OCEANSIDE — The subtle beauty of nature, vibrant colors of Carnival, and Native American traditions inspire Brazilian artist Melissa Meier’s three-dimensional art pieces featured in her first solo exhibit at the Oceanside Museum of Art.
In her show currently on display at the Oceanside Museum of Art, “Becoming Nature,” Meier has created entire costumes, shoes, masks and even sculptures of animals from organic materials collected from nature. Observers can find everything from moss to leaves, stones, fur, eggshells, wheat, rice, crystals, feathers, pinecones, lavender and seashells in her collection.
In Meier’s collection, curated by Kate Stern, the multidisciplinary artist takes inspiration from her Brazilian heritage and love of nature. Born in Brazil, Meier grew up around the costumes and colors of Brazil’s Carnivals, a huge cultural event with elaborate costumes, dancing and parades that mark Lent’s beginning.
As a child, Meier always collected things from nature, brought home various leaves and stones, and added to her feather collection. In adulthood, Meier made her first nature-based piece by turning leaves from her magnolia tree into an outfit for her daughter to wear. She kept going from there.
“I think a lot of these pieces are inspired by my background,” she said.
Although she is not Native American, Meier takes inspiration from the Navajo tradition of wearing animal skins “to obtain the attributes, power, and nature of the animal from which the skin was taken,” according to the University of New Mexico.
“Instead of animals, we’re using nature’s materials to transform and become closer with the environment,” Meier said.
Most of the materials in Meier’s artwork are collected by family and friends in Brazil and sent to her in the United States. She also sources some materials, like crystals, directly from Brazil.
Meier said she acquires her materials humanely and ethically. For example, her outfit made of porcupine quills used materials from a porcupine farm where the animals naturally shed the quills.
As part of the exhibit, Meier has photographed models wearing the outfits to demonstrate that they can, in fact, be worn. Her daughter is a frequent model, having worn her mother’s creations ever since the magnolia leaf dress that Meier created when her daughter was young.
Working with different materials like eggshells and porcupine quills can be quite a challenge trying to figure out what works. For Meier, each material is like a whole new experience when it comes to sculpting.
“You learn how fragile the piece is, how delicate it is, what kind of structure it needs,” Meier said. “Like with the crystals, I needed something stronger or else the whole thing would collapse.”
Meier had previously dazzled the museum in a group show with her elaborate seashell dress – a fitting, ocean-themed piece for Oceanside – which she brought back for her solo exhibit, complete with shoes and a large headpiece.
Meier’s wearable constructions blend female empowerment with her sense of mythology centered around ancient cultures of female warriors, representing strength, beauty and unity of life among the elements. Although quite heavy, the costumes are moveable, wearable sculptures that bring the outfits almost literally to life.
Meier’s “Becoming Nature” exhibit will be on display at the Oceanside Museum of Art until June 25.