We had the good fortune of connecting with Elena Makansi and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elena, what habits do you feel play an important role in your life?
I’ve always walked regularly, but after adopting my rescue dog three years ago, it became a daily necessity. Walking is an active meditation. It activates the body in a stimulating but gentle way, and it activates the mind through observation, focus, and perception. Suddenly we’re not just living in our head, we’re out in the world, interacting with the other living beings that surround us: other people, pets, plants, insects, birds, and so on. The practice of walking is hugely inspiring for a visual artist, as there are myriad things to look at and learn from. The texture of that peeling plaster, thiscolor combination, that yellow flower, the way someone in the park laughs. But it’s not just a way to receive inspiration and open the mind, walking also releases endorphins, reduces stress, encourages deep breathing, and is an excellent physical stimulus that keeps our body happy, which goes a long way to cultivating healthy productivity. It also encourages problem-solving. I don’t think I’ve ever regretted taking a nice, long walk, and I always come home with something to write down or file away for later, and sometimes I even solve creative problems or find clarity on important creative or personal decisions. I love walking, and I think it’s got to be one of the easiest and most beneficial ways to stay grounded both emotionally and physically.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I have trouble focusing on one thing. In many ways I still consider myself a fledgling, often filled with creative anxiety. Though I’ve drawn as a hobby off and on for much of my life (never very consistently), I’ve only been practicing in earnest for three years. I came to the MFA program with very little formal training in artistic disciplines beyond high school. During my undergrad I majored in Environmental Studies, exploring environmental philosophy, literature, history, and justice politics. I only took three art classes and two were from the same incredible drawing professor, Don Harvey. I had a love of nature and thinking about big ideas, and I knew I liked drawing and design, but beyond that, I had very little idea of what I wanted to do. I’m the kind of person who is curious about everything. Choosing an essay topic was always a nightmare. It can be a legitimate problem. I love learning about everything, random things. At the beginning of my program, I wanted to just magically be good at every different medium so I could make all my ideas come to life. But there are limits, and I got increasingly frustrated with the sense of not seeing real progress in my technical skill. Setting creative restraints has actually been incredibly helpful, and learning to just stick with something for long enough to gain confidence with it, has been so important. I launched Forager over the summer as a place to house my current work but in a more focused and polished way. But Forager is multiple things. In addition to being my online shop, it is also a larger project that I am working on with my collaborator and friend Nichole Casebeer. We host monthly creative gatherings on Zoom where we lead others in creative, meditative exercises to foster curiosity and compassion within our creative practice. We both have a lot of what we call “creative anxiety,” and our Forager Gatherings are supportive sessions to connect with our creative selves in playful, meaningful ways. The goal of the Forager project is to promote loving relationality between people and place/earth through creative practice, to reawaken our sense of sacred connection to our surroundings. We are building the project as we go, and being okay with taking it slow. One of my goals with the project is to publish a digital zine that features local and regional artists and writers making work about our relationship to the natural world.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
We would begin with a slow morning at Time Market. I always get the cold brew coffee with oat milk. I also love Black Crown Coffee and Exo Coffee. Then we would enjoy a leisurely drive up Mt. Lemmon and a nice hike, driving back into the city during sunset. Of course, we’d do a Gate’s Pass sunset picnic with wine bought from my favorite liquor store, the Plaza. I’d definitely take them to the Desert Museum, which is also where I currently work. Their cactus garden is one of my favorite places in Tucson and the Museum is perfect introduction to the Sonoran Desert for all Tucson newbies. I also love the Tohono Chul gardens. In the evenings, we would hit up the Owl’s Club, Crooked Tooth, and the Tucson Hop Shop. If they were into martinis I’d take them to The Shelter. As for food, I eat mostly plant-based so we would enjoy the famous smoked beet Sandwich from 5 Points Market, the jackfruit tacos at Tumerico, and delicious Levantine food from The Shish Kebob House or Zayna’s. I love cooking, so we’d make elaborate home-cooked meals and stop at one of the weekly Farmers’ Markets to grab seasonal produce. One morning, we would wake up early and go for what my Dad fondly calls “The Doughnut Ride”–a 20-ish mile bike ride along the Rillito River Path and Santa Cruz River Paths, ending up at the Mercado for La Estrella glazed donuts and an iced mocha at Presta. We would have a Museum day, hitting up MOCA, TMA, and The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures. My favorite way to explore a place is a combination of walking and biking, so we would do a lot of that, just letting the city unfold as we go!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I absolutely want to shout out the The University of Arizona Masters in Fine Art program, from which I just graduated with an emphasis on Illustration + Design. My mentor, Ellen McMahon, is a brilliant creative thinker and conceptual artist, whose background in and passion for the science of the living world has been very influential for me, and mirrors my own path to developing my art practice. I also have to shoutout my sister, Amira Makansi, who is an author and fellow creative. She is my biggest cheerleader and understands what sets me free and what holds me back more than anyone else in my life, and isn’t afraid to provide honest, constructive feedback.
Other: Personal Website: elenamakansi.com Instagram: @forager.art