Cornucopia: Exploring Cultural Hybridity in the Work of Nancy Friedemann-Sánchez

With an explosion of flora, Nancy Friedemann-Sánchez’s exhibition at Weinberger Fine Art’s Drawing Room explores colonialism, identity, and cultural hybridity.

Following the artist’s immigration from Colombia, Friedemann-Sánchez began creating art that deals with the tension of displacement. Drawing and painting intricate flowers and lace, she addresses Spanish colonialism, bilingualism, and patriarchal oppression. Her work is strikingly laborious, chillingly ominous, and indulgently lush.

In a word, Cornucopia No. 3 is dazzling. The painted collage draws inspiration from Mopa Mopa, a centuries-old Colombian process of stretching and tinting tree resin. Against a deep black background, vibrant flowers, plants, and birds blossom out from a patterned vase. Scattered around the edges of the painting, tiny men point guns into the bouquet. The viewer is struck instantly with the impression that the armed men are moving in on the larger than life botanical arrangement. Though it seems initially that such small figures could not possibly overtake such a massive and stunning array of flora and fauna, we slowly become aware that they inevitably will. In Cornucopia No. 3 Friedmann-Sánchez forces the viewer to engage with the harsh realities of colonialist oppression – with the cruel certainty that men with guns can and will eradicate nature, beauty, and deeply rooted cultural tradition.

  Cornucopia 3,  India ink on Tyvek, 80 x 160 in.

Cornucopia 3, India ink on Tyvek, 80 x 160 in.

Against similar black backgrounds, Castiza and Chola feature somewhat amorphous figures adorned with indigenous masks and decorative Spanish combs called peinetas. Friedemann-Sánchez has commented that the figures in these works are inspired by images taken by TSA machines in US airports. Her appropriation of TSA images serves as a metaphor for modern mechanisms of screening and categorization. In Friedemann-Sànchez’s oeuvre, Castiza and Chola recall caste paintings created by colonialists in Latin America to illustrate racial stratification. 

  Castiza,  India ink on Tyvek, Spanish comb, indigenous mask, 45 x 67.5 in.

Castiza, India ink on Tyvek, Spanish comb, indigenous mask, 45 x 67.5 in.

The suspended figures seem to float in their frames, and their limbs sprawl in angular formations. Bright pink flowers cover their faces and bodies, creating splashes of vibrancy that juxtapose the limp bodies. Perhaps these flowers, lain across lifeless figures like a bouquets in an open casket, serve as a memorialization of those divided and beleaguered by colonialist rule. In creating these ghostly figures, Friedemann-Sánchez again pushes the viewer to confront the perils of colonialism.

  Chola,  India ink on Tyvek, Spanish comb, indigenous mask, 45 x 67.5 in.

Chola, India ink on Tyvek, Spanish comb, indigenous mask, 45 x 67.5 in.

Nancy Friedemann-Sánchez’s work is intentionally and blatantly reactionary. Clearly inspired by the grief of her own displacement, the artist haunts viewers with the memory of indigenous cultures now suppressed and fragmented and due to colonial rule.

Water and magic

Water and Magic: In the Gallery with Margaret Evangeline

Margaret Evangeline’s four paintings currently on display at Weinberger Fine Art are a bittersweet testament to guilt, beauty, movement, and nature. With heavy, fluid brushstrokes and thick paint splatters, Evangeline tells the story of floods, magic, and the imperfection of the human experience. 

The Louisiana-born artist uses the motif of water throughout much of her oeuvre, depicted with running, wavy lines and a tranquil palette of blues and subdued greys. Water is evident in Life Came Breaking in as Usual, a painting of greys and muted violets with rolling white waves that meander across the foreground. Evangeline’s composition is melodic and serene, yet the title of the picture implies an unwelcome intrusion, signaling perhaps a flood or even hurricane. The title also references the commonplace nature of life’s disruptions, as if the strife and tragedies that plague humanity are a dependable and relentless constant. At a remarkable 6 ft. by 9 ft., the work is a demanding presence in the gallery. 

Life came breaking in as usual, oil on canvas, 72x108 inches

Evangeline also incorporates her theme of moving water into the somewhat more abstracted composition of Protagonist 11. Here, white waves pulse against an off-white background, and are met by streaks of white, grey, and blue at the bottom and top left of the painting. The streaks, depicted with abrupt brushstrokes that leave drips of paint protruding from the surface, stand in startling contrast to the signature rolling nature of Evangeline’s water scenes. Protagonist 11 is characterized by subtle contradictions – fluidity and rigidity, gloom and tranquility, the profound ability for water to give life and end it. 

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Protagonist 11, oil on canvas, 60x60 inches

Diverging from the motif of water, Moon Camellias recalls Evangeline’s New Orleans roots. Four camellia flowers of various sizes garnish the metallic gold background. Though the reference to Louisiana flora is evident, the flowers seem to emulate mandalas as well, rendering the painting somewhat spiritual. Yet in stark contrast to the themes of nature, spirits, and nostalgia for the Deep South, the unfolding camellias also mimic the form of gunshot punctures in metal. Evangeline thus forms a parallel to her sensational gunshot art in which she shoots bullets into aluminum panels. Perhaps the metallic background of the painting evokes these panels, or perhaps it suggests the bold palette of a classic mandala. Evangeline’s flowers are both a gaping wound and an expression of life, an antinomy that emerges as a motif throughout her oeuvre. 

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Moon Camellias, oil on canvas, 60x60 inches

Halo Series 6 further explores the spirituality hinted at in Moon Camellias. Here, Evangeline’s vivid palette of electric violet and fiery orange reflects magic and mysticism rather than the subdued colors of nature, earth, and water. The artist uses iridescent crystalina glitter to adorn bold streaks of paint, giving the work a dynamic and vibrant shimmer. Of her use of glitter, Evangeline explains, “It seemed to go with the idea of physics and what’s inside of black holes, and magnetism, and waves… It’s like magic, it’s highly spiritual.” Halo Series 6, as with the artist’s other Halo paintings, is an ode to the mysteries of space, magic, and physics. 

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Halo Series 6, oil on canvas, 72x72 inches

  Margaret Evangeline’s body of work is rich with melancholy, spiritualism, and gentle reminders of the contradictions embedded into the way in which humans and nature interact. The four paintings on display at Weinberger Fine Art – Life Came Breaking in as Usual, Protagonist 11, Moon Camellias, and Halo Series 6 – are humbling expressions of the incredible forces of water, magic, auras, and the undiscovered splendors of the universe.