Norma Andreu is the artist otherwise known as Cara Carmina
. Her work space is a small room with high ceilings. She explains how this spot in the house gets really great natural light, and we discuss the seasons and how the mood of each month has its own filter for daylight. The art objects I observe around her work room range from tall ornamental dolls, to illustrations done on card stock and placed in shadow boxes. There is some quality about this art that exists within reality, and yet unquestionably expands upon reality. Seeing the world through the filter of Norma’s vision, which is omnipresent in her home and especially in this room, opens up avenues of interpretation that speak to ethereality. Her work reminds one of dreams, of innocence, of playfulness and of exposed emotion. This is art that unfolds and reveals itself.
Norma, originally from Mexico, moved to Montreal without too much knowledge of the sort of cultural climate that awaited her here. Just in sitting in her work space – surrounded by tons of illustrated children’s books (each one of which has its own unique connection to her life and art), a sewing machine, spools of colourful thread, sheets of felt and dolls everywhere, it is clear that Norma is in the practice of creating her own world.
Showing me scores of illustrated children’s books by Benjamin Lacombe and Beautiful Nightmares by Nicoletta Ceccoli, it is clear that a sense of pure amazement at the power of artistic talent is exists within her. Norma’s interest in her artistic contemporaries is reverent; just in the way she speaks about these artists, it is clear that her creativity is tied to this reverence.
Craft versus art is something we discuss at length, both explicitly and implicitly. She explains that because a craft is something you can hold and touch, because when you hold it you can see how it is made, it acquires an element of accessibility that a lot of art struggles with. Crafts invite you in the polar opposite way that the sterility of museums might alienate you.
Norma embodies something in her work and in her personality that usually escapes the grown-up art admirer. Working in the craft of doll-making, one might assume that Cara Carmina’s work is open to analysis acceding to certain feminist tropes; that her work might play on notions of domesticity or the infantalization of women. There is absolutely no doubt that her work achieves a level of complexity where these analytical tropes would find rich material, however, it is truly an achievement of balance when an art object is as sophisticated as these hand-sewn dolls yet reaches the viewer on a far more basic level.
Norma’s dolls awaken wonder. Maybe because their appeal is entirely unintentional, or maybe because the form of a doll is familiar and in her body of work, takes on the qualities of that which is unexpected.
Norma takes out one of the first dolls she ever made: its legs are long and noodle-like, its body is a pear that fills the palms of your hands in a really satisfying way. I remember that I haven’t held a doll in a long time. This one looks up with wide-set eyes. Her mouth is a tiny oval. Her cheeks are coloured with an almost coral pastel.
“The face just came out like that…I never knew how to sew. I love this face though.”