Coast Magazine - Art Access
Increasingly, Latin American artists are participating in major biennials, exhibiting in international museums, art fairs and galleries, and are a noticeable force in major collections. Their ancient histories and artistic productions go back a few thousand years as Latin artists tap into their Indian, European and International heritages. With their rich and diverse backgrounds, our Southern neighbors broaden the scope of creative possibilities and are making a strong impact on the current art scene in the US and beyond. Mexican artist Mariana Castillo Deball, exhibiting at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), revisits the ancient Aztecs culture, while at Salt Fine Art Gallery, Irene Pressner from Venezuela, looks at her family’s tragic European World War II experiences. Both deal with power and perception, examining mythologies, histories, and cultures. Through personal visions, both artists put the past into focus for our contemporary generation.
ART ACCESS #1 – MUSEUM OF LATIN AMERICAN ART (MOLAA)
MARIANA CASTILLO DEBALL
MOLAA’s Project Room is devoted to experimental contemporary art where Castillo Deball exhibits her installation composed of sculptures, video, and graphics. Entitled “Between You and the Image of You that Reaches Me,” Castillo Deball investigates past and present societal changes through two powerful Aztecs mythological figures: Coatlicue, the Mother Goddess of the Earth and Death, who it was believed gave birth to the moon and stars, and Coyolxauhqui, her powerful eldest daughter. The artist literally deconstructs myths, history, and symbolism by cutting up the image, telling their story through a contemporary poem and video, and reducing the obdurate stone to flimsy paper cutouts and prints on paper.
From the original goddess forms in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, Castillo Deball cast new sculptures of green fiberglass. Then she cut the fiber glass “skins” into sections where they could be placed on the gallery floor or carried like body masks, as the video recounts the ancient myth. On a wall hangs very tall and limp paper cuts of the mythological figures looking more like deflated white lace than powerful gods. Hanging on another wall are slightly raised, “blind prints,” from the original textural surface of the statues, now muted white designs on white paper.
Castillo Deball wrenches out the power that the presence of the goddesses had cast over Mexico. Her installations conveys a modern perception of these ancient and enduring figures, now powerless and ineffective in our modern society. The viewer may ask the question: if Mexican artifacts drive Mexican identity, specifically its Indian past, how do these now laic symbols have meaning for a contemporary Mexican society?
ART ACCESS #2 – SALT FINE ART GALLERY
MOLAA and Salt Fine Art have much in common; both specialize in Contemporary Latin American art. In 2006, Pressner, who exhibits currently at Salt Fine Art Gallery, won MOLAA’s first prize award with her art which is now part of MOLAA’s permanent collection. In that same year, she also won major prizes in her native Venezuela. Pressner is of Jewish origin, from a family that endured the Holocaust and immigrated afterwards to South America. Her art daringly turns the tables on the demeaning use of tattoos, when in World War II human beings were branded like animals. Not allowing this diabolic act to remain, she endows tattoos with a new status. Rather than injecting them into human skin, she uses tattooing concepts to “paint” on board with an encaustic substance composed of wax, pigment and oil paint. Pressner transforms tattooing into popular cultural imagery, creating a variety of subtle, yet stirring political statements.
Several years ago, to pursue her vision, Pressner became a tattoo expert studying in a street tattoo parlor in her native Caracas. At the same time, she honed her skills with the very arduous techniques of encaustics. Encaustics goes back to the early Egyptians and Greeks where materials are made from melted beeswax and manipulated into images having one of the most durable surfaces ever created. (The Greeks coated their ships with encaustics.) In her current exhibition, Pressner makes light of the weight of history and mocks those who showed their power by tattooing. Her iconic images of Dumbo, Felix the Cat and Betty Boop are meticulously composed into intimate paintings of tight pattern formations that ironically reference an intricate and flamboyant Rococo style, a high respected mode in the history of art.
Thus, Pressner’s art is informative and transformative. Her paintings cum tattooing make people aware of a brutal phase in 20th century history. They demonstrate that, in transforming tattooing from humiliation into beauty, the artist can shift our perceptions to a higher level. Thus, Pressner's art attests to the enduring spirit of the human soul.