by Gustavo Carvajal
If you happen to be a man your answer to this question will be different from a woman’s. Personal experience and the part of the globe you inhabit will also shape your answer.
But let’s say you were an explorer from the early 19th century traveling from a distant land, then; your answer would have been determined by the Encyclopedia Britannica, Las Crónicas de Indias, or the account of a few travelers. In the 20th century your idea of Dominican women would have been provided by scattered images in mass media: music, television and magazines. But today, without a doubt, your best guess would be educated by a Google search.
This seemingly inoffensive act is the starting point for artist Joiri Minaya’s newest work entitled #dominicanwomengooglesearch:
“I started by searching ́Dominican women ́ in Google” – Minaya explains – ; “now, when I talk about the work to an English speaking audience it doesn ́t sound obvious, but what I did was to search ́Dominican women ́ in English, opposed to Spanish, exploring the foreign idea of the term”.
It’s no secret that in just a couple of decades Google has become an indispensable part of our daily lives and in the process it has become canonical. Google processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day. How do I know this? I asked Google. Such a gargantuan concentration of power has an unsettling taste of totalitarianism in itself, but at the same time it provides us with an unprecedented tool, an electronic telescope through witch one can analyze and deconstruct the psychological depths of culture. In this particular work Minaya ́s utilizes such a tool to penetrate the urgent and eternal problem of identity.
“I found a bunch of photographs on my search, I kept them for a while and later started processing them, making collages. Later it turned into a series of postcards. I started seeing the postcard series as a sort of sketch book, and so now I have been amplifying it in different directions as a series… the work it’s like a tree that just keeps branching out in all directions at once…”
The images represent an outsider’s view of pleasure, vacation, consumption and exoticism mostly through beautiful and voluptuous brown women laying on beaches or posing for dating sites. After producing the postcards, Minaya enlarged the pictures to human scale, made cutout images of body parts and hung them as a mobile creating a landscape. The low resolution-pixelated images gave the installation the feel of a Gauguin painting seen through stained glass, somehow abstract yet vulgar: half way between an analog and a digital object.
It would be a mistake to discuss #dominicanwomengooglesearch merely from a Neo-Marxist point of view, or from an exclusively Post-Colonial approach. The desire and motivation expressed in the work is playful, not contentious. Minaya is not interested in the social background of these women or in the class/power struggles involved in the production of these images per se. Instead, she is interested in exploring the games we play on the stages of national, racial, and gender identity. The process consists in absorbing the cultural substrate found in the internet and regurgitate it, putting it back into Google, thus making us aware of the production process of identity.
Artists create symbols, but unlike the philosopher or the scientist, the artist creates by taking a leap over rationality. That ́s why the more penetrating an artwork is, the more inexhaustible are its interpretations. In this work I can find at least two promising interpretations.
One is Minaya’s challenge to our information era ́s ability to really comprehend reality. How can we trust an all-powerful company like Google not to be corrupt, or maintain impartiality, neutrality, and intellectual objectivity? Is a Google search a reliable source of information and an unbiased reflection of its users’ goals and desires? There is a deep epistemological question embedded in #dominicanwomengooglesearch relating to our inability to learn, even when we are aided by a tool like Google’s algorithm.
The second and most meaningful path of interpretation is identity in its full scope and in all its multiple facets: gender, race, geography, history and taste. This is the characteristic that binds Minaya ́s work with the western tradition even more so than her previous work. In other words, she celebrates Stuart Hall’s precept that “instead of thinking of identity as an already accomplished fact, which the new cultural practices then represent, we should think, instead, of identity as a “production” which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation.”1
Identity is not a place, it’s a path! And it’s also the material art is made of. Like Minaya’s work identity is a tree that keeps branching out in all directions simultaneously, even though we can only see fragments and impressions of it one at a time. Our urge for information and global exchange is our attempt to see the whole lushness of the tree all at once, is what Google’s all about. Joiri Minaya appreciates this fact and that is why #dominicanwomengooglesearch teems with meaning in an era where old and traditional symbols of beauty and identity are going through a digital regurgitation.
Visit http://www.joiriminaya.com/ to see Joiri Minaya’s work.
Photos of installation at Wave Hill Sunroom Project Space, Bronx, NY (July 12 – Sept 5, 2016). Photo credit: Stefan Hagen.