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They Say I Came Back Americanized: Gonzalo Fuenmayor exhibits at Dolby Chadwick Gallery
Carmen Electra (2012), Charcoal on paper, 82 x 44 inches.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- Born in Colombia but a resident of the United States since 1998, Gonzalo Fuenmayor’s remarkably precise charcoal drawings explore themes of cultural hybridity, identity politics, and acculturation.

As a Colombian artist living abroad, Fuenmayor once felt he had a responsibility to make art that commented on the social events happening back at home. Feeling too detached from the drugs and violence that he was expected to engage, Fuenmayor started drawing bananas instead. Bananas carry great cultural, historical, and economic significance in Colombia, and have even been tacitly embroiled in controversy if one considers the various Chiquita Brands International scandals. What initially began as a lighthearted attempt to self-exoticize and position himself as specifically “Colombian” has since evolved into an earnest exploration of cultural hybridity and transnational identity.

In his Apocalypse series, for instance, opulent Victorian and Rococo chandeliers grow out of bunches of bananas like absurd Dadaesque fruits. Their glowing lights and glimmering crystals are articulated using the negative space of the naked white paper while the bananas climb upward into the charcoal’s darkest values. The message is clear: the natural wealth of Latin America’s Banana Republics brought financial prosperity to its European colonizers. But despite allusions to a tragic and violent past, there is a harmony to the disjointed imagery that suggests not reconciliation but rather, according to Fuenmayor, “the subordination of the contradictory into a delicate and imaginative order” that figures as the present.

Recent works have provided the artist with the opportunity to interrogate the many latino stereotypes and caricatures that exist in American pop culture. In the Carmen series, for example, exaggerated, towering headdresses feature impossible columns of bananas, disco balls strung from palm trees, an effusion of flowers and ferns that suggest the wilds of the jungle, and a nesting family of flamingos. There is a mythical, supernatural quality about these headdresses that recalls both the magical realism of latino literature as well as the mystery of “the other.” They are also sexy, witty, and inescapably humorous.

Carmen Miranda—the Brazilian entertainer who purposefully sported a thick accent and knowingly performed the role of the exuberant latina—is the indisputable inspiration behind the Carmen series. What brought her success in the States, however, polarized her from her compatriots. Fuenmayor explains that he too struggles to negotiate not only stereotypes of latinness, but as both a Colombian and American, he must also negotiate transnational identities. The Moment of Surrender is symbolic of Fuenmayor’s attempt to resolve his liminal circumstances as a foreigner both at home and abroad. In a nod to Oswalde de Andrade’s “Cannibal Manifesto” of 1928, a boa constructor, the proxy for one culture or experience, can be seen consuming the proxy of another: an ornate coat rack. The point is not to destroy the coat rack or to imitate it by becoming it, but to create something new. In this strange, startling act, hybridity is celebrated.

Gonzalo Fuenmayor was born in 1977 in Barranquilla, Colombia. He moved to New York City in 1998 to study at the School of Visual Arts, where he earned his BFA. In 2004 he earned his MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Fuenmayor has exhibited across North and South America, and has been the recipient of numerous prestigious awards and fellowships. This past spring, he traveled to the Amazon in the region of Leticia, Colombia on an Alumni Traveling Fellowship from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. This will be his first solo exhibition at the Dolby Chadwick Gallery.

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