All throughout college our professors always put so much emphasis on writing artist statements and learning how to express ourselves in writing. I never thought it unimportant, but I never spent nearly as much time as I should have honing these skills. Now that I am out of school I have been learning how to successfully navigate my professional practice sans the structure and resources that an educational institution offers. As I write grant proposals, exhibition proposals and general support statements I have come to realize the importance of being able to express ourselves eloquently and clearly. It is important that your writing style reflects and even enhances the qualities of your work. However it is important to remember that eloquence is not the tiny poet that lives inside you, the one with the fancy words and complex lexicon but rather your ability to articulate the thesis of your work in way that makes sense to others (the public, grantmakers, clients).
In the last month I have applied to 3 large grants/fellowships. Whether I get them or not, these grants have pushed me to once again get in the habit of writing about my work, proof reading and sharing my writing with others to revise. One grant in particular asked for a 1 page artist statement, not necessarily of a specific project but rather a statement about my work as a whole, about my body of work. I realized I've never had to write such a thing before, probably because I'm not a particularly prolific artist yet and there is only so much to write about. But at the end I was very happy to end up with a document that I think articulates what my photographs are about thus far. I'd love to share it with you since I don't typically write about my own work on my blog. Here goes:
Growing up in a culture that rejected everything that makes up my present-day identity was difficult for me. For a very long time my work has focused on understanding my cultural and physical transition from my native country of Peru to the United States. From the beginning, my work explored the multiple dimensions of identity formed by the merging of two cultures. After a long period of denial, I started focusing my picture making on my family, my personal sensibilities and eventually my romantic relationship with another man. It wasn’t until I moved to the United States and addressed these issues with my camera that an outpouring of revelations, emotional tantrums and self-discoveries surged.
At the onset of this new approach to making work I thought my photographs might be a mere documentation of my romantic relationship but I realized through further exploration that the work was not about him, rather it was about me and the evolution of my identity as a man. This work was especially hard to make for one particular reason: addressing my homosexuality through photography would mean finally coming to terms with it and defying my cultural and religious upbringing. These photographs put my homosexuality out in the open, in frames on gallery walls, elevated.
My relationship became a catalyst for accessing a new way of making photographs, which affected the way I lived my life from that point forward. I photographed intimate moments of my daily and romantic life; I hoped that my pictures would allow others to see my lover through my eyes. These lyrical photographs shared a space with more somber, quiet glimpses into my past and present life.
I titled that project “The Point At Which,” referencing my vigorous search for the tipping point; the point at which my life would find its meaning and I could embrace my true self once and for all. My relationship was the tipping point; it defined me for the first time and became the single most important incident that has touched my life thus far. While I expect to undergo multiple resurgences in my lifetime, the dramatic nature of this first one has been paramount to the fashioning of my present-day identity.
Shortly after completing “The Point At Which” my relationship ended abruptly. Unexpectedly.
My work changed dramatically and it entered a realm of unforeseen darkness and distress atypical of my traditional photographic practice. All of a sudden, I found myself tapping into feelings and personal sentiments that I never knew existed within me: panic, regret, fear and loss. An urge to document this abyss took over me and my current project entitled “Sentiment” surged forth. “Sentiment" emerges from my longing to photograph feelings that are sui generis, manifested uniquely through my person. These images represent my struggle to surface from darkness, panic and hopelessness. For years my work had focused on my cultural transition and its implications as I came to terms with my homosexuality. I had drawn attention to my childhood, my family and the environments that surround me. While my work has always been utterly personal, it has always been projection of myself onto my subjects. Now I turn my camera towards myself, as I fight to reconstruct a life without the very thing that I thought defined it. The use of self-portraiture in the work was instinctual and self-inflicted. They are masochistic attempts to present myself at my most vulnerable, hoping the viewer will feel the same pain I went through as they look at my photographs.
Just as I once escaped my motherland to pursue a foreign one that welcomed me wholly, I now find myself escaping something foreign which has taken residence in my body and have turned my camera on it in hopes of a full exorcism.