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Ela Fidalgo, sitting on the iconic 'Gordita' that opens the exhibition.

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Ela Fidalgo, sitting on the iconic 'Gordita' that opens the exhibition. Marilú Báez
Exhibition

Ela Fidalgo’s works at Malaga's La Térmica break the norms of size and beauty standards

The artist and designer stars in her first exhibition at a public institution and confesses her dissent: “The fashion industry is not for me”

Francisco Griñán

Malaga

Friday, 10 November 2023, 13:56

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All eyes were on her when she won the Talent Award at Madrid Fashion Week in 2016. Her groundbreaking collection ‘Work in progress’, a dress with the skirt made of mops that went viral, proposed a fashion based on recycling, scraps and material rescued from the rubbish. She then made the international leap with her selection at the Hyères Fashion Festival in France, where everything changed.

“When I presented my project to them, they asked me what my business plan was”, Ela Fidalgo recalls “I told them that I didn’t have one, because my business was circular economy, and they gave me a dirty look. That’s when I said to myself: ‘Very well, the fashion industry is not for me’”.

During the inauguration of the exhibition in La Térmica in Malaga, the author told of her break with fashion design and her turn towards creative freedom in the field of art with a personal work charged with symbolism that shows her dissidence with the fashion industry in ‘Victus et amictus’, her first major solo exhibition in a public institution in collaboration with La Térmica and the San Telmo School of Art.

Mirrors vs. mobile phones is what the large mural 'La Soberbia' (Pride) shows.
Mirrors vs. mobile phones is what the large mural 'La Soberbia' (Pride) shows. Marilú Báez

The title of the exhibition, which translated means Food and Clothes, sums up perfectly the process of re-humanisation that Ela Fidalgo wants to convey in her work. Whether in paintings or sculptures, the pieces maintain this link with fashion through the use of textiles and the stitching that weaves together the silhouettes of the characters she paints. Starting with the iconic two-and-a-half-metre high ‘Gordita’, which welcomes the exhibition and is made from 2,200 pieces of cardboard, wadding and fabrics of different textures sewn by hand. A colossal ‘figurine’ that makes clear the stance of its creator against the dictatorship of size, the canon of beauty and the standards of fashion that have become a subliminal and omnipresent tyranny for many people.

“Since I was a little girl I have had a lot of questions. At first it was because the kids picked on me and because of what was happening in the news, to the point that I tried to dissolve those barriers inside myself to take them up again and reflect on them. In the end, what my work speaks of is those scars, and that’s why the pieces are embroidered, as they are like sutures for a wound that needs to become more visible within society,” the artist confessed. She has found in art a way to express not only her personal struggles but also the injustices, a defence of diversity and one’s own identity, and a desire to build “dignified and humane cities.”

The exhibition is made up of large format works that mix oil paints and thread.
The exhibition is made up of large format works that mix oil paints and thread. Marilú Báez

The loss of “grandparents’ values,” as she called it, is palpable in her entire body of work, like the series ‘Paraíso Perdido’ with the backdrop of the seven deadly sins. Through colour and profound symbolism, it showcases three-metre murals like ‘La Soberbia’ (Pride), which displays one of the vices of contemporary society with numerous characters holding mirrors and mobile phones.“Here I am also looking at myself in a mirror that in the end is in reality a black hole because I have a problem with my own reflection”, explained Ela Fidalgo, who also draws a fine line between superficiality and the flight from oneself: “We never get to stop in front of the mirror and look at ourselves to see who we are because it terrifies us and that is why we look for an answer in our phones that is never there because it is not real, but virtual”.

Only seven years

This exhibition takes a stance against that posturing, not only by presenting artisanal pieces but also collaborative ones. For example, there’s the smaller ‘Gordita’ that the artist created this week with students from the San Telmo School and social collectives. This piece will be exhibited at the educational centre during the show. The artist stated, “For me, what’s important is not the exhibition but this contact with students and with people to share different points of view.” Additionally, she has promoted the organisation of workshops with families and adults, allowing viewers who want to create their own works rather than just contemplating the collection.

It’s a way to turn the visit into a complete experience to “empower people,” declared the artist, who advocates for diversity. She said, “We are all unique and beautiful in our own way, so the idea of the exhibition is to contemplate that beauty. We live in a country that is culturally amazing, with different languages and a very rich heritage. The first day I came here, I went to see the ‘verdiales,‘ which I think is something we need to cherish and not be distracted by other things.” Fidalgo emphasised the importance of preserving “our history and our roots.”

Marilú Báez

The artist has chosen not to “contaminate” her career as a fashion designer with her artistic work, so she has separated this retrospective look at her short but intense career into two rooms. She explained, “I’ve only been doing this for seven years, but it has felt like two decades.” In the fashion-focused space, the curators and professors from the San Telmo School, Conchi Rosas and Reyi Pérez, have suspended the designs from the ceiling, which already hint at a sculptural aspect of clothing from this artist who also displays her “social and environmental commitment,” as noted by the Vice President of Culture of the Provincial Government, Manuel López Mestanza, who presented the exhibition alongside the director of La Térmica, Antonio Javier López.

Ela Fidalgo's fashion designs also have a sculptural and unique feel.
Ela Fidalgo's fashion designs also have a sculptural and unique feel. Marilú Báez

This defence, social concern, and suffering of Fidalgo are not only evident on the walls, but the artist also didn’t hide it during the press conference. She dressed in solemn black - a stark contrast with her colourful artwork - and after seeing her paintings hanging for the first time in a public institution, the artist confessed her initial doubts about this exhibition since she had previously worked in private gallery settings. She said, “I came here feeling vulnerable and with doubts, wondering if it’s worth dedicating myself to this because being an artist is a lifelong commitment. But being here, I’ve realised that I can make a contribution. Thank you.”

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