Eva Quintas, La Quinta Raza (The fifth race), 2004, 102 x 156cm.
If you have not yet visited the ODD Gallery to see the exhibition of photo collages by Eva Quintas, we recommend that you do so!
The show opened on March 10th, and included an informative artist talk with Quintas, who was born in Spain and now lives in Montreal. The collection of photo collages are portraits of men and women whom she met during a residency in Mexico City, as well as some of her friends from First Nations groups in Quebec. Quintas spoke very articulately about the works, and how she transitioned from creating highly theatrical, “construction of identity” works to something closer to an actual representation of identity– one that is fragmented, but made whole by a community context. (See below for Evan Rensch’s exhibition essay, which speaks to Quintas’ depiction of identity.)
Here are some photos from the opening:
Learn more about the works and the exhibition by reading Evan’s essay below. We hope to see you in the ODD Gallery!
The ODD Gallery is pleased to present Rituals of Identity, Tactics of Resistance, a series of large-scale photographic works by Montreal-based artist Eva Quintas. These images represent a small excerpt from a long-term investigation spanning a seven-year period (2001-08) of the artist’s career. Throughout the duration of the project, Quintas focused her lens on a diverse range of cultural and ethnic groups with the goal of reexamining society’s perceptions of identity and “the other.” The specific eight photographs selected for the ODD Gallery take representations of Native identity as a common theme of exploration.
Begun in Mexico City during a residency at the National Arts Centre, and continued upon her subsequent return to Quebec, the work is a product of Quintas’ interaction with a variety of indigenous cultures, ranging from Aztec warrior dancers found in Mexico to the Wendake, Wôlinak and Mashteuiash communities in Quebec. By engaging a host of geographically diverse sources, Quintas posits a notion of identity that transcends national boundaries. Her choice of visual composition serves as a thematic anchor for the work: in each image, a psychologically isolated figure, dressed in the costumed regalia of their cultural heritage, becomes a ‘figure of resistance’ within a violently urbanized environment that pulses with the iconography of contemporary society. As a whole, the suite of images suggests a collective tapestry, interweaving the diverse rituals, symbols, and histories of individual peoples within a broader cultural fabric.
Through this investigation of cultural rituals, Quintas also reengages the ritual of the photographic portrait. In her images, the traditional relationship between photographer and photographed, essential in the understanding of documentary photography, is substituted for the theoretical ritual observed between the constructed subject and the gaze of the gallery viewer. In Quintas’ imagery, the oppositional dialogue that asserts the power of the patriarchal gaze over the feminine subject now migrates towards a more socially normative representation of “the cultural other.’ In her images, the subjects confront this position of dominance; all of her characters stare back in allied uniformity, stoically challenging the viewer’s expectations of them. By resisting the historical definition of a photograph as a transparent window through which to view the exterior world, these images can be interpreted as a constructed mirror in which the artist begs us to view her subjects on the same social plane that we view ourselves.
It is, in fact, their constructed quality that imbues these images with their dynamic presence. Digitally collaged, printed on canvas, and mounted to stretchers, Quintas’ photoworks owe as much to the legacy of painting as to the history of photography. These pictures can be viewed as a companion and successor to the nineteenth century tableau vivant or “living picture,” itself based on the idioms and compositions of epic narrative painting. Two essential characteristics from this genre remain intact: the expression of immense space—both chronological and volumetric—has become visually concentrated within the two-dimensional, static image. The Fifth Race, for instance, allegorically illustrates the fusion of diverse races that has led to the creation of contemporary Mexico. Centuries of cultural evolution can be witnessed within a single photographic archive. In other images, condensed space is further reduced to non-space; the isolated characters witnessed in Memorial and Guerrera Mexhika are placed against a purely graphic, abstracted ground. By choosing a visual language based on pastiche, an emphasis towards the fantastic is inevitable. Quintas harnesses the surreal to expose the real: by delving into imaginary terrain, she exposes relationships that would ordinarily be subdued within the clutter of daily experience.
Such concentrated relationships as these inherently imply an emphasis on history and place. Each image serves as an archive of threatened cultural experience onto which these “characters of resistance” seek to withhold. Theirs is a history ripe with violence and tragedy that perpetuates itself within the events of today: the mark of the past inevitably informs the present. The image Chimali takes the fierce protests witnessed at the 2004 foreign leaders summit in Guadalajara as its setting, while Miotzolin discusses the recent bloodshed witnessed at the country’s northern boundary as the effects of illegal immigration and drug cartels take their toll. In fighting for their right to exist in the world, the struggle felt by Quintas’ characters is intimately motivated, yet public in scope; as in all matters of human rights, there is a fine line separating the personal and political. While Quintas frequently travels back in time, citing a multitude of public figures and historical events to support her cause, she also reworks the influences of her artistic precursors. Mexico is the country that birthed Rivera, Siquieros, Orozco and others; these were artists whose work engaged the concept of the individual over the mechanisms of mass uniformity. In Quintas’ work, just as in theirs, an artistic statement simultaneously becomes a social and political movement.
In the end, these images ask many questions that resist a straightforward answer. Though Quintas’ characters are united in ambition, she never seeks to represent the identity of her subjects as a hermetic, autonomous whole. Each image, by its very nature, is a “re-creation” of culminating experiences, a meditation on the multiplicity of human character. The artist’s emphatic use of visual montage serves as a metaphor showing an individual’s identity to be inherently fragmented, incomplete, and requiring a communal context to gain coherency. Quintas ultimately suggests that culture is a collective, rather than divisive, experience – a shared experience that urgently invites the viewer’s own participation.
This exhibition could not have been facilitated without the continued support of many individuals. The author wishes to acknowledge the ongoing leadership provided by the Gallery Director, Lance Blomgren as well as the skills and insight provided by the Gallery Committee, comprised of Evelyn Pollock, Michael Edwards, Tim Jones, Megan Graham, Kit Hepburn, Rian Lougheed-Smith, Jen Laliberte, and Dan Sokolowski. Lastly, sincere thanks are due to KIAC staff members Karen Dubois, Jenna Roebuck, and Tara Rudnickas for their daily assistance with the gallery’s activities.
Evan Rensch, March 2011
EVAN RENSCH is Dawson City artist and writer who currently works as the Gallery Assistant at the ODD Gallery. His photographs have recently been acquired for the permanent collection of Yukon Arts Centre. His film, Soft Spoken, also was awarded the jury prize for the Dawson City 48 Hour Film Competition.