Sara Kay Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of Alinka Echeverría: Fieldnotes on view December 12, 2018 through February 16, 2019. Curated by Maya Benton, this is the artist’s first solo exhibition in New York, and marks the ten-year anniversary of Echeverría’s graduation from the International Center of Photography (ICP).
Fieldnotes is drawn from Echeverría’s four-year research project, Nicephora (2015-present), based on her BMW Art and Culture Residency at the Musée Nicéphore Niépce. The museum’s extensive archive of four million images is located in Chalon-sur-Saône, France, the birthplace of Nicéphore Niépce, the inventor who was the first to capture and fix light on matter. Inspired by his biography, and the photographic archives in the museum – including French colonial depictions and fantasies of the North African woman’s body – the artist deploys a rigorous, research-based approach to explore the male and colonial gaze from the inception of the photographic medium.
As a Mexican artist who recognizes that she, too, is the product of colonization, Echeverría draws parallels between French and Mexican colonial histories, using the Niépce museum’s collection of 50,000 images from the French colonies as source material. Incorporating the format of ancient Aztec codices that hold the origin myth of Mexico City and Mexican national identity, the artist retraces the origin myth of the photographic medium while exploring otherness and exoticism as a model for desire. Echeverría is seduced by the beauty of the images that positioned women as “specimens,” yet she is also repulsed by them, resulting in a critical approach to visual representation and a desire to upend the gendered hierarchies of the colonial project.
“What interested me most was the history surrounding the inventors of photography and early printing techniques,” recalls Echeverría. Informed by her background as an anthropologist and desire to question the archive’s systems of accumulation and categorization, she notes that anthropology as a discipline and photography as a medium are both closely linked to the colonial project. “I found it a burden and a responsibility to appropriate the archive and reframe it,” she explains. “I wanted to reframe the purpose of the photographs I found there…to liberate them from the boxes. While respecting the archive as a guardian of time, I wanted to look back on history from a contemporary gaze as a practicing image maker.”
Through collages, three dimensional renderings and sculptural work, immersive sound installation, photography, assemblage, and moving image works, Echeverría reflects on how constructed images of women have been carried through time by way of visual codes and early photographic printing techniques.
Echeverría’s work focuses on structures of power and domination, and explores intersections between aesthetics and the forces of violence, economics, and globalization. Rather than reaching conclusions, her work “seeks questions,” as she frames it, of these historical images that “still resonate, sometimes painfully in the contemporary.” The results are aesthetically mesmerizing and intellectually challenging, asking us to interrogate both the image and the language in which it has been produced, reproduced, and disseminated for nearly two hundred years.