Petra Benach is an abstract mixed media artist and one of the founding members of The Women's March Movement in The Netherlands. Originally from California, Petra is now based in Amsterdam where she creates, communicates and is fast learning how to be effective in this new, exciting age of protest.
The Curious Interview celebrates individual style, curiosity & creativity. I was delighted to visit Petra in her studio to photograph and interview her last month in her W&W piece of choice, styled her way.
The Curious Interview with Petra Benach
What are you most curious about?
With all of the work that's been going on with the Women's March, which is not art at all but it's got so much content for art...it's really made me super curious about identity and about how people identify and how we identify others. Identity, I feel, is the base route for societies and cultures.
It's built into how we learn our language and treat each other and how we talk to each other. Gender identity has been this really active conversation, even for myself to say 'Ok, how do I identify with my gender?' I identify as female but I don't know any more about what that means.
What does it mean to be female? How do you learn that, where do you see it?
And race - how we identify race and colour and how we look at our own internal biases for those things. Recognising we have created an identity for people, we have created this form that we've filled out in our head and it's all based on things we've learned or seen. A lot of that information has just been given to us, there are a lot of questions I have about how identity plays this huge role in how we see each other.
How does your curiosity serve your creativity?
I have had a 3 month break from painting, my life was about the [Women's] March on January 21st and from there it steamrolled...
My creative expression of painting and creating art, all that got put on hold because I was learning - learning about organisation, team members and project management. Having worked by myself for many many years I had no fucking clue on what it takes to be a team player.
All the things I am curious about like identity it will absolutely show up in my painting because I don’t see painting as separate from me. I am extremely excited to get back in the studio on a regular basis and I need to prioritise it.
What inspires you?
I am so inspired by people doing amazing work. Like the Creative Reaction Lab - they are all about radical listening, they go into a community that is having issues and bring every single element of that community to the table, the mayor’s office, police, business owners, creatives, organisational & community members. These key factors across the board and they level the playing field asking what can we do, what small act can we do?
We were able to talk with their founder, Antionette (D. Carroll) before the March and she was incredibly inspiring. It’s action, it’s people that act that I find extremely inspiring. People that do something, whatever it is within their power and are able to communicate about it. I think it’s really important.
How would you describe your style?
I have been a versatile chameleon, I think that has been part of my creativity, this feeling of, 'What do I identify with today and how do I express that physically?'. I know that I’m stressed when I do not have that conversation with myself in the morning. If I don’t take the time to feel my identity physically and how I represent and present.
My personal style is really tied into to where I identify in my body, how do I identify physically, so it’s always been a bit random but it’s also been very untraditional. I love high fashion, I really love tailored things but in the end I feel more comfortable finding things I know no-one else is going to have.
Something shifted in my 30’s, I wanted to move out being very tomboyish, loose fitting things and now I want to move back into the androgyny in a more tailored way.
What do you particularly like about Wool & Water?
Natural fibres, the sustainable fibres you use are really important to start focusing on now especially as we are learning how synthetic materials are made and how they break down and what they are doing to the environment. I was just learning today that every time I wash my polyester and lycra, it creates these microfibres that get flushed into the water, end up in the sea and end up back in my mouth because I eat sea food.
We really did not understand what was happening with plastic and now we are finding out.
When we got the interview request it was the first thing we looked at because of the Women’s March we have to ask, is this a company or a brand we would stand behind and it absolutely is.
"When I wear my Wool & Water Skinny Tie I...feel I have a soft, warm little ghost monkey giving me a lovely hug around my neck.Petra's Wool & Water piece of choice is the Black/Turquoise Skinny Tie