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YANIRA VISSEPO

is 100% herself.

Midnight Woman Moon

BY CARIANN BRADLEY · PHOTOS BY ABBY JOHNSON AND SEMI SONG ·  MAY 31, 2019

THIS INTERVIEW WAS CONDUCTED IN MAY 2019 IN NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE

BY CARIANN BRADLEY · PHOTOS BY ABBY JOHNSON AND SEMI SONG ·  MAY 31, 2019

THIS INTERVIEW WAS CONDUCTED IN MAY 2019 IN NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE

Cariann: Could you tell me a little bit about the pieces that are here and what they’re for? I know that they’re for Bonnaroo, but just the gist of what you’re creating.


Yanira: The background of these is that I was having my first solo show at Fort Houston. Do you know Fort Houston?

 

C: Yeah! I used to work at Sideshow, and they were in that space before getting their own.


Y: It was last year. And it was around the same time that Fort Houston was planning an art installation to go in The Grove at Bonnaroo, which is a little plaza. Bonnaroo is doing all these small plazas now, and they get to curate what goes on. It’s really cool.


C: Yes, it’s funny you mention that because I am doing a panel on sexual assault at Plaza 2 with Midnight Woman! It’s the plaza Hayley Williams is curating; she’s calling it The Sanctuary of Self-Love. The plaza is going to be super cool.


Y: That’s so exciting! I went to a really good panel last year at Bonnaroo. My friend Liza is a teacher and she spoke about gun violence in schools. I was crying. It was so powerful. I think about it now and it was just so powerful because she had students who had experienced that speak with her. There were like three teenagers and then one other teacher from somewhere else. It was really incredible.


C: Shit. That’s incredible.


Y: Yeah! So The Grove is just all trees, and they put up a bunch of hammocks. Around the same time I had my show, I got put on this with Fort Houston. We went to check out the [Bonnaroo] site, and I was like, “I want to hang tapestries from the trees. That’s what I want to do here.” Then I ended up making about seven of these.


C: So they just kind of billow in the space? Or are they going to be pulled taut?


Y: Yeah, they billow. They’re above the hammocks. It’s pretty cool.


C: That’s going to be awesome!


Y: Yeah, it is. So they asked me to do it again this year. They told me to add a new element to it somehow. I’m hoping that adding some new tapestries with new techniques will be a little different. They’re layered, which is weird. You can see different colors at different angles on these, and see different parts that the light hits.


C: Oh yeah, I see that now. That is really cool!


Y: They paid me and are really like, “Do whatever you want!” So it makes me really happy. I’m going to do whatever I want. [Laughs] And have fun. And they go with last year’s tapestries too, which I think will be fine. I’m trying to stick with the color palette as well — blues, reds, yellows.


C: Cool. So Fort Houston is creating a whole area?


Y: Yes they are!


C: That’s cool. I’ve been nervous because in my head I’m like, do people really want to come sit at a panel when they’re at a music festival? It’s not the first thing you think of, that’s for sure, but hopefully people come out.


Y: Yeah, totally. I’m sure they will.

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C: So, Abby recommended you as a person to talk to for l’Odet, our online magazine counterpart to Midnight Woman. We haven’t really branched too much outside of the music industry on the mag. Not on purpose, but just because of where we are in Nashville. So I just kinda want to know who you are, what you’re about, and I know that Abby said you’re going to be travelling and living somewhere else. Did you have anything in mind that you particularly wanted to talk about or explore?


Y: Um...I’m open to talking about anything, really. We can talk about me and then kinda why I want to travel. What do you want me to start off with?


C: Yeah, totally. You can tell me where you’re from, why you’re here, and about your art. Just so the readers can get a vibe of who you are.


Y: I was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Spring Hill, Tennessee when I was eleven.


C: That’s a big change.


Y: Yeah, it was my mom and her husband at the time, and my siblings, there’s five of us. That was really crazy because I was so resistant to move to Spring Hill. I don’t know why, I think at the time I felt uprooted. I was really upset and would just cry all the time. I don’t know. It was just an adjustment. It was hard making friends, but eventually I did. My mom put me in the garden club, which is funny. But yeah, in highschool, I made the transition to private school. I went to a high school in Franklin.


C: How was that?


Y: They were really accepting of everyone. No matter your financial or economic background, your culture or diversity, they were all about it. They’d take anyone and everyone. My graduating class was just 17 of us.


C: Oh wow. That’s super small.


Y: Yeah. I still have friends from high school that I keep up with that are really meaningful in my life. It’s been fun growing up here. [Laughs] Now I’m an artist and I’m trying to figure out how to do that.


