Singapore today is the ethnic microcosm of the tomorrow’s democratic world. As time goes on, more and more nationalities are being represented within this land. Tony Tan has done a fantastic job of maintaining a standard of progress with Singapore, and I have great respect for the work he has done. To bring this joyous flower to Singapore is to celebrate a nation that exemplifies the message behind the Love & Peace Campaign: that everyone has something to offer, and we are at our strongest when we work together.

Tell us why a “poppy”?

It is a wildflower that is related to effortlessly by all the peoples of the world – there are few places where their bright petals cannot be found. The seed of an idea behind the Campaign was a reflection upon my own story. Growing up in a time of war and bearing witness to its ravages brought this flower close to my heart. Across borders and over eras, it has remained a striking symbol of remembrance – with so many among us whose lives have been shaken by conflict, why not let it also be a symbol of hope for Love & Peace?

People have compared you with Gauguin, the Post-Impressionist artist, albeit well known for his bold colours and expression, and his move towards primitive elements in the later part of his career. Is there any artists or persons who inspired you and your art?

The awesomeness of Nature itself and the cultures of the world have been my greatest teachers, but the artist I revere the most is Vincent Van Gogh. His work speaks to me in a way no other’s can, and his view of the world shaped my own sight. The artist was so very connected with his environment that he encompassed it as he painted it, and the finished work became as much a self-portrait as a study. This unique quality of his work taught me to paint expressively at all times. My emotions are poured directly into my work.

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Singapore is now in a very fragile state of equilibrium about her people coming to terms with their national identity. I find your sculpture of great inspiration, given that the usage of a universal symbol – a flower – would allow for everyone, regardless of background and culture, to appreciate beauty. I feel that it is easier to appeal to the masses and less subjective. How do you draw a connection between identity and ‘flower’? What is it that you want to “leave for the future generation” in your art pieces?

I would hope that my work reminds people to look for the beauty all around them, to appreciate nature and its seasons in all their vibrant colours. There are valuable lessons to be learned from nature’s diversity – magnificence comes in all shapes, sizes, and hues. As in the world of flora, our differences are what make us so precious and fascinating. Each flower raises its head high, and we should be just as proud to be a part of this world unlike any other!

Have you heard of the grandeur of the largest flower in Southeast Asia – the Rafflesia? What do you think of that as an inspiration for the next Love & Peace theme?

The Rafflesia is a flower I know well. It is fascinating, really quite exotic, and so it lacks the familiar quality found in the poppy or the lotus. I feel that it is not something with which people around the world would relate, for several reasons – least of all, for its odor!

Personally, I am really glad that Love & Peace is staying in Singapore through the Lunar New Year in February next year. The bold redness of the poppy sculpture matches the festive season perfectly. It would be an art that could be enjoyed by the elderlies in view of the festival. It is a very thoughtful piece – It being inclusive; rather than exclusive, like most of the contemporary art pieces. Is this one of your intentions for using a nature’s theme?

Absolutely, it is. The vividness and shine draw the eye immediately and its message – beauty, love, and appreciation of nature – is understood instantly. It does not need to be explained, nor is it weighed down with theory. It speaks clearly and wordlessly of love, directly to the heart of viewers. My intention with these flowers is to give joy to anyone who looks upon it and to bring onlookers back into the sight of the incomparable beauty of nature. It is a common thread that binds us all together, as people of all nations and as a part of our Earth.

Could you enlighten us on your idea of preserving culture through these installations?

The key to Love & Peace is respect: we must come to fully admire and protect the cultures that make our world so varied and beautiful. Across our differences, we uphold the same values, and they are what will bring us together.

We preserve culture by giving due honour to both what is shared and what is distinct: a common love of beauty and a unique view of love & peace. Above all, we must remember the magnificence of the creation all around us, and how we are each a part of it. We each have our place in the panoply of nature’s wonder.

Lastly, what are some thoughts you would like your Singaporean audience to leave with, upon visiting Love & Peace?

I will give you some advice that has served me through the years and brings light to my art: go to the garden shop and buy a floral plant. Care for it in your home and come to recognize its needs – really know its desire for light, for water and food. When you learn the secret of caring love, you will gain a friend eager to reward you with beauty and colour, all while enlarging your knowledge of this mysterious universe.

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Love is on display outside ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, from 6 Aug 2013 to 28 Feb 2014. For more