MINNEAPOLIS — Animals populate the prints on view at Sus Voces, a group exhibition curated by Maria Cristina Tavera at Highpoint Center for Printmaking, featuring nine female Mexican printmakers working in traditional techniques. Animals are used as metaphors for the female body, as elements of fantasy, as spiritual evocation, and as emblems of fear. It’s a show that flirts with female and Mexican stereotypes and tosses them upside down, that breathes political expression in a whisper, and draws the viewer into a growing discontent among women artists living in a violent world.
A number of the artists in Sus Voces, a part of the Guerrilla Girls Twin Cities Takeover, pair bodies of animals and women together. For instance, in Diana Morales Galicia’s terrifying woodcuts, the artist depicts twisting, suffocating cages for dogs and humans alike. Daniela Ramirez, meanwhile, takes a more whimsical approach to anthropomorphism, with her fanciful scenes: a bird-headed lady chats with another bare-breasted woman with a nest for a neck and a gramophone for a head. In another, a female figure with a long-nosed animal head stands in a geometrically constructed floral pool, a tree growing from a floating canoe in the distance, as a science-fiction-looking object hovers above her hand.
There’s a startling contrast between Morales Galicia’s animals, which are used as a metaphor for human trafficking victims, and Ramirez’s animals that give wisdom and spiritual power to her female figures. Where for one artist the animals signify the very worst a life’s condition can be, where for another, they offer a social power that perhaps women are more apt at channeling.
Adriana Calatayud Morán offers a nod to Frida Kahlo with her series of offset lithography titled Animalario. The pieces juxtapose black-and-white images of animals with organs, muscles, skeletons, and teeth that might have come out of a textbook. Where Kahlo painted human body parts as a way to show her physical and emotional pain, Calatayud Morán gives the same treatment to a moose, a giraffe, and a bear. We see the tiger’s humanness not through anthropomorphism, but by a merging of human and animal bodies.
Edith Chávez’s animals, like Ramirez’s, take on a spiritual element, hovering around her self-portraits like benevolent gods. But the creatures will also soon be eaten: Her subjects in “Crisantemo” and “Altea” hold animal heads as if presenting them for a first course. In “Rosa espina,” oversized chickens dreamily hang behind the figure, ready for a day of feast preparation.
Chávez plays with the pastoral, idyllic stereotype of women cooking in the kitchen. Then she adds an element of absurdity to break up that imagery with monstrous animal depictions, like a hat made of chickens. The animals are used to poke fun at the notion of a bucolic nurturer and caretaker.
There’s a sensuality to Chávez’s figures. They seem to be dancing to music only they can hear. In “Ejambre,” the woman gently touches her neck and shoulder with her fingers. The women exude a sensuality, not for the gazer’s benefit but for the subject’s own secret pleasure. Whatever it is they are thinking about, they don’t offer a hint of it.
América Rodriguez’s portraits, meanwhile, exclude the body, with only the women’s faces taking focus. Stark and filled with sadness, the women look listlessly before them, or lower their eyelids in a morose pose. They also disappear into the background, with the artist’s textures and patterns engulfing their faces. “We are forgotten,” they seem to say. “We are disappearing.”
Mercedes López Calvo’s prints also invoke the disappeared, in content if not in form. In the most politically fueled series of the show, López Calvo depicts harrowing scenes of torture and murder. Her “Circulo de Sombras” (Circle of Shadows), shows a circle of figures laying on the ground, their hands on their heads, surrounding a pit, with one figure standing above them as if ready to fling them inside. While the artist created the work in 2012, it recalls the 43 students from Iguala, who went missing in 2014. Indeed, in the city of Juarez, Mexico, hundreds of women were murdered in the 1990s, and another wave of disappearances occurred in 2009 and 2010. “Fosa Común” (Common Pit), made in 2009, features three bodies, their shirts covering their faces and hands tied behind their backs, as if thrown into a grave after an execution. The work reflects on a history of corrupt regimes and devaluation of human life.
In a show where women use the penetrating language of prints to describe their experience as Mexican women, López Calvo makes a direct hit, an emotional cry of terror in today’s world.
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