Zaida González | What we never want to see (or be)

The versatility of works of art often depends on the artist’s imagination. Zaida González proposes a body of work that’s fiery, provocative and questions morality, the forbidden, sexuality and the body.

She depicts nude men, showing their bodies without the same detail or care as advertisement. Stature, muscle definition and phallic proportions are of no importance. The women are fat, proudly carrying their extra weight, they are short and aggressive. In short, they are very far off from traditional beauty ideals, which are now represented as street prostitution, selling bodies daily. Whether they are trans, nude or not, they overtly express their sexuality, revealing their decisions, their life, their sex. Her work transgresses, but a subtlety so great that what’s truly represented is hard to grasp. Zaida González presents her pieces from the marginality of a work that’s created in a world where society is not used to look. She addresses something that’s concealed, yet exists, where the underbelly of a country with double standards and morals seems to be the sacred canon.

Ever since her beginnings, she has worked with bodies she knows, either from friendship or necessity. Currently, however, she has worked with models or people she seeks out on social media, who have  life stories that link them to the background of her pieces. “Her, for instance, is a model who is concerned with racial issues, so that people come together and talk about afro descendants, she’s not inside a bubble,” Zaida explains about an African model she works with.

By seeking, imagining and creating she has managed to work with iconic figures of the underground Chilean culture such as, Hija de Perra, the transsexual Claudia Rodríguez, a dissected beaver that belonged to a famous Chilean Geisha and subjects as controversial as fetuses preserved in formaldehyde. Nevertheless, her work started before any of this happened.

In 2000, Zaida created a series with naked nuns making openly sexual gestures in front of Jesus. The subjects were real people. Works that were censored in an exhibition, letters from the episcopate regarding a magazine cover featuring her work and the media impact she has had for confronting realities that we can’t even imagine. The religious education she followed as a child; the crude reality of facing public schooling in San Miguel, where her classmates constantly brawled on the street; social reprimands and the cruelty of punishments led her to showcase what we never want to see or imagine. Later on, she restrained her work, taking it to a less  explicit plane, not as forward, yet no weaker either.

The little angel’s wake

One of the most popular traditions in the Chilean countryside, believed to be an interpretation of an ode to the divine, was reinterpreted by Zaida using human fetuses. Children who die before the age of 3 are ritually called “little angels.” When they pass away, there is a ceremony with constant rosary prayers and pious chants, followed by a midnight dinner, drinking and burning incense. The place is usually covered with religious pictures and a single lit candle is surrounded by white flowers. Often the child’s body is placed on an altar, and they are dressed as  angels with wings as aid for their celestial journey. Sometimes, the body is even made to be sitting or standing, clasping a bouquet of white flowers. Because they are children and free of sin, legend says that they ascend straight to heaven, which is why they don’t need to be mourned as it would be bad for their soul. The funeral procession is made up entirely of men, the women keep the relatives company and drink mate with lemon verbena.

In Zaida’s piece Recuérdame al morir, fetuses have the same angel’s wings. Couples surround them, hold them, rock them and protect them as if they were alive. The subtlety of the colors softens the harshness of the image, the rawness of the hidden side of the fetuses that were the victims of both miscarriages and abortions, where it was intentional or not is of little importance. Some are malformed, others Siamese twins. They are all there to remind us about life. Without pretending to question abortion or freedom, her work has been reinterpreted to be both pro-life or pro-choice. It was been reworked in several fields, because her work makes no moral judgments, it just poses questions with no evident answers.

Trans Tarot

“In 2014 I photographed the trans poet Claudia Rodríguez (Dramas pobres). Afterwards, I realized that much of her work was similar to The World card in the Tarot of Marseilles. That’s when I got the idea to create a trans tarot deck with different characters as models. I had to do some research about tarot, how many types there were, what they referred to and how they handle the elements. I had to do all that to create the images. In that sense, it was easier because I had a direction to follow when shooting the photographs, but starting to transgress it was something I did consciously,” she explains about her latest series. In it, she provides a space for all minorities to represent the archetypal figures of the world, capable of being constantly reinterpreted according to the issue, the context and the people inquiring about their lives.

The Empress card is a great example. She’s emotional, very fertile and is linked to motherhood, nature and daytime. “In any of tarot representations, this card is depicted as being pregnant, but I wanted to bring something more creative and musical into it. To represent fertility, I wanted to portray malformed Siamese babies to show that something ‘odd’, deformed, is also a part of nature and creation.” Moreover, on this occasion she decided to incorporate —as if the visuals weren’t enough—Claudia Rodríguez’s poems to explain the meaning of each card.

The strength of creativity…

Zaida’s pieces involve an intense and constant creative process. Everything starts with daily life and the artist’s imagination, who has been using a color palette ranging from pastel to neon colors every since she started working. The process itself requires sketches prior to the staging, she draws every piece beforehand. Then, she chooses the models, buys or gets the materials, sets the scene and shoots the portraits (or self-portraits) in the scene, to later develop the pictures. It would seem like the work was ready, but she proceeds to develop miniature negatives in black and white and then she paints over the scenes with careful consideration. Once they are dry, she digitizes the images, retouches them on her computer. Only then, after weeks or months of work, the piece is completed.

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