A mysterious person standing at a pond and wearing a mask. A young man with a crown of leaves on his head. An old woman’s mouth covered with a fish. Portraits of other women looking straight into the camera, the whites of their eyes unusual and slightly disturbing. The eyes – the only white part of the photos – catch the observer’s glance and don’t let go easily, all in sepia as if the photos were from the early 1900s. The artist, Guatemalan Luis Gonzalez Palma, uses white paint to edit the eyes and to give them the effect they have in his photos.
“It’s like the pictures are watching you,” said Margy Dudley, owner of Open Shutter Gallery, which will exhibit Gonzalez Palma’s work until March 4 in a show called “Variations.”
Dudley feels honored to have his works here, as they have been exhibited in many different parts of the world: Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Poland, Spain, New York and Washington D.C. His art was also shown twice at the Venice Biennale in 2001 and 2005. The fact that his work would find its way to Durango was a stroke of luck.
“It’s one of the highest quality shows we had here,” Dudley said, referring to Gonzalez Palma’s material, technique, composition and quality. “This artist is a real master of his technique,” she said. Gonzalez Palma creates collages of sorts with his photos, using tones, hand paints, silver gelatin prints, gold leaf and a special high-contrast film. They are always staged and constructed, to keep their specific melancholic, dark-dreamy tonality.
In addition to photographs, the exhibit also features a felt carpet which lies on a pedestal in the right corner at the back of Open Shutter’s main room. On the felt is a black and white photograph of a sad face, again looking into the observer’s eyes. The felt is rolled and wrapped up with red string.
Like the other subjects in Gonzalez Palma’s photographs, the person pictured on the felt is of mixed race, gallery manager Arista Slater-Sandoval said. Gonzalez Palma is mixed race himself, half native Guatemalan, half Spanish Colonial. Through his photography, he hopes to draw attention to such marginalized and culturally-displaced people, oppressed throughout history by the Spanish.
“His topic is pain and sorrow, but also the beauty that can be found in it,” Slater-Sandoval said. Gonzalez Palma has often been criticized for exploiting his subjects and objectifying them. Slater-Sandoval understands this reproach but doesn’t share it. She sees his art as a way of empowering his subjects and an attempt to give them their voices back.
To show this beauty, pain and sorrow, Gonzalez Palma uses different styles: Magical realism, the classic style in his portraits, and the dream-like imagery. Though some might find his work inaccessible at times, Slater-Sandoval’s advice for visitors of the exhibition: “Take your time with the pictures; look at the different parts of the images. Analyze them and make your own connections.”
Thomas Feiler is a student at the Catholic University Eichstaett-Ingolstadt, Germany, and an intern at The Durango Herald.