C: Yeah, have you always done art?


Y: I’ve always been creative. Whether I wanted to take photos for a little while or paint for a little bit. Nothing ever really stuck like block printing did. I’m not really sure why block printing is something that I’m doing, or how it become something where I’m creating things that actually fulfill me in a way that makes me happy. I also treat it as a therapy. I process, I spend a lot of time alone working and thinking to process my emotions — like where my path is leading me to who I wanna be as a person. Am I being fruitful to my community in a way that shows compassion? Am I being nice? I try to be nice to people anyways, and respectful. I hope that me making art and people wanting to buy it has something to do with how I appreciate human connection and understand hardships, too, and being able to live through that in a way. I think I’m kind of circling right now. [Laughs]


C: No you’re not, I mean those seem like very intentional things to think about. How old are you?

Y: 27.


C: I feel like most artists in their 20s are just trying to make themselves feel good, and they figure that stuff out later. Those are really intentional missions that you’re giving yourself. I think you’re really wise for your age and that. If you’re thinking that way too, I might assume that you’ve found good people here in the community. Do you feel accepted here?


Y: Yeah, totally. Absolutely. All my friends support me. And I hope they’d say the same about me supporting them. A lot of the people that help me grow are those friends that tell me to make something for their living room, and they say, “Do whatever you want for it,” or, “Do you have anything that would look good here?” I think that shows a lot of encouragement from everyone that’s willing to put the time into buying my art. Then it actually happens. I think that, financially, there is a lot of support like that. Even Fort Houston being able to hire me again this year, and to be able to do something different than last year as well, that’s important for makers.


For a while, I was working three jobs. Finding time to actually make art is difficult for me because I have to work, which is fine. I love working, I love the fact that I get to go into the Belcourt [editor’s note: the Belcourt Theatre is Nashville’s independent movie theater] and educate people with the movies. We strive to educate through the films. And the relationships I have are really important for me to grow as a human. I don’t think I’d want an all-artist lifestyle. It’s equally as important to be in a community, like my job at the Belcourt, so that we can challenge each other and grow in different ways. I don’t know, it’s really special. It’s easy for me to cut myself off and get lonely doing this work. Last winter, I was hanging out with my friends, but I also had a studio space I could go to at the time, and I’d just end up doing that. I wouldn't see people for a couple days at a time. I think it’s just about finding the right balance.


C: And you’re moving?

Y: Well, I am going to Japan in October. Just for two months. I’m going to learn mokuhanga (木版画) block printing. It’s a traditional method of woodblock printing — traditional Japanese printmaking. I’ve been planning this since 2017, so it’s been a long two years of wondering if it was going to happen. I’ve been asking myself is this what I want to do for the rest of my life? I don’t know that, but I can block print for a little longer and find another medium, or not, I don’t know. I would hope that I will always be a maker of something.


C: Are you going to be under a mentor or are you taking classes?


Y: Yeah. His name is Richard Steiner. He’s been block printing for a long time. I think its been like 30 or 40 years. He lives in Kyoto. I found him online and there are a few other students. He takes students throughout the year, and it’s usually just one or two in the studio at a time. I haven’t been in school — I never went to college. I mean, I went to community college for a semester and I hated it. But I’m considering this as my university, you know? That’s how I’m looking at it. It’s just a little later in life. I’m working a lot right now and I’ll be living with a friend for a few months to save money and I leave in October. After that, I’d really like to come back and work, of course, but find other residencies.


I’m kind of shedding — getting rid of a lot of stuff, like furniture. A little over a year now, me and my ex-boyfriend broke up. We’d been together for about five years, so it was a big change for me. And being single for like a year and a half now, it’s been interesting. I’ve always been in a relationship, even before my ex. I was about to turn 26 and I couldn’t keep being in a relationship that serious. As much as I loved this person, I had discovered what I wanted to actually focus on and it was my art. I think it was good for us to break up; he had his thing with music and I had my path with art. There were even a few moments where he’d be out of town for one of my art shows, and just little things that couldn’t match up. I was like I shouldn’t get bummed about this kinda stuff, but I was bummed anyway. It was more like the times were changing and those were signs saying that I needed to be my own person. No matter how much they gave to me and how much I gave to them and how good it could be, it was just time to break away. Being young, and going on my own, and seeing what it was like not having somebody by your side all the time, it was interesting.


I’ve made a lot of art since then. I feel like anytime I get sad or depressed, which isn’t something I ever really experienced until this past winter, I leaned on making my work. It really helped me get through stuff.

Am I being fruitful to my community in a way that shows compassion?

