The Art of Lestido: beyond What can be seen.
by Magdalena Faillace, General Director of Cultural Issues of the Argentinian Foreign Affairs.
Does such a thing as a "feminine viewpoint" in art exist? In answer to this question, a clear reference to a subject that has never been completely settled, we could say that the work of art, with which the artist reflects a reality through the lens of his or her own world view and emotions, has no gender.
This does not prevent Adriana Lestido, who has focused on the feminine universe in this exhibition of her series of photos of women, evidencing to a particular empathy with the creatures portrayed and her social commitment, as recognised in the many awards she has received both here and abroad.
The choice of these women is neither naïve nor accidental; the photographs reveal how, in emerging or underdeveloped countries, situations of poverty, war or economic crisis have a double impact on women, and fundamentally on those of the most neglected and socially depressed sectors in which they are responsible for what the United Nations terms the "care economy," which includes children and the elderly.
With courage, but without rage, Adriana Lestido penetrates the realms of greatest pain and social exclusion – the children’s hospital and the women’s prison. And in all cases her images place the emphasis on feminine strength constructed on the basis of defencelessness at an unjust social order.
The series of photos thus become concentrated accounts that simply exude humanity. The photographs of women with children – especially young girls who are treading the painful path to puberty – capture the image and, through it, are wordless dramatisations of story, giving shape to an instant in permanent tension, in the flow of the human being.
The children in the "children’s hospital" and those of "teenage mothers" always appear to be in motion, in a clear appeal to life; and their expressions, on which the artist focuses her lens, have a frankness and an innocence that the hostility of the medium has not been able to corrupt. They appear to want to know the reason for so much injustice and have, at the same time, the premature lucidity of those who have suffered pain and abandonment before time.
The playful situation that contains these children, that throws them up into the air, their redeeming laughter even in situations of confinement, the reassuring embrace, dignify and inject magic into the situations of abandonment of the "teenage mothers." Mothers, who are still girls, asleep in the same bed with their children; resting adolescent girls, who are thinking – or perhaps dreaming- among faded posters of the Beatles or images of the Sacred Heart, seem unvanquished and empowered by their so untimely motherhood.
In the prison series, on the other hand, the gestures of rage, the dark resistance in the look, the apathy or the boredom portray women who are imprisoned in much more than a jail.
Tattoos with the oft-repeated words "I love you" reveal how they have been marked inside and out by life, but these tattoos always evoke a special love. What is constant is the loneliness of these women with their children in arms, facing the immensity of decisions to be made in a world that excludes them.
The viewpoint of the artist dares to penetrate that hell, but never passes judgement on the children or closes the door to them… Does the pain of confinement save them? Or love perhaps? In that respect, Lestido shows that windows can become doors… and a wedding in prison is an appeal to hope.
The series of "mothers and daughters" shows them as a unit, in motion, the daughters at rest with their mothers or at their breast… And here it is the girls that always focus the eyes of the spectator.
In this set of photographs in which all the states of mind appear depicted on the faces of the adult women, where laughter and play alternate with pain and nakedness, the child appears as a "categorical imperative" which lends meaning to the existence of the mother, which forces her to carry on, and at the same time consoles and comforts her with the caress of her child.
Finally, "love" constantly appears in association with the natural landscape: water, volcanoes, forests and flowers. In totalising images, in which the landscape gains prominence through the use of chiaroscuro, and always in motion; love appears as the breath of the universe, something like the breath of life of creation. Adriana Lestido confronts us with raw reality, goes beyond conventions; as a poet and militant, she sees much more and shows us reality without complacency and without any sort of mediation, with infinite compassion (the Roman "pietas," which means love) for her creatures: she exposes their bodies with respect and moves us with their souls.
In the Week of Argentine Culture, Adriana Lestido returns to South Africa, where she took part in the "Violence - Silence" Project, presenting "Violence" at the NSA Gallery in Durban and "Silence" at the Ibis Art Centre in Nieu-Bethesda.
The experiences of those who visit this photographic exhibition are bound to vary, but it is impossible to remain neutral. Because Lestido’s art does not evade the darkness of certain settings, nor the neglect of its creatures, and transmits the infinite beauty of hidden light, a light that leaves us at the mercy of our own emotions.
I close these reflections with the timely words of María de los Ángeles Chiqui González:
"She moves from exhibition to exhibition, collecting prizes along the way, without ever forgetting her origins, embracing all those who breathe exclusion, all those who struggle against disappearance and torture. She tells truths with photos, she builds memory, she achieves justice."