Liliana Guzmán (M.F.A. '21) honored for art exploring Latina identity
Friday, September 15, 2023
Klompching Gallery in Brooklyn, New York named Eskenazi School alumna Liliana Guzmán (M.F.A. ’21, Studio Art) winner of the 2023 Rhonda Wilson Award on September 1. Guzmán was selected from among an international cadre of emerging photographers for her current series, “Next to Myself: Visualizing the Multiple Layers of the Latinx Female Experience and Body.” The images “combine[...] painting and photography to reflect upon the formation of the self as an individual with social and ethnic components,” according to Guzmán’s website.
The award honors the legacy of Rhonda Wilson MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) by recognizing “an emerging photographer who demonstrates potential for originality and excellence in photography, and who would benefit from financial, networking, production and mentoring support at a pivotal point in their career,” according to the Klompching Gallery. Valued at $8,000 in total, the award conveys a cash prize from the gallery, the 2024 FotoFest Meeting Place Scholarship, 12 months of mentorship and promotion by the gallery, and production costs donated by Genesis Imaging.
Guzmán was selected as one of twenty finalists from an international pool of applicants by the owners of the Klompching Gallery in New York. The finalists’ work was then judged by a panel of eight gallerists, writers, and curators of contemporary photography. “I kept coming back to Liliana’s powerful images that combine painting and photography,” said judge Samantha Johnston, Executive Director and Curator, Colorado Photographic Arts Center. “Through this combination of materials the layering in each image builds on cultural and personal dualities of women.”
The images in “Next to Myself” range in size from 30” x 40” to 36” x 48” and layer gouache paint, charcoal, and other media on photographic prints. “Stemming from my background as a bicultural Colombian-American woman,” Guzmán writes, “this series addresses the sociocultural dualities of my exposure to different conceptions of the Latinx female body. In private family spaces as well as in religious social environments such as church or school, the body is either celebrated or restricted.”
Together with this multi-media series, the Eskenazi grad’s body of work comprises photography using traditional, digital, and alternative processes. In 2023, “Next to Myself” enjoyed solo exhibitions at Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Oregon and Candela Gallery in Richmond, Virginia, and is currently on view in the group show Fresh 2023 from September 13 to October 21 at Klompching Gallery. In addition to her Eskenazi M.F.A., Guzmán has a BA (2016) from Earlham College with a double concentration in Photography and French and Francophone Studies. Her work may be seen online at lilianaguzman.co and on Instagram at @lilinessy.
Earlier this week, Guzmán reflected on the award and her work.
YK: Congratulations, Liliana! What does this award mean to you?
LG: Receiving this award makes me feel extremely encouraged, supported, and excited to continue making, experimenting, and sharing. The Rhonda Wilson Award is particularly special as it honors the life and memory of an important activist, artist, and inspiration within the photography and arts community. I really look forward to working with the Klompching Gallery, with Debra Klomp and Darren Ching and beginning a new journey in my artistic career!
This year, I have felt so grateful to have received the Blue Sky Gallery Solo Exhibition Award through Photolucida’s Critical Mass as well as see Next to Myself travel from Portland to Richmond. Both of these experiences were really formative and motivating stepping stones in my career. Part of an artist’s professional practice is putting your work out there, and while it can be scary to face rejection, I do believe there is an audience for everyone.
YK: What guides you or inspires you in your work? What are you looking for or trying to express or solve?
LG: Walt Whitman’s quote “we contain multitudes” resonates with me in the sense that each person holds many stories, desires, dreams, memories, parts of others, that even they themselves have trouble understanding or uncovering. It’s very difficult to feel as though we thoroughly know and understand ourselves and especially challenging to really connect or know others but we try anyway. That quality about the human experience is an overall theme that endlessly inspires me and from that I apply it more specifically through my own “layers” of myself as a Latina and as a woman.
This also uncovers a feminist lens, which is an equally important issue for me, especially in today’s political and social climate regarding women’s reproductive rights (an issue I address in “Last Period,” my latest piece). Ultimately, I am guided by the fact that women’s stories, experiences, points of view and voices, especially by Latina women and women of color, need to be seen and represented not only in art history but within the contemporary art world.
YK: I am reminded in these images of Picasso’s use of masks on his figures in the “Demoiselles d’Avignon.” In Picasso’s work, his figures were presumably European women whose faces were covered in African/non-Western masks. Your identity is Colombian-American. We also see what I assume is a photo of your face, without a mask as well in some of the work. What does the mask mean or do for you?
LG: Growing up in a Catholic school, religious iconography filled the walls from the classrooms to the cafeteria. This was the environment where I spent most of my adolescence and that space and those images are still a part of me. At first, I was thinking about the halo, which usually sits above the head as a signal for someone who is holy and apart from the layman and laywoman. I repositioned the halo in order to cover or illuminate the face of the figures, using more as a spotlight in which I could draw on expressive faces.
