Looking at Art – Mural de La Plena

Welcome to Looking at Art. Here’s what we do: I just spend some time looking at the piece, writing down thoughts & questions I have. Thinking about how it makes me feel and trying to make connections. Then I will do some research and report back to you with any details that are relevant to the piece. Finally, I put all that together and contemplate how the piece’s meaning has changed for me & what my big takeaways are. Today’s selection is:

Mural de La Plena (1952-1954)
Rafael Tufiño
Painting, Mural, Oil on Masonite (20 panels)
4.6 m x 9 m

I chose this piece because it comes from Puerto Rico, and Ariana is from Puerto Rico. Beyond that and the essential information above, I have yet to learn about the history of this mural. I do know bits & pieces of Puerto Rican history. It is a colony (labeled ‘commonwealth’) of the United States. Puerto Rico was handed over to the United States in 1898 after being a Spanish colony since Columbus landed there. It was initially inhabited by the Taino indigenous people, who are now primarily interracial, having been forced into & more recently chosen to be in relationships with non-Taino people. Puerto Rico, like Washington D.C., is a place where the citizens do not have representation in the U.S. federal government and therefore are denied the rights enjoyed by the mainland states, Alaska, and Hawaii. They may vote in presidential primaries but are legally forbidden to vote in the general election unless they have residency in the States.

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Movie Review – Piggy

Piggy (2022)
Written & Directed by Carlota Pereda

Being fat is not fun sometimes. As a fat person growing up in a fatphobic culture, I have struggled with my body image. I know it’s far worse for women than me. Experiencing a disconnect between body and mind can be a horribly traumatizing experience. Piggy explores a terrifying weekend in one fat girl’s life when she becomes entangled in the murder spree of a serial killer in her small Spanish hometown. Much like Julia Ducournau’s work on Raw and Titane, this movie seeks to tell an intensely violent story while exploring issues surrounding being fat and being a woman.

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Movie Review – I Am Cuba

I Am Cuba (1964)
Written by Enrique Pineda Barnet & Yevgeny Yevtushenko
Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov

Capitalism is everywhere. In the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, capitalism became the dominant economic ideology on the planet. There are only four communist states: China, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam (North Korea operates under a philosophy of Juche, which while similar in some ways to communism, is not a representation of that system). Capitalist realism became the term to define this post-Soviet era, a play on “socialist realism,” an art style popular during the USSR’s existence. It’s from this constant presence of capitalism in all aspects of life that the phrase “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than an end to capitalism” was coined (attributed to both Frederic Jameson and Slavoj Zizek). So, if capitalism is the all-encompassing economic system of our lives, how is it represented in the media? 

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Movie Review – The Skin I Live In

The Skin I Live In (2011)
Written & Directed by Pedro Almodovar

Most of the legendary filmmaker Pedro Almodovar’s films are overflowing with warmth & color. They may touch on sensitive subject matter, but the characters within these stories are usually ones we like and want to be around. This is not the case with The Skin I Live In, Almodovar’s first foray into science fiction/horror. Instead, he has made a cold, desaturated movie that is beautiful in a dark & disturbing way. The film reflects how one of its central characters has become desensitized, literally feeling nothing any longer. Sex in this picture is not an act of love & beauty but discomfort & suffering. There’s no farce or melodrama here. Unlike the rest of Almodovar’s filmography, this is a work that comes out of a dark, angry place.

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Movie Review – The Exterminating Angel

The Exterminating Angel (1962)
Written by Luis Buñuel and Luis Alcoriza
Directed by Luis Buñuel

Luis Buñuel is a director whose films are very well-known for being clever and witty critiques of the Spanish upper class. He’d been making movies for thirty years at this point, so you feel right away that you are in the hands of someone who knows exactly what they are doing. At its core, The Exterminating Angel is Buñuel pointing out the ways human existence and its institutions are easily fallible. We’re currently living through a pandemic that has uprooted what we believed would protect us. The CDC reconfigures its metrics to make the United States appear as if it has passed through the COVID-19 crisis while people continue to be infected, reinfected, and horrifically die by the tens of thousands a month. America’s leadership comprises a mix of ancient relics and avaricious technocrats that feign calm while frantically hoarding resources for themselves and their wealthy friends behind the scenes. Buñuel was already familiar with this world decades earlier.

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Movie Review – Memoria

Memoria (2021)
Written & Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Memoria is difficult to talk about because it really isn’t a movie in how we typically define such things. It’s filmed on a camera, there are actors and a script, but in terms of narrative, it’s glacially slow. Memoria is a filmed meditation, and because of that, it can be frustrating at times. I know I didn’t enjoy my entire time with the picture, yet some moments took my breath away. I have to assume this is the desired outcome from the director, Apichatpong Weerasethakul. This is a movie about creeping existential dread that never allows its protagonist to fully define or name what is causing this feeling inside them. 

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Movie Review – Azor

Azor (2021)
Written by Andreas Fontana and Mariano Llinás
Directed by Andreas Fontana

Something is wrong in Argentina. From the moment Azor begins, you feel disturbing things; the music and images hint at more sinister machinations at work. But on the surface, it seems…okay? The filmmakers have put their audience in the shoes of people attempting to navigate life under a dictatorship in Latin America. Azor is set in 1980 during the Dirty War when right-wing death squads scoured the country of anyone suspected of supporting socialism or other left-wing movements. This military junta killed between 9,000 to 30,000 people. Hard numbers are hard to get because so many of these people were disappeared overnight and never seen again, with no formal record of what happened to them. 

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Movie Review – Parallel Mothers

Parallel Mothers (2021)
Written & Directed by Pedro Almodovar

At this point, can we acknowledge that Pedro Almodovar’s work exists in its own genre of cinema? The feel and look of all his movies are just so beyond everything else out there. He builds suspenseful narratives on premises that aren’t inherently thriller material. There is an ever-present sinister vibe, but ultimately his characters embrace the conflict and work through it, often forming makeshift families and coming to terms with the weight of the past. Almodovar clearly loves the stylish thrills of Hitchcock and the scandalous developments of telenovelas but also feels a need to address the history of Spain, especially war crimes and atrocities. The result is just unlike anything you will see anywhere else.

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Movie Review – Pain and Glory

Pain and Glory (2019)
Written & Directed by Pedro Almodovar

Pedro Almodovar is no strange to autofiction in his cinema, that doesn’t mean he’s always factually honest with us. Almodovar is very much an impressionist, more interested in the emotions and underlying psychology of events in our lives. Pain and Glory is the most obviously autobiographical, Antonio Banderas playing a version of the aging director. This is a meditation on the physical changes that come with time, how our bodies are both vessels of pleasure and suffering during our lives. The structure is that of interconnected short stories, vignettes centered around the protagonist that allow him to reflect and reconnect with people from his past.

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