Inspired by Mesoamerican imagery, Jenelle Esparza's first solo show since graduating from UTSA is an impressive debut. Shot on a large format film camera using archaic (circa 1950) orthochromatic film made for cinematography, the large black and white prints display fine skin tones, but exceedingly high contrast in capturing fabric. Scanned and printed digitally, leaving artifacts such as scratches intact, the results have a glyphic, carved-in-stone quality that is striking. And though the technical aspects of the work are notable, it is the imagery itself that arrests the viewer. Emerging from a black background clad in loose cloth or antique garments like figures from a 1900s expressive dance vignette, or paired ominously with metal contrivances, such as an old hot-water radiator, the figures speak a silent narrative that hints at experiences and understandings far away from today and Texas. Made in collaboration with the models, the photographs feature poses that at times quote actual Mayan glyphs, such as the symbols for the sun and the moon. Dance is referenced, but constraint and bondage are present, too. But despite the pre-Hispanic allusions, they seem to bespeak not Aztec torture scenes so much as hidden places of refuge. But both moods are present in tense ambiguity, reminding one in toned-down fashion of Joel-Peter Witkin's celebration of all things — including death — as acceptable and wonderful. Unlike Witkin, however, Esparza does not push body parts and disfigurement into our view, but by hinting at dark secrets hidden under garish garments she compels the viewer to look and feel compassion, reminding us that the body (our bodies) are both the symbol and fragile vessel of fleeting life.
219 E Park
Through November 2
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