From May 31 to June 5 botanical sculptor Lutfi Janania presented a vibrant and immersive installation as part of the Museum of Arts and Design’s (MAD) ongoing “Flower Craft” multi-part, group exhibition in New York. The Honduran-born artist, and founder of the design studio Rosalila in Brooklyn, set out to create a lush fantasy rooted in sensory memories of his childhood spent on a dynamic bio-reserve.
As a child, Janania was enveloped by the rich natural world and heritage of his home country, which served as grand inspiration for his creative path. Upon moving to New York, the artist embarked on a career in fashion, working for cutting-edge designers. He soon moved on to styling, where he invoked his passion for floral imagery. From there, he founded his studio and redefined the meaning of sculpture with the use of natural materials.
His latest project at MAD transports the viewer through a celebration and tribute to the organic splendor and rich heritage of Honduras. Composed of fresh flora, dried materials, and palm mirrors, the exhibition was both Jurassic and romantic in nature. A recreation of Mayan pyramid Copan Ruinas, a gem visited during Janania’s youth, provided the stage for his own earthenware vessels. Whitewall had the opportunity to ask the prolific artist about his formative years in Honduras, forging his creative journey in New York, and the ultimate destination: bringing hope and happiness into the world.
WHITEWALL: How did your childhood, spent on a lush bioreserve among the rainforest and mountains of San Pedro Sula in Honduras, inspire you to become a botanical artist?
LUTFI JANANIA: My childhood in Honduras informs so much of my work today. The experience of waking up, going to the window and seeing endless green, lush colors, and an array of Jurassic-like tropical plants and trees with sharp lines and expansive energy was like starting each day in a fantasy. In my work, I aim to recreate the fantasy, taking the viewer to a new world rooted in beauty, nature, and nostalgia.
WW: Can you recall some of your very first botanical sculptures?
LJ: My entry into botanical sculpture was rather organic. Creating large scale installations made me fall in love with the expression and human connection that was possible with organic materials as a medium. Those first pieces were an experimentation and a learning lesson for me, in terms of scale and possibility. When I first started with preserved botanicals is when the idea for Rosalila took shape—to create a studio that fused live florals with permanent sculpture.
One of my favorite collections was created for The Rockaway Hotel commissioned by Michi Jiargian, it allowed us to create work that is hosted in a stunning interior curated beautifully.
WW: Can you share a bit about your experience in fashion, and how that led to the creation of your own design studio, Rosalila, in Brooklyn?
LJ: I started my career in New York in fashion. I was fascinated by the creative industry, the ability of expression and creating from flat to 3D. I spent a few years in design before going off on my own as a stylist. The pace in fashion is relentless but also so rewarding. While I was styling, I loved to incorporate florals as props, to add a bit more of myself into the images. I slowly started spending more and more time creating moments with florals and decided to learn more about design and manipulation techniques. Eventually it became clear that I should make a go of it and opened my studio, Rosalila, in 2020.
WW: You combine an array of preserved botanicals, live florals, and unconventional materiality to express your unique vision of fantasy and nature’s opulence. What was the inspiration behind your immersive exhibition and solo show at the Museum of Arts and Design’s Flower Craft exhibition?
LJ: This exhibition is really thrilling. It is my first solo museum show so I wanted to convey the overarching message in all of my work, the intersection of botanical material and lush fantasy. The goal was to create a truly immersive and 360-degree experience that reflects what I saw growing up in Honduras. The lush wall-to-wall greenery and the appreciation for our heritage are core themes. There are two corresponding walls of live material with mirrors we developed directly in the center, inviting the viewer to perceive the fantasy while looking back at reality. There is also a recreation of a Mayan pyramid displaying our earthenware vessels. Also throughout you can find sculptures using driftwood, crystals, and live flowers as well as variations on the mirrors. It all adds up to be a deeply personal homage to my home and the many influences in my life.
WW: What do you hope to convey, in artistry and spirit, to participants in your exploratory workshop alongside the exhibition?
LJ: In everything I do, I hope to convey fantasy, beauty, and a sense of joy. Flora is fun and I believe in its power to encapsulate one’s hopes, memories, and happiness. Whether it’s for the exhibition onlooker or someone participating in the workshops, for me, I want to translate what the work means to me, to everyone.
WW: Can you speak about your artistic process—how do you go about discovering and experimenting with uncommon materials?
LJ: My process in experimentation starts with surprising materials. I find something, take it back to the studio, and fiddle with it until I’ve decided on its place. There are some traditions in botanical design that are very exacting but my approach is different. It is visceral and organic. That can be said of discovering materials and the resulting work.
WW: What does a typical day in your studio look like?
LJ: It’s a cliche, but every day is different. Most days I start at the flower market in Manhattan, pulling materials for the day ahead. By the time I arrive at the studio, my team has begun outlining what projects we need to work on. Then the creative process begins. The bulk of our days are spent creating the works and finalizing projects. Sometimes that means an installation for an event, other times it can be a gallery show or collaboration project. We always end with a team dinner around the table. I love to cook and having my team, which is more like a family, together to share a meal means a lot to me.
WW: Can you tell us about upcoming projects?
LJ: So much went into the exhibition at MAD so I’m really looking forward to taking a moment to reflect and think about what’s next artistically. Although the studio has never been busier and summer is such a big time for us, the opportunities feel endless. I’m so inspired and excited to develop our collections and the objects in them, our mirrors, vessels and botanical sculpture.