Shapeshifter-Enigmas: A drawing suite after Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz
Shapeshifters is a series of large shellac and metallic ink drawings on handmade paper. I began during a residency in November, 2019 at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, on the edge of the Great Plains, the vast region where I grew up. I returned to this part of the West to reconcile the raging present with haunts of memory from my childhood. Drawing into site, I had to consider the colonial past and present alongside strategies for collective survival- in this landscape where murders and disappearances of young native women are the latest in genocidal warfare. At Ucross, the drawings turned into low relief like the landscape's rough mesas and blind curves. The mark making unravelled.
Mexican poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695), wrote twenty brief Enigma poems in the colonial Viceroy of New Spain. Contentious, paradoxical and perverse, she matters now because her writing grapples with truth and speech: “What is that audacity/ with such great presumption/ that possibly being reason/fakes being idiocy?”
The Enigma poems snare by way of seductive surfaces of language, while timbre and rhythm matter as much as her interrogative demands. You get the sense that Sor Juana is breathing contradiction like oxygen. I named each drawing after an Enigma, in the original Baroque Spanish and in translation by Stalina Emmanuelle Villarreal.
These drawings were shown in a solo installation, curated by Mike Hernandez, for Irenic Projects, Pasadena, in 2020.
Two were installed for the group exhibition, Otherwise/Revival, at Bridge Projects, Los Angeles, in 2021.