The National Portrait Gallery presents the ninth installation of “Portraiture Now,” a series of exhibitions that showcase some of the most creative twenty-first-century portrait artists.
“Portraiture Now: Staging the Self” features the work of six contemporary U.S. Latino artists—David Antonio Cruz, Carlee Fernandez, María Martínez-Cañas, Rachelle Mozman, Karen Miranda Rivadeneira, and Michael Vasquez—who present identities theatrically, in order to rid portraiture of its reassuring tradition that fixes a person in space and time.
These artists use their work to focus on personal or family issues, telling stories that they have remembered or imagined from their past, manipulating images of themselves or superimposing portraits of their loved ones on their own. Like actors searching for a character, they are looking both for their unique identity traits and for shared traits. In the process, portraiture loses its feeling of certainty and instead becomes a map for finding oneself and others.
We have reproduced the artists’ names as they use them, with or without accents. This exhibition has been organized by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Latino Center.
Born Santa Ana, California, 1973
Carlee Fernandez defines herself as a sculptor, although photography is often her medium of choice to explore familiar or fanciful three-dimensional forms. In the early 2000s she created sculptural hybrids of our consumer age by seamlessly combining rejected skins from a taxidermy shop with everyday objects. Works like Hugo Parlier (2001), a rhino-headed stepladder, emphasizes Fernandez’s preoccupation with shape and identity as well as the relationship between humankind and nature. More recently, in her Bear Studies and Man series, and her new work, The Strand That Holds Us Together, she merges her own body with beasts and with men she loves and admires. This latest series investigates the relationship between self, gender, and family.
Fernandez earned her BFA from California State University and MFA from Claremont Graduate University. Her work has been included in numerous solo and group shows, including the landmark “Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement” (2008) and the California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art in 2010.
My body is the general form of a small bear. With fur and Velcro, I tailored myself to snuggle into the cavity of the animal. I appear part bear, part me. Over my body, I layered posters of male artists, musicians, and film directors, my measurements dictating the scale of the photograph. I hand-painted stripes on a navy blue boys’ pocket T-shirt to match that of my father’s in an old photo.
All objects bespoke for my body carry qualities of fierceness, masculinity, machismo, or animalness. Physically applying these objects to my body is a way of expanding myself to envelop a whole with new characteristics while keeping my body as anchor. This simple gesture has complex implications of duality between man and woman, human and animal, and the respect for life.
Born Havana, Cuba, 1960
María Martínez-Cañas seems to have been born with a camera: at eight years old she was working with a Polaroid Swinger and then a Twin-Lens Rolleiflex that her mother brought from Cuba. Martínez-Cañas was raised in Puerto Rico, where her love of photography and art has culminated in awards and exhibitions. As an undergraduate at the Philadelphia College of Art and in graduate school at the Art Institute of Chicago, Martínez-Cañas embraced experimental photography, pushing beyond the documentary use of the medium to a poetic territory that combines drawing, collage, and photomontage. Maps, family photographs, and art historical images recur in her work as visual markers documenting and reinventing the past.
The series Duplicity as Identity consists of nine images in which the artist overlays a photograph of herself onto one of her father, posed identically and taken at approximately the same age. Martínez-Cañas then creates incremental mixes of her and her father that go from 10 percent of his image over 90 percent of hers all the way to 10 percent of hers over 90 percent of his, confounding their identities into one.
The series Duplicity as Identity explores the notions of duplicity, perception, and illusion in photography as inspired by recent familial circumstances. Juxtaposing what is “real” and “imagined,” the images reflect the desires, fears, and prohibitions that permeate everyday life and questions of identity.
While the term “duplicity” implies deceitfulness in speech or conduct, it can be argued that it is the basis of all social interactions. Given the fact that the behavior of most people changes according to those with whom they interact, we are continuously recreating ourselves in moments of almost-believable duplicity. A fundamental goal of this work is to discover the relationship between perceived and physical worlds.
Born New York City, 1972
In the last two decades, Rachelle Mozman has worked between her native New York and Panama, the country of her maternal family. Starting often from her own experience and family history, Mozman explores how culture shapes individuals and how environment affects behavior. She takes on these questions through multiple photographic series that conflate both documentary style and fictional narrative. Mozman’s photographs show servants and masters in their most intimate surroundings. They engage each other sparsely, if at all, playing off of established social roles. The common introspective look of Mozman’s lone characters suggests alienation—not what one would expect in a domestic setting.
Mozman received an MFA from Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Her work has been shown in solo and group shows in the United States, Europe, and Central America. She is currently an artist-in-residence at the Lower Manhattan Community Council.
My work stands at the intersection of documentary, narration, and performance. I photograph my mother and myself as characters exploring our family history. InCasa de Mujeres [Women’s House], my mother plays the role of three women: a pair of twin sisters, one lighter in skin color, and a maid. These images reflect on traditional social hierarchies prevalent in Latin America. At the same time they can be read as portraits of my mother as her various selves—like a nested doll, revealing the conflict of vanity, race, and class within her.
The subseries La Negra y su Pequeña describes the journey of La Negra and her younger daughter, Pequeña, from Panama to the United States. The character Pequeña is a digital composite of my mother and myself. Based on the life story of my grandmother and mother, this work shows both characters struggling with the shift in identity stirred in them by immigration, and the process of assimilating to a culture where the history of color and class transforms their self-perception.
Karen Miranda Rivadeneira
Born New York City, 1983
Since 2006, Karen Miranda Rivadeneira’s photographic projects have focused on identity and intimacy. With her family’s participation, she has staged and photographed memories of her childhood in her family’s home in Queens, New York. She has also worked with native peoples, such as the Mam in Guatemala, the Mandaeans (from south of Iraq and west of Iran) living in Sweden, and the Waoranis in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Most recently she has explored such ancient traditions as shamanism in the Andean Mountains. In these diverse locations she uses the medium of photography to locate the universal while exploring the intersection of memory and tradition.
Miranda Rivadeneira earned her BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York. She is the recipient of multiple awards and fellowships, including a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship in photography, the EnFoco New Works Award, and a grant from the Queens Council of the Arts. She has published and exhibited widely and is an invited participant in the 2014 Latin American Photography Forum in São Paulo, Brazil.
The act of remembering is an unstable and unreliable process. The more we “remember” an event, the more we are likely to change it. Since 2008, I have been working on Other Stories/Historias Bravas, a project where I revisit events from my youth that were never recorded. In this project, I restage scenarios taken from my memory with the collaboration of my immediate family. I recreate moments that helped shape my interpretation of the world and my identity. These memories are either connected to local folklore or to my own family’s tradition such as praying to the rain or blessing the breasts.
These reenactments, while personal, address the universal, particularly in relation to what defines identity, family, and tradition in contemporary life. Although staged, this project is not meant to convey a romanticized vision of my experiences but to provide a means for reflection and a search for truth.