another guilty woman, 2016
Despujols’ oeuvre questions historical allusions, myths and references regarding the perception that women are usually considered guiltyby women themselves in the first place, then by the larger society. Her paintings and sculptures speak to an ever-present awareness that, throughout history, women seem to have condemned themselves as much as they’ve been condemned by others.
For instance, in her series of small format paintings Another Guilty Woman(2016) Despujols works with sourced materials found online – mug shots of women that have committed or are victims of sex crimes- and re-interprets the faces of the condemned by justice or by themselves. These women, including one self-portrait, are rendered marginal to society, singled out for exclusion. The oil paintings over Formica™ industrial panels depict the mug shots with harsh strokes, using a neutral grayish and brownish palette that suggests oppression and depression, indicating her intention to “treat the human flesh as topography”. Their hair, deformed faces, and facial expressions are closer to Charcot’s mid 19thcentury photographic representations of the mentally ill women at Salpetriere Hospital than to those of contemporary women found in online photographs. Her thoughts on desire and personal experiences ponder the stigma of women’s sexual and social behavior. By doing so, she embodies her own relation with guilt while simultaneously making a visceral statement about these unknown women, intense and gruesome members of the female gender, unpleasant antiheroes alienated from society.
In her work, Despujols also alludes transversally to the concept of the Latin macho in the Venezuelan (and, hence, Latin American) context, in which women are supposed follow the prescribed norms of the status quo, including the suppression of desire; the guilt associated with explicit sexual activity and “being wild”; expectations regarding fidelity where anything to the contrary would certainly be condemned. It is understood that when women behave sexually the same way that their male counterparts do they come under closer scrutiny than men and are, worse yet, invariably singled out and ostracized.
In addition, Despujols reflects on the injustice of women’s perception by society and the related guilt trips they are forced to reckon with: If a woman decides to have children and discard the option of a professional life, she is found guilty of not taking advantage of the feminist advances in the work field; if she foregoes maternity and devotes herself exclusively to a professional life, she is made to feel ashamed of not having a “motherly instinct;” if she relates freely to sex, pursuing sexual experiences in a more “masculine fashion”, she is labeled a whore; if a man is unfaithful, he is revered as a “macho,” yet if a women is unfaithful, she is called a “slut,” ab nauseum.
Interview with the artist, August 2016.
text: Amalia Caputo