Pressing Matters

As a young girl in Mexico, I learned at an early age about the double standard imposed on women and their sexuality. “Los hombres quieren a una dama en la mesa, y a una puta en la cama” (“Men want a lady at the table, and a whore in the bed”) is a statement I heard at fifteen, and it still lingers in my ears. For contemporary women, it is often difficult to reconcile the ubiquitous images of virgin and whore in our culture: clean vs. dirty. It is a fine line that becomes the point of demarcation for women to dance around. Through performance-based paintings, I explore territories that encompass these different types of boundaries and stereotypes: the physical, the emotional, and the psychological.

My first paintings in this body of work were of women dressed in Tango attire, performing cleaning activities or domestic chores in private and public spaces. As in Tango, the women duel with their partner — the environment. I attempt to use the body as a symbolic and measuring device for exploration that pushes and pulls the space to its limits, activating it until one feels it pushing back. This dance references the battle between media and predetermined gender notions and expectations, versus instinctual desires and self-empowerment.

My work investigates how women identify their strengths and sensuality in performing labor in which there is no visible economic or social value, and which is frequently considered “dirty.” I also subvert the typical overtly folkloric representations of Mexican women in paintings by changing my protagonist’s uniform to the quintessential little black dress. Wearing this symbol of American prosperity and femininity, the protagonist tangos through this intangible dilemma with her performances at the San Diego/Tijuana Border — a place I myself had to cross to study and live in the US. In these performances, I portrayed this multiplication of self and the Sisyphean task of cleaning the environment to accentuate the idea of disposable labor resources. Moreover, the black dress is transformed into a funerary symbol of luto, the Mexican tradition of wearing black for a year after a death.

In addition to highlighting ongoing socio-political conflicts, the works also underscore the intersection of everyday tasks and fantasy from both sides of the political/gender divide, illuminating the psychological walls that confine and divide genders in a domestic space.