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C: I really relate. I was in an almost three-year relationship, which for me was a really long time. It was why I moved here to Nashville, because my partner was a musician also. We broke up in the fall and it’s been so...weird. It’s weird how things become the new normal, isn’t it?


Y: Yeah, it really is.


C: My ex and I obviously do very different things creatively, but every good thing that’s happened for Midnight Woman, my brand, has happened since we’ve been broken up. You’d think that having someone there to listen to you and bounce ideas off of would be beneficial, but those ideas weren’t bouncing back. I was with someone who didn't value the things that I really wanted to dedicate my life to, like social justice for example, and that realization is huge.That can become so saddening. I don’t know. I was with this person for so long but we became such different people.


I’m only 23, so I’m still really young. But yeah, it’s been a tough couple months. But all the good in my art has been because of it. I get what you went through.


Y: Yeah. It just pushes you harder, I think. It’s different but it’s important to grow as an individual. Also brainstorming — yeah, like you were saying about bouncing off ideas. What if you don’t have that? You know? What if you just kinda sit down and think for, I don’t know, ten minutes, twenty minutes. And just figure it out, critical thinking, without anybody else’s input. It’s kind of how I was feeling earlier today. I was just making these [tapestries] and nobody is telling me how to make them or maybe you should try this, or do that. It’s all coming from my brain and the past couple weeks and months trying to figure out how to make them.


I went to New York a few weeks ago and just completely immersed myself in art and museums. I saw so much, it was an overload, but I came back feeling energized and encouraged. It’s good to figure out what makes you happy, which is really hard. [Laughs]


C: [Laughs] It is! I think when you’re young, you just depend on other things to give you inspiration. You know, I used to be extremely religious.


Y: Yeah, me too.


C: I guess it’s because I grew up in the bible belt, but that’s where I got my inspiration from — my faith. That’s where I got my moral compass from. You know? I kind of shed that. And on the other hand, I was harassed and assaulted in college. I went right from this experience into a three year relationship. So then that relationship was what was giving me my affirmation and confidence. That almost was giving me my moral compass too. But it’s just me now. I’m all I got! I need to become my own moral compass. I need to become my inspiration. I need to become my confidence. It’s been really interesting to unpack that. I don’t have a boyfriend or a church telling me I’m an okay human being, I got that all on my own.


Y: And you find it in other ways. You don’t have to pray every night, but you can definitely talk out loud or give yourself words of positivity. That is a prayer.


C: Yeah, for sure. I agree.


Y: [Laughs] I went to The Frist museum yesterday. They have the Dorothea Lange exhibit. She’s amazing; she’s an early 1930s photographer. She reported The Great Depression and I think when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, too. She reported on the huge evacuation of Japanese people in the states. They were citizens, but there was still a call to evacuate them and put them in camps.


C: I don’t think I even knew that happened. That evacuation I mean.


Y: I only knew about it from a podcast I heard a few months ago. Japanese women created their own book club in this time to voice their own political voices and things like that. You’ll have to look it up. It was all very on the low when it happened. The papers were not covering this at all and news didn’t travel very quickly.


A lot of her photo reporting was edited because she worked for the government. So she would take a bunch of pictures of what was really happening, and the government would pull some pictures. A lot of her work was never really seen until recently.


C: So she was sort of being censored in a way.


Y: Yes. She is that woman who took the picture of the migrant mother. Have you seen that?


C: No, I will have to look that up.


Y: But anyways, John Steinbeck wrote to her.


C: Like the author, John Steinbeck?


Y: The author! Yes. So Lange’s work became associated with “The Grapes of Wrath” even though their work was very different. Steinbeck and Lange were both depicting and representing the oppressed American farmland sort of scenes. In his letter, he wrote to her in 1960, he said, “And if I, who am not religious, offer my prayers for you, it is because God did not beget prayers—prayers created the Gods—and kept them in their places too. Bless you!” So basically saying that the gods didn’t invent prayers. The prayers manifested the gods. Just what we talked about earlier reminded me of that.


C: Yeah. It’s like all religions have the same underlying elements and themes. Light, love, morality. It’s been a very interesting day today. [Laughs] I feel like I’ve thought a lot about religion today because of everything that happened in Alabama with the abortion ban. I like being very outspoken about my opinions, you know? I have this brand and platform and should use it. And also I’ve just been pretty bold always. [Laughs] So I’ve always been pretty okay with posting on social media my opinions with my name on it saying something is wrong. But why I made Midnight Woman is so if people don’t feel like doing that, they can share things anonymously.


