Post Road Magazine #22

Yolanda Petrocelli

Elizabeth Ferrer

For much of her artistic career Yolanda Petrocelli has utilized photography — a visual medium traditionally valued for its capacity to register physical likeness — as a means of psychological, interior mapping. She centers her work on self-portraiture, staging compositions in the studio and then using digital means to alter her photographic imagery. The changing face presented in these images, at turns solemn, contemplative, anxious, or forthright, reflects the nuances of a complex sense of self.

Petrocelli began this body of work around the time of the Columbus Quincentennial, the 1992 commemoration of Columbus's arrival in the Americas. For Petrocelli, a Mexican living far north of the border, the anniversary has deep personal relevance. Indeed, the dual legacies of indigenous culture and colonization are at the heart of her own mestiza identity. She began purposefully constructing her imagery: toning her portraits in rich, translucent hues; inscribing words on parts of her body; and at times, elaborately staging scenes, as in one enigmatic photograph where she obsessively unravels a seeming endless stream of thread. These varied means have metaphoric value, conveying the body as a vessel for history, and presenting identity as an incomplete realm, relentlessly in formation.

These works also function as an exploration of the female artist's identity. Petrocelli's practice of self portrayal pays homage to the oeuvres of two of Mexico's most important modern artists, Frida Kahlo and MarĂ­a Izquierdo. Both women came of age during Mexico's postRevolutionary era (a time in which artists looked inward, to their own cultural heritage, for inspiration), and repeatedly depicted themselves as a source of strength and vulnerability. Nearly a century later, Petrocelli continues this process of envisioning and re-imagining gender identity, now, in an era of anxious social reappraisal, and for the Latino, of political uncertainty.

In her most recent works Petrocelli overlays butterflies and other insects onto her face and body, a reflection of pre-Columbian myth and collective memory's existence residing deep within us.* She has come to increasingly alter her image, using the digital camera and computer software in manner akin to the fluidity of a painter with a brush. Layering physical realities with the imaginary, and interweaving such realms as dream and the subconscious into her compositions, photography becomes revelatory in Petrocelli's hands. Ultimately, these expansive inquiries into the nature of self also embrace the potential for the magical.

* Among various Meso-American cultures butterflies were thought to possess the souls of the dead, especially those of heroes and other important persons.

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