By Hannah Sentenac
By Hannah Sentenac
By Ciara LaVelle
By Ashli Molina
By Elisa Melendez
By Briana Saati
When considering the work created by male artists, tag lines or descriptive phrases such as malenist, phalloist, masculist -- or any equivalent of "feminist" -- do not exist. Male artists create or interpret their personal experiences and the world around them from very individual perspectives. A female artist's work, on the other hand, can be quickly and haphazardly labeled "feminist" by critics and viewers alike.
Although Maritza Molina is a female, she does not claim to be a feminist artist and has no feminist affiliations other than checking the "F" box on a form. Perhaps in this refusal to carry the flag she is seeking freedom by speaking out, naming, defining, creating, deconstructing, and facing herself.
Is feminist labeling a default mechanism for keeping the artist and the work in the voice of the other, as a way to disarm, classify, or marginalize the artist? Or is the resulting work "feminist" by default because of the nature of the commentary informed by the work?
Molina, born in Cuba, was a victim of terror politics and a prisoner in her own home. At the age of ten she made her way to the United States; she eventually graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and was also a Miami-Dade County Art Access Grant winner. She now calls South Florida home and has exhibited and performed around the state, including at Art Basel, for the past several years.
In her solo exhibition titled "Facing the Woman," the words "You are not like we are," fill the Leonard Tachmes Gallery with the sound effects of taunting playground children as well as heavy breathing; somewhere in the background wafts the Christian, masculine choir of "Our Father ..."
Molina chooses to fold herself into the narrative. Other artists have used themselves in their work. For example visual artist Cindy Sherman incorporates herself in sound-stage tableaux and as countless characters in her photographic series; performance artist Carolee Schneemann's photo documentations freeze the mostly chaotic performance action; and local visual artist Naomi Fisher's images seem to capture crime scenes. Molina's work is time-sensitive as well. Actions are assumed, occurring the instant the viewer faces the work, as if distilling moments from a progression of events.
In the two-part piece You're Not Like We Are, a group of women encircles the artist in a field overgrown with wild grasses. The women have their skirts raised above their heads, occulting their faces but revealing their most intimate of parts. Molina stands facing the viewer wearing a translucent black dress, her face exposed, her hands protectively shielding her crotch. In the second image, with skirts still overhead, the women appear to have swayed -- one knee deeply bent, jutting the hips in a full swing -- while the artist's position is static. Is this an initiation rite or a rebellious act of individuation?
This theme is echoed in Covered By Tradition, originally created for an exhibition titled "L-Factor" for Exit Gallery in New York. The premise of that show was to present the reciprocal artistic influences between Latin artists and their North American counterparts; this piece is a tipped hat to Ana Mendieta, a Cuban artist who used her body to create work in nature. Here Molina lies in a rich bed of freshly turned dark soil, naked, white powder covering her already light skin from her genitals to her neck. From the neck to beyond her head, a white skirt covers her face and some of the earth.
In other pieces there are cliffhangers that invite viewers to fill in the blanks. This quality is particularly evident in Against the Odds, an epic in three parts in which a sea of equilaterally distributed barefoot men and the artist stand armed with machetes. In the first image Molina is caught at the beginning of the downstroke leading the men to battle. In the second image the men have raised their weapons; in the last image those men are on the ground shoulder to shoulder, a long vibrant red fabric covering the faces of the dead. The artist is noticeably missing.
In the six-minute video piece Conquering Space, Molina, in tan vestments and machete in hand, duels ferociously with space. Never tiring, she relentlessly pierces the air in mortal combat with all that is insurmountable until she dissolves into nothing.
Finally in the performance/video Domestication, Molina, wearing an evening dress covering only her front, crosses streets and enters the performance space, followed in single file by an entourage of men. The men line up shoulder to shoulder facing the audience and proceed to blindfold themselves, hold their hands out, and recite the Lord's Prayer over and over again.
Molina is placed in the first man's arms, then passed from one blind man to another all the way down the line. The last man puts her on the ground face up, and rolls her on her stomach onto a mirror, which exposes her naked backside to the blind men. There she remains for the duration of one final "Our Father ..." Molina rises to her feet, puts her pumps back on, and repeats "one follows behind the other" as she puts one foot behind the other and backs up until she is behind the men. Then she leads them out single file after her. The commentary on men who do not see and women's historic roles of objectification are underscored nicely with "Our Fathers."
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