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Division of Labor: Women Shifting a Transnational Gaze
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale, Arizona
Review by Lynn Trimble


M. Jenea Sanchez, “Self Portrait,” 2021, C-print, 30 x 45”

 

Continuing through August 22, 2021

 

Women’s work — it’s a phrase that’s been used to connote actions with little value, implying that both women and their labor lack substance and significance. With the exhibition “Division of Labor,” a pair of women artists and their collaborators transform a gallery space into a landscape that elevates women’s worth.

 

Two videos bookend the physical space, each placed within alcoves that convey a sense of emotional intimacy. Gabriela Muñoz’ collaboration with Dalila Muñoz, “La Señora and Her Business” features a woman talking about her experiences cleaning houses. The other, Gabriela Muñoz’ collaboration with M. Jenea Sanchez, “Caldo de Pollo” follows the process of making chicken soup, from catching the bird to serving a community meal.

 

A wall of bricks situated in the center of the gallery signals themes such as labor and gaze that are central to the exhibition. “Labor — Victoria & Rosalinda” is a video and installation that marks the starting point of Sanchez and Muñoz’ collaboration. The two Arizona-based artists have worked for more than five years across both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

 

The exhibition took shape after the museum invited Sanchez and Muñoz to engage critically with its collection. The artists highlighted ways the collection fails to reflect the depth and breadth of Latinx voices in the Southwest. Working with two of the museum’s curators, the artists set about co-curating an exhibit infused with the experiences of Latinx women, including women in the DouglaPrieta Trabajan, a self-help partnership between the border towns of Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieta in Sonora, Mexico begun in 2003. Sanchez and Muñoz have collaborated with the collective for the last several years. During that time they added a new dimension to the women’s day-to-day lives, empowering them to create their own photographic self-portraits. A number are included in the present exhibit, presented right alongside works from the museum’s collection. 

 

Some of the works from the collection provided conceptual connections to the two artists’ new works. After seeing a photograph from the collection depicting two apron-clad women waiting on a woman of obvious wealth (Pedro Meyer, “The Lady and Her Servants” [1977]), Muñoz flipped the narrative by filming her mother talking about building her own housekeeping business. In response to a photograph of a woman with spikes protruding from sleeves covering both of her arms (Luis Gonzalez Palma, “Yo #1” [2006]), Sanchez, recalling the gaze of a male photographer during a previous portrait session, created her own portrait amid desert cactus with spikes that emanate from her bare shoulder. “Self portrait” is one of the exhibition’s most powerful works, along with Munoz’s self-portrait exploring the labor of motherhood, “Brownmilking A Future.” Portraits of several women from Muñoz’ “Leche Portraits” and “Brown on Brown” series are made using breastmilk and Mexican earth on either paper or hand-embroidered cloth.

 

These works hold a particular sway in the present moment of American life, marked by heated political rhetoric about immigration and the border. They don’t depend for their visual authority on the gaze of those who seek to seize and hold power, or outmoded hierarchies that foster the idea of the “other.” Instead, Muñoz and Sanchez depend on one another, working together to drive their own narratives and center their own gaze. As professional artists they expand their role to hold space with women who don’t self-identify as artists, sustaining peer-to-peer collaborations that show a way forward for shifting the transnational gaze not only on the everyday space of communities, but inside the rarefied space of art museums as well.

Scottsdale MOCA | SMOCA

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