Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Blog Assignment: Feminist Artist: Jessica Lagunas

Jessica Lagunas is a Nicaraguan-born (1971) artist, raised in Guatemala, where she studied graphic design. Her work is a mixture of objects, performance, video and installations to express both her concern and her viewpoint of the plight of women in contemporary society.

Here is a statement from Jessica's website about her work and the motivation behind it:

"My work deals with the condition of woman in contemporary society. By exploring female sexuality, beauty and ageing, it honors women’s bodies and cherishes growing old. My interest in this subject comes from growing up in Guatemala, a repressive, violent and sexist society. Using minimum elements, often erotic ones, I explore these ideas through various media: installations, collage, objects and video performances. I am particularly interested in questioning women’s obsessions with their image and bodies. Beauty routines of embellishment have been incorporated in our daily lives in such a way that we hardly notice nor question them anymore."
(Lagunas, Jessica. "Jessica Lagunas- Artist Statement." Jessica Lagunas Art Portfolio. May 2007. 18 Jul 2007 http://www.jessicalagunas.com/.)

Jessica's work deals with both the Latin American experience and life as a woman. Often, her work intersects as the two collide (ethnicity and gender) and the resulting work is an enlightening view into the world of both women, and Latin Americans.

In particular, a lot of her work has to do with the beauty routines and rituals, such as putting on lipstick or wearing high heels, that have become a part of life for many women. She takes them out of context, and questions them and our obsession with the aesthetics and appearance of the female body.

The following are a few examples of Jessica's work, most taken from her online art portfolio.

One of my personal favorites of Jessica's exhibitions is one titled “Encierro rosa” or, translated from Spanish...“Romance Imprisonment”.

This exhibition was formed with a myriad of Spanish-language "chick lit" such as romance novels and escapist literature (a good example of the genre in English would be "Bridget Jones' Diary). The theme that some of the artists used was that of "imprisonment" so Jessica related that concept to the "chick lit" genre of fantasy and escape.

Next to the cage of books was this quote by Corín Tellado (of Spain), one of the best-known authors of the genre.

"I don’t know what is happening,but I’m sure there is something going on.It’s strange, or maybe not.It is true that I know nothing of men,but I have read.’—Corín Tellado

The next work that caught my eye was that of “Para verte mejor”“The Better to See You With”...a performance video (about 57 minutes in length) where Jessica applies mascara continuously for one hour, in order to exaggerate in a grotesque manner the beauty ritual that many women do each morning. By focusing on the singular gesture, Jessica aims to question not only the ritual itself, but our obsession as a society with cosmetics. She talks more about it on her website.

Here are some stills from that video:

Jessica has also a few other videos playing on the same theme. Here are a few stills from those videos.

“Para besarte mejor” “The Better to Kiss You With”:

“Para acariciarte mejor” “The Better to Caress You With”:

The final installation that I will feature was another one of her works, one that I found particularly startling because I had no idea what it was about until I read Jessica's explanation.

Here is the exhibition, which is titled “Título de propiedad”“Ownership Title” :

It's a bit difficult to see, but on the handcuffs, the Spanish words "Ella de El" (she of he) were engraved. The guard was installed as part of the exhibition as well.

Initially, my reaction was that of confusion. I understood the general idea of marriage as a type of imprisonment for some women, but I didn't understand why those words were engraved on the handcuffs. Jessica's explanation made it a bit clearer.

In (some of) Latin America, there is a marriage tradition of a woman to take her husband's name with the preposition/prefix de, which means "of". By adding that prefix, she becomes property of a man. Jessica also mentions the similarity of the Spanish plural for female spouses (esposas) with the Spanish word for handcuffs (esposas). Jessica comments on not only the linguistic tradition, but the views of marriage in the Latin American world.

I chose Jessica to comment on and feature as an artist because her work addresses what others may dismiss as trivialities (name changing, beauty rituals) and she makes them into larger issues, connecting them with the contemporary woman. By examining things and either isolating them out of context by putting them on a stark wall or exaggerating them via performance art, Jessica's work invites viewers to reexamine and rethink things in their lives as more than just small things we do everyday, but as part of the bigger picture, of societal expectations and gender roles.

I also chose Jessica because I felt that her work was visually startling. I do not have much background in art, so my choice was based mainly on my gut reactions to her work. I feel that Jessica does an excellent job of making her work accessible to those who aren't familiar with the art world, and that is another reason why I chose her. I had instant reactions to all of her work, which is varied yet focused.

Here is Jessica's main website (linked). I recommend flipping through her art portfolio, although there is a bit of nudity if you are at school (just as a general warning). Her commentary on her exhibitions really helps to understand where she is coming from.

See You in Azeroth!

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