Y: Yeah. I think that’s really important. I was thinking about that today. You know, you do have a lot of voice on social media, and people do get worked up about having a different opinion. It’s tricky. Someone’s reality is that abortion is bad and it does kill a human. That’s what they think 100%. You can’t change their mind.


C: It’s really difficult. I never post on Facebook really. But I posted today. I posted something along the lines of, ”I don’t think what’s happening is right. Even if you don’t agree with abortion, you shouldn’t get to have a say in someone else’s decision.” And I think I’ve always been similar to that. Even when I was extremely Christian, I was more universalist-minded. But anyway, someone commented on the status and came back with the “abortion is murder” argument and that’s just really treacherous to reason with. I mean, you really aren’t going to change their mind. I’ve been thinking a lot about it. In the comment, the person said something along the lines of, “I will pray for those who are raped or impregnated by incest, and I’ll continue to pray that they make the next right decision in their lives.” And I was just like...prayer? How does your prayer negate or permit someone’s pain? I haven’t responded yet, but I’ve been writing a response and having people, like, peer-edit it. [Laughs] I never want to say the wrong thing. It’s a difficult conversation that’s being had. It’s depressing.


Y: It’s really frustrating because it feels like no matter how hard people try to get involved in local elections, or whatever, It just seems like Tennessee and most southern states, it’s very conservative. And kind of hard to go against it. I can never see Tennessee being a more liberal state. It’s so rooted in racism. Confederacy is such a big thing here. It’s in our foundation in Tennessee. It will be hard to flip that because it’s rooted in years of slavery and opression.


C: Have you experienced any of that as a Puerto Rican woman here? I’m sure that’s a dumb question.


Y: Throughout my whole life I’ve dealt with very ignorant comments, which is fine. I try to educate people instead of just snapping at them. Sometimes that’s hard to do, it’s just going to be hard. Maybe all these people that are moving to Nashville will be more progressive and help the state change.


C: I definitely think Nashville is like that. But it’s such a small part of the state. And it’s actually frightening to go outside of Nashville sometimes and see in these small towns how people act.


Y: Yeah, you drive through North Carolina and it’s the same thing, you know? I saw so many Trump signs everywhere in North Carolina while driving toward Asheville for a trip.


C: I’m from North Carolina, so yeah. That’s definitely true. I come from a very conservative city. My parents, when I was growing up, were in law enforcement. So we weren’t in the capital of the state, we were in a smaller city, but it was still urban. I’m still working to unhinge a lot of biases that are deeply rooted in me because of where I grew up and who I grew up around. It was very polarized. I just feel like it’s a really disappointing day to be a person in the south.

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photo by Semi Song.

Y: It is! It really is. People are always like, “How can we help?” People are donating to Planned Parenthood, pushing others to donate, donate, donate. Donating, if you have the means to do it, is really important. But also, organizations have to be kept up beyond the moment. I think people just forget after a while. My mom started a nonprofit for people in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, it’s called For Such a Time as This. The hurricane happened over a year ago now. It was 2017. She started this nonprofit and people asked me what they could do to help. I got a lot of help from here for sure. With my show last year I did 10% of sales went toward the nonprofit. Third Man did something for it too. At the time, it was good to get help right away. People knew about the situation and wanted to get involved. Now that the time has passed, its harder to raise funds for it. Right now I’m trying to figure out another way to raise money for her. It’s hard and time-consuming.


C: What does she want to do using the nonprofit now, a year or more later?

Y: Now, she recently got a grant approved. She’s been looking into schools that are not funded anymore and the children affected by that from the hurricane. I think she’s found a building that she’s going to revamp and make a community center. She wants to focus on women and finding a trade that the women can do to make money. This guy that she’s been trying to help since the hurricane still doesn't have a roof over his house.


C: Still?

Y: Still. And they found him a compact thing to live in for the meantime.


C: But it’s well past meantime now.


Y: It’s well past that time and he needs to get back to his house, you know? And finding the people to work to build...it’s a lot. I need to help her do that, because nonprofits aren't just a one-time thing. And that’s something that I’m learning, too. There's a reason why people have nonprofits. You want to know that your money is going toward something good. Like the Belcourt, for example. I 100% back what they’re doing. I’m not getting paid that much there, but I’m not there for the money. It actually fulfills me.


C: So what would you suggest people do, instead of just following the cycle of donating to a nonprofit and then forgetting about it?


Y: Probably just keep donating. Find one organization and stick to it. Do your research. You can’t take on a lot.


C: You can’t take the whole world, yeah. And people just need to educate themselves. Even if you can’t donate, read an article and learn something you didn’t know before.


