We’re Still Working Artist Interview: Pluma Sumaq

“El Derecho”, 2016, Pluma Sumaq. Photo by Chani Bockwinkel

Where does the inspiration for the altars in your piece come from?

Creating altars is something so personal and intimate to me, it’s such a guttural and ancestral process that has allowed me to experienced deep healing. I love creating an altar, the process itself and that feeling of knowing who I am and trusting that I am here on purpose. And I find this process to be beautiful. So I knew that I wanted to create this kind of beauty as a continuation of my journey to heal my sense of self-worth. The idea to use money evolved naturally from my current money struggles and my desire to understand this relationship.

I have a lot of respect for my ho sisters because they are consistently the only group of people I see openly discussing money. Which in turn, and in a very everyday way, allows us the space to feel, grieve and move through our experiences with the abundance and inequities that live within us. Also there is an opportunity for us to be open to new experiences with capital, wealth and resources. And ultimately, this is not a new idea. It’s really no secret that people who deal in lump sums of money like to creatively document their cash stash. People post pictures, roll around in it, and pose their felines with their bank rolls. As I imagine we all have our ways of making sense of our experience. My exhibition is on the continuum of “cats with cash” and I wanted to explore my own personal and spiritual version of it.

What do you hope people to take away from your exhibit

I want every sex worker who sees this to feel inspired and empowered to raise their rates. “Know your worth, raise your rates,” is an affirmation that proudly I encourage. Whatever you are charging, I promise you, it’s not enough. Economically, I know this gets complex but if you need help working it out, please give me a call. The other thing I hope people will take away is a purchased piece of art. I created these altars with a lot of intention for collective love, reverence and bounty. The exhibition itself is designed to be a living altar. It would be an honor to know that some of these pieces will end up in homes, and gathering spaces of all kinds as a little reminder that the plentitude we are seeking is always available to us. I guess I want people (and especially sex workers) to know, but more importantly to feel, that you are enough. And if my art touches you in any away, I am thankful for the connection. May we blessed in infinite reciprocity.

Could you tell us a little more about the themes and mediums you explore with your art?

Right away I dove into the connection between a higher power and money. Transaction are essentially just exchanges and I wanted to wake up to what this means and has meant for me as a sex worker. Even in times when I have not been working, when very little money has passed through my hands, I have noticed the distinction between feeling blessedly abundant and barrenly abandoned. I can say that too, about the times when I was making a very decent amount of money. Because even though money is an external currency, it also has it’s own internal energy. And our relationship to it shifts and changes over time. For this project, I worked with over $5,000 and it gave me the opportunity to experience money in a very healing way. Abundance is an internal emotional state and one of the ways that poverty has been deeply wounding to me is that it has limited the kinds of experiences I’ve had that have allowed me to access this state of being with any kind of ease. Not to mention that because of how much I saw people around me struggling for money, there was a direct connection made with money and fear. That’s not a very easy thing to overcome. The opportunity to make art and to create something as sacred to me as altars using materials that carry a lot of charge, as well as their own information was a beautiful experience.

What else have you been working on?

I was really inspired by what came out of this, so I want to expand on this project and series of images. I’m also a writer and am looking for funding to work on a book that would be part memoir and part cultural and economic critique, put together as a collection of essays. I’m currently and always looking for creative and alternative forms of funding since I’m not especially excited about the whole grant process. I also think it’s about time I got an instagram.

About Pluma Sumaq:

Pluma Sumaq is a futuristic mujer mestiza, mujer indigena with a long and complex history of involvement in the sex trade. She is the creator of a chapbook of poetry by sex workers titled, Places of Eclipse and has been published in LIES Vol. II: A Journal of Materialist Feminism, as well as the blog The Body Is Not An Apology. She is invested in the deep healing of people in the sex industry and is passionate about demystifying, de-stigmatizing and humanizing prostitution. For over a decade she has worked on legislative, creative and healing projects that support the resiliency, integrity and vitality of people who trade sex for resources. As an educator and sex worker advocate she has spoken at several colleges, including the University of California, Berkeley, as well as the California Institute for Integral Studies.

About the Interviewer:
Tara Chandi is SOMArts’ Communications & Gallery Events Intern. She is pursuing a Master’s in Interaction Design at the California College of the Arts. Her work is focused on designing for sustainable solutions and systemic change.