Una dimensión difícil de dilucidar

The exhibition (en)clave Masculino, which is a collection of one hundred artworks in the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts, proposes a rereading review about genre from a conceptualization that is supported by two fundamental axes: identity and power.

At first glance, a particular tension in this exhibition is presented between the male and female roles. However, it’s not anchored in the little effort of questioning, but in the act of demonstrating a historical context that does not follow a necessary chronology. Nonetheless, somehow there’s an investigation about the way the dominant masculine identity is present in our society with its complicity and buried hegemony, which is expressed in so many spheres, but it depends on its supposed power. As Gloria Cortés Aliaga, curator of the exhibition, says: “Thereby, the control of the ‘father’ (man/State) is exercised by means of a great variety of powers –strength, violence, language, custom, education, religion, art, among others –that affect the construction of culture, genre relations, class, and ethnicity.”

Beyond the consideration of genre, most of the traditional Chilean art prevails. Certainly, (en)clave Maculino poses an introduction to the role that is tacitly multiplied in an infinity of significations. There, masculinity is stacked in a socio-cultural process that goes from the classical Huaso y la Lavandera (1835) by Mauricio Rugendas to the delirious Tentación de San Antonio (1984) by Claudio Bravo. Let’s take into account what Roland Barthes said: “The artist creates what his own culture argues (or rejects) and what his own body demands: the evaded, the evoked, the repeated, or preferably, the forbidden, the desired. This is the paradigm that, as if they were two legs, moves the artist inasmuch as he creates.”

In that transit, we find what is essential to masculine and gives us the first keys in the Marchand d’ Esclaves or La Perla del Mercader by Alfredo Valenzuela Puelma. There, the prohibited desire of the late 19th Century gentlemen goes under the hammer, by means of an impeccable academic model. However, and at the same time, it’s disturbing like a permanent wink when attempting the possession of a splendorous and innocent female protagonist. This model comes back at the same time in many women that have been portrayed in relation to pedestrian activities such as combing a long red hair in Lucette by Julio Fossa Calderón (1920) or the canvas Niña bañándose (1902) by John Christen Johansen. The latest at some point opposes Alsha la hija de las fieras (1900) by Paul Michel Dupuy, where the girl seeks shelter in the puerile fierceness, that is typical of a role that impedes to unveil a genuine and erotic power and remains in that silent enchantment. It also remains in the submission imposed by a period where the disrupted ingenuousness is part of a double standard, that resides both in the natural enchantment of the female object of desire and in the continuous intention to sublimate everything related to lascivious acts and that is widely expressed in the mythological allegories. Soledad Novoa Donoso points out the following: “There has been a response throughout history regarding the Occidental tradition about the portraiture of the female body as an object of contemplation, which is a topic that has been used sometimes as an excuse to exhibit models of beauty or seduction according to the tastes of each period. Sometimes, this caused a scene with contents that are clearly erotic, which are protected by the tales that are culturally accepted.” It’s an evident fact in Pan y Siringe (16th century) by Jacopo Palma and in Baco y Venus (1645) by Jacob Jordaens. On the other hand, this is more ambiguous in Orfeo atacado por las Bacantes (1902) by Fernando Álvarez de Sotomayor and also in Prometeo encadenado (1883), but this one has an androgynous approach. In addition to this, there’s also a perspective related to the plurality of things, demythologizing that unique model of the manly/ masculine being that is present in El Sísifo (1893) by Pedro Lira, who clarifies an impetuous virility. Moreover, there’s an out-of-place strength that is exhibited in the violent Muerte de Lucrecia (version by an unknown author), which is about a girl who commits suicide after being raped. Likewise, in the artwork Hércules matando a los niños (1620), which is attributed to Alessandro Turchi, where the vengeful permissibility reaches the signs that are full of impunity.

Beyond all transfigurations, (en)clave Masculino gives into account the way the roles –independently of the same physiognomy of the genre –are connected with the most representative of the universal pictorial tradition. There, a series of artworks emerge such as the classic Bernardo O’Higgins, Director Supremo (1821) by José Gil de Castro, along with distinguished portraits and self-portraits of many artists that are part of the cultural heritage of Chile and also of Julio Ortiz de Zárate or José Caracci. These share a place with other aesthetic models that have some connection with mythology or religiosity. In this aspect, it stands out Cristo muerto (1892) by Jean Jacques Henner, La viuda de Jerónimo Costa, and La lección de geografía (1883) by Alfredo Valenzuela Puelma, where each creator is the real chronicler. Las dos Fridas (1989) by Pedro Marianello poses undoubtedly a questioning in relation to the genre, violence, and period where these are created and this questioning then leads to republish what Susan Sontag said: “What is the most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine.”

This mixture that is somehow fulfilled in (en)clave Masculino, where there’s no room for speculation, but for an eloquent reflection towards the topic, because talking about the masculine and the feminine means that both terms are within an ambit of permanent permeability. Due to the extent of the topic, there are infinite interpretations or vice versa: to limit them to a partial perspective that cannot reflect what they pretend. Fortunately, the door is open so anyone can decipher something impossible to elucidate.

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