Y: Yeah definitely. I am so for human rights. I’ve never had an abortion myself, but I think that seeing my friends get abortions, they are hard to go through. Abortions are hard on your body, you have to heal from it afterwards, physically and emotionally. It messes with your hormones. I think people don’t really talk about the fact that all women don’t go in to get an abortion being like, “Yeah I’m getting this and it’s fine.” It’s not an easy choice for many women to make. Growing up, I was Christian. If I was a Christian and had an abortion, I would feel so guilty, and that guilt would just be trapped inside me. I can’t say I’d feel guilty now, because I haven’t experienced that. I don’t know.


C: It’s really tough. Also, please let me know if there is anything I can do with Midnight Woman to raise money for your mom’s nonprofit. I’m not really sure if I can offer much, but the platform itself is open to helping people.


You know, we’re doing the panel at Bonnaroo and I want to talk about safe spaces. I’ve decided that’s what I want to go out and speak to people about. The brand is the brand but also, I don’t mind being personally associated with that. In fact, I want to be associated with it because it was created out of what happened to me. People deserve to feel empowered.


Y: Yes. People need to hear other opinions and voices. We definitely need people to speak about these things. Written word is really important, but it’s also as important as speaking out loud. To manifest those things.


C: And I was assaulted in a Chirstian environment. It’s crazy. There’s a whole other realm of people out there. I feel like non-religious people already have a hard enough time voicing what’s happened to them. It’s insane to think about the shame that Christians, or just religious people in general, feel about the things that have happened in their lives that they didn’t ask for.


Y: That is so sad. It’s so repressive.


C: I wasn’t believed by people in power, I was punished for what happened to me and for being brave enough to come forward. What happened to me, outside of that environmental bubble, is absolutely appalling, but very normal within the community I was part of.


Y: To live in a world where you are fearful of speaking out for your stability, health, and security as a woman, that is terrible. It should never happen to anyone. And I don’t think that has anything to do with their Chrsitian beliefs, I think it just comes down to pride and ego and shame.


C: Yeah, there are a lot of dark corners in many organized religions. It’s very scary. At the core of it, the beliefs are good and pure.


But all that aside, what are you hoping to get from your trip from Japan?


Y: Hm...I want to be a teacher. I don’t know what that would look like, but I want to teach art classes. I hope I can gain more experience, and continue to attend residencies, and eventually teach people who want to learn. I want to keep learning and immerse myself in the art. One of my friends works at the women’s prison here in Nashville. She’s always talked about me coming in to do some block printing classes. And also when I’m in Japan, I’m going to learn how to make a book. Maybe when I come back I can do some work with that. It’s going to be intense.


C: That’s awesome.


Y: Yeah. I’m terrified. [Laughs] I’m also going to be working with woodblock. I work with linoleum right now, and woodblock is more intense. We’ll also be working with natural pigments and mixing our own colors. It will be really cool.


And I think it’s really awesome what you’re doing. People deserve to be heard.


C: Thank you so much.


Y: I’m very outspoken and very loud about my life. Even when I’m at work I’ll just be loud and unaware. I can make people uncomfortable. [Laughs] But I can’t be anyone else.


C: I swear that the people that work at the Belcourt need their own TV show.


Y: [Laughs]


C: Y’all have some really interesting people and all your own drama happens. It’s so interesting. I would watch that show. Hello, Bravo! If there was a Vanderpump Rules but for the Belcourt Theatre? Game over.


Y: That would be really interesting. [Laughs]


C: So what indie movie do you think my readers should watch?


Y: Oh! Hm..."Madeline’s Madeline". I watched it last year. The Belcourt didn’t play it for very long, but Miranda July is in it. This other girl in it is amazing. It’s a film about mental health. It made me cry I was literally sobbing. [Laughs] So good.

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Go see Yanira's installation at Bonnaroo June 14th, and check out her other work here. 

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Have you been to Midnight Woman? That's our sister. Submit anonymously here.

For general inquiries, please contact us at hello@midnight-woman.com

 

For advertising opportunities, please write to us at goldie@midnight-woman.com

 

Have you been to Midnight Woman? That's our sister.

Midnight Woman is an online platform that welcomes contributors of all kinds to submit personal experiences anonymously.

We aim to redefine the way we talk about what's happened to us, no matter the subject. l'Odet exists for the named to encourage the nameless.

Midnight Woman is an online platform that welcomes contributors of all kinds to submit personal experiences.

We aim to redefine the way we talk about what's happened to us, no matter the subject. L'Odet exists for the named to encourage the nameless.