Maria Karametou is a practicing mixed media artist who has exhibited locally, nationally, and internationally. She has shown work in a large variety of countries such as Germany, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Russia, among others. In the U.S. Karametou has exhibited in countless galleries, some of which include The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; The Holter Museum, Montana; The John Elder Gallery, New York, N.Y.; The Shiva Gallery, New York, N.Y.; The Baltimore Museum; The Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C. among numerous more. Karametou is also a Drawing and Mixed Media Professor at George Mason University.
Her studio is spacious and filled with previous, new and in progress works. Though the space is kept organized, it still allows visitors a glimpse into the artist’s creative process. Karametou has her completed work neatly stored and protected, wrapped in packaging and labeled. Her inspirations can be seen all around her studio, from fabric samples and photographs on boards, to the long hair pieces she has laying on tables, perhaps to be used in something she is currently working on. The studio also contains multiple sketchbooks, artist prints, and large bookshelves filled with books and resources. After walking through and exploring her compelling studio, we sit down.
Karametou explains that she was formally trained from an early age. She went through a rigorous painting apprenticeship through her middle school and high school years. The training was strict and highly academically structured.
When she came to this country and first saw artists like Robert Rauschenberg, the encounter she says, felt similar to an epiphany. She was immediately intrigued and interested in nontraditional art. It seems to me that Karametou is drawn to mixed media due partly to her fascination with pattern and diverse material, but also perhaps as a rebellion against what she was brought up learning in her apprenticeship.
Karametou attended the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), for her advanced education. The American abstract expressionist, Grace Hartigan was one of her painting professors at MICA. Hartigan saw young Maria’s interest in texture, and her desire to include it into her work. Hartigan encouraged Karametou to go with her instincts and add textures and materials to her work even though she was a painting major.
“Being an immigrant, a lot of things influence you because you feel like you don’t belong anywhere since your soul and heart is divided into two different places. Cultural background will always be there, one cannot get rid of it, it will always influence me and my art making.” In Athens as a little girl, around the age of six, she remembers her class visited King Minos palace for a class trip. There she managed to sneak away from the tour/group. She went alone and sat on King Minos’s real, ancient thrown. This had a profound impact on her development as an artist and as a person because in that moment she felt so connected to her heritage.
As a recipient of multiple awards, Karametou has been able to explore her heritage further through travel. Upon winning the Provost award in Spring 2016, she went back to Greece. The trip brought up already tugging questions for Karametou: Do I still belong? Who am I? Where do we all fit in? Her grandparents are Greek who are remnants from Byzantine, Asia Minor (now Turkey). A few years back Karametou received a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar Award, and she was able to go back to her grandmother’s village where she grew up, in Turkey. She was the first in her family to go back. Her grandmother came to Greece as a refugee. During the trip, she was able to find the location of where her grandmother’s house had been. Reconnecting with that part of her family’s past made her feel more complete. The issue of identity is something that comes through in Karametou’s work throughout her career.
Currently, her work relates to identity in terms of gender. She uses beauty products such as bobby pins and hair nets to explore the social construct of gender. The most recent series she is working on relates to the big idea of gender and identity, through the key concepts of beauty, time, family and history. She does this, not as a feminist statement, but rather a human statement about who she is as a woman.
Her bobby pin pieces are a great example of this concept. Over 3000 hair pins are stitched to resemble embroideries she had to complete growing up to fit in the social stereotype of what a good girl is.
Her thought process relates to transformation. Finding regular mundane objects and trying to reinvent its identity (going back to exploring identity in her work). It forces the viewer to see the objects differently and to rediscover something about them.
Karametou tells me that her grandmother impacted her art making tremendously. Karametou explains that her grandmother continued the Turkish work of silk weaving, even after she immigrated to Greece. She reared silk worms in drawers of the house, processed the silk into thread, and then weaved garments out of the strands. Karametou says that watching her grandmother create something elaborate and beautiful out of nothing was transformative and empowering. Growing up in this creative environment, she says, was magical. It carries significant influence, and is a reason why Karametou is heavily inspired by textiles in her work.
I’ve had the privilege of learning from Professor Karametou as a student at GMU. Her teaching style, I feel, is very much about freedom and experimentation. She encourages her students to try new things and in that way, she leads them to find their own path in their work. Her love of exploring the use of nontraditional materials and methods in her work, brought her to develop, design and create a completely new and unique course at GMU known as Nontraditional Approaches to Drawing. Her website is www.mariakarametou.com
About the writer:
Michaela Japac is currently an undergraduate art student at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. She is expected to receive her B.F.A. in Fine Art in 2018 from the School of Art. Michaela completed this interview as part of a project for her Professional Practices course taught by TSV Director Isabel Manalo. Michaela’s interview with Karametou was chosen for its excellence in interviewing, writing and photography. You can learn more about Michaela and her own work as an artist here: www.mjapec.wixsite.com/website