The halos became mask-like, which to me are very symbolic and can be interpreted in different ways. For instance, there is the idea that we all wear a mask depending on where we are and what kind of situation we find ourselves in. The mask here can act like a performance where beneath it lies the real and true emotion that no one can see. On the other hand, instead of hiding, this mask can also act as a way to exaggerate the emotions of the figures by drawing on hyper expressive and cartoonish faces. I thought about the comedy and tragedy masks that so clearly signal laughter or pain.
Finally, I wanted to play with the idea of covering the face and how that disrupts the whole idea of a photographic portrait. While some masks are more transparent than others, some you simply cannot see the face beneath and I hope that the audience can then put themselves behind the mask and find parts of themselves in these compositions.
YK: There are many hands and gestures in the work — praying, reaching, touching, crawling. It’s like an encyclopedia of gestures. Gestures suggest communication to me — a way of expressing oneself when words fail. Or maybe gestures are about actions instead of language. Are any of these ideas in there for you?
LG: Absolutely! In fact, touch plays a role throughout much of my artwork. I am fascinated by how much of the world we experience through touch which historically is considered a “lower” sense in comparison to sight, sound, etc. By exposing the arms, legs, and hands of the photograph, I want to highlight touch as a sense that plays an integral role in how we experience, remember, and form relationships with ourselves and with others. Part of this tactile experience is how we use hands as language through gestures and touching, whether that be in ritual, to signal certain feelings or to connect.
YK: These characters bring to mind the Maenads for me — or a Greek chorus. Who is this all-female tribe? Or are they multiple iterations of you?
LG: The figures in Next to Myself are all self-portraits (except a few where before the covid shutdown I had my friend help as a model). I began by thinking about the different experiences I’ve had throughout my life and how the person I was at that time has made up who I am today. These are the “layers of the self” or from the title “layers of the Latinx Female Experience and Body” because as I take a look at what formed the layers of who I am, many of these experiences, dreams, memories, and feelings stem from growing up in a bicultural household. Through self-portraiture, which is the base of each piece, I am able to imagine what the different parts of myself would look like if they were to interact in the same space.
YK: I am also reminded of the landscape of “The Scream” by Munch: an expressionistic rolling landscape shaped by the feelings of the protagonist. Is expressionism a source for you?
LG: That’s a great connection and example. I do use color and paint to show what an emotion or memory feels or felt like which is definitely a link to expressionism. I also think about synesthesia where a feeling might be this color, or a certain touch can look like this line or pattern. I am inspired by painting a lot. One painter in particular who uses elements of expressionism is Marc Chagall, whose artwork I often revisit!
YK: Would you describe the technique you are using for this newest series?
LG: There are a few different ways I approach making a piece in “Next to Myself.” Sometimes it begins with a self-portrait. I will print out the photograph and then begin painting on top of it. Other times I begin painting and then photograph the painting and add photographs on top of it digitally. Both approaches involve re-photographing and printing and adding more painted layers until I feel like the piece is finished. Many of the final pieces from “Next to Myself” are digital collages of smaller pieces all made in the way I described.
YK: The hybrid/mixed-media technique here — did you only just start working this way with this series? It seems as though your previous work was not mixed-media but straight photography (the series “Lull”) and experimental photo techniques (such as “Body in Pieces”). Are you doing different things at once or is it an evolution?
LG: An essential element of my own studio practice is having a few projects going at once. Sometimes straight photography is something that I gravitate towards for a specific project and at the same time I like to paint or draw. Using paint and photography is something that I have always experimented with, which has led to this particular series and technique that I continue to expand upon.
YK: How did your M.F.A. time at Eskenazi inform your work?
LG: I came into the program two years out of Earlham College, with a double major in French and Photography. Our photography department was small and focused mainly on film photography so when I came to the MFA program at the Eskenazi School of Art I was really thrown quite quickly into learning digital photography, printing, lighting, color, and other technical digital practices.
The photography department and faculty -- Elizabeth Claffey, James Nakagawa, and David Ondrik -- all really facilitated the growth that I needed not only from a technical standpoint but from an experimental standpoint as well. This program encouraged me to experiment and play with the medium while also continuing to home in on my craft as a photographer and professional artist. James, Liz, and David are all incredible mentors and artists whose guidance throughout the three years helped me approach photography in so many new and meaningful ways. James's portrait class, David’s alternative process class and Liz’s seminars all created quite a few breakthroughs for me as an artist and academic.
YK: You work at the IU Cinema now. Do movies inform your artwork?
LG: Yes! I am a huge cinephile and find so much inspiration from watching movies. As a graduate student I would frequent IU Cinema where I met two of my favorite directors Jim Jarmusch and Carlos Reygadas as well as discovered some favorite films. I tend to look at movies as research. I’m always noting how lighting is used, color, the camera angles and shots, dialogue – the use or absence of – a and how all of this informs the story. I’m so thankful to work at IU Cinema! It’s wonderful to learn from such a great team of writers and movie lovers, especially director Dr. Alicia Kozma, whom I consider a mentor and supporter of my artistic practice.