Flaca Escopeta: Exploring Argentinian machismos through Surrealism
My nickname as a child was “flaca escopeta,” the gaucho translation for “little shotgun.” My father would call me “flaca escopeta” every day, comparing my scrawny legs to the barrel of a gun. It is a common way of speech in La Pampa, Argentina. Although that nickname came from a place of love, I started to think about what it meant to have always been addressed for a physical characteristic and not for my name. I was seen as a metallic cold murderous weapon. I realized that through my adolescence it made me feel detached from my own body. My identity was not Florencia; I wasn’t seen for who I was but for how I looked like. Like an insect being analyzed under a microscope and a light, I was being observed by the most important male figure in my life.
I grew up both under my father’s strong male gaze and Argentina’s. Body autonomy was an abstract concept. I had no say over my body. Over there, no woman does. Our bodies are instruments of pleasure and reproduction—machismos etched in our psyche. Flaca Escopeta, a series of surreal black-and-white photographs paired with video, explores the male gaze in Latin America, with an emphasis on Argentinian culture, and shows the lascivious behaviors of a male-dominated society and its consequences on women’s bodies and psyche. My work is a symbiosis of both lewd and silent visuals that highlights the machismos embedded in Argentinian values, creating an explicit critique to the oppressive sexual behavior of men towards women in both a social and political environment.
By creating images of chopped-off body parts and pairing them with ethereal still lives of a gun in my Argentinian home, I represent how I felt disconnected from my body and sense of self, due to the objectifying male gaze of Latin American culture. My photographs show dismembered body parts (some on pedestals), lifeless figures, and female bodies without faces. Both minimalistic and chaotic simultaneously, a juxtaposition of a sterile environment with muted color palettes with a grotesque narrative. The disembodied body parts connect to Surrealism in two ways; firstly, the imagery itself is surrealist due to the clean cut of the limbs, the minimalist set and the unnatural pose of a dismembered but live body. Secondly, I chose to work with Surrealism as an art movement because of its heavy misogynistic connotations and for its history of ignoring female creators. I believe there’s power in speaking and creating art, especially creating an explicit criticism to patriarchal structures utilizing a male-dominated medium. I started to think about my thesis work as a compilation of chapters that, when combined, embody the sentiments and experiences of being a woman in Latin America. The action of being observed with such violence and aggression has bisected my persona into different identities in which I would be branded as. The male gaze generated a wrecking dissection on my individuality that inspired both the photographs’ detachment of the body parts and the structure in which I write this essay.
It is heartbreaking and enraging that there’s a specific term for misogynist killings by men—femicides. I grew up seeing that word on the news almost every day, together with the victims’ mutilated bodies, their names and what they were wearing. “Where were they going” and “why weren’t they being careful” is a common conversation in Argentinian media. The aggressor is barely ever mentioned, and the blame for the incident usually falls upon the victim. This dynamic nests in Argentinian patriarchal social structures, with the objectified and demeaning way of looking from a masculine cis heterosexual perspective.
I started to think about the gaze and become aware of it and the ways in which it influenced my nature. I went to the studio with a faint idea of what I would be photographing and some small sketches. I wasn’t really thinking of a specific image in mind, but I knew it had to be disruptive. I knew that I wanted to recreate how I was seen and how it felt, but from a place of defiance. I think that defiance comes firstly from the action of creating the artwork in itself. As Judith Butler states in an interview with Vasu Reddy in Agenda 62:
Norms cannot be embodied without an action of a specific kind, and they cannot continue to enforce themselves without a continual action. It is in the thinking through this action that change can happen, since we are acting all the time in the ways that we enact, repeat, appropriate and refuse the norms that decide our social ontology.
By explicitly dismembering my body in my work and actively embodying the male gaze, I create that defiance against the injurious heteronormative and therefore reject the male gaze. I want to refuse the objectification and sexism embedded in it by creating an oppositional gaze. This oppositional gaze utilizes the same language as the male gaze on purpose, I wanted to create an explicit illustration of what women go through on a daily basis because I believe there is a difference between experiencing an inherent injustice and becoming aware of it. Photographing my body as chopped-off limbs speaks to the fetishization of the female body, and it is also a blasting critique to the castration undertone that the category of feminine is culturally charged with.
I have been thinking about Flaca Escopeta for the past 4 years, and developing my imagery into a fitting representation of my personal struggles as a female-identifying person. After months of work in developing photos, experimenting, collecting dreams and writing journal entries, Figure 1 appeared in my mind.
I grabbed my sketchbook and I drew a square. Inside of it three different-sized pedestals held three body parts, a dismembered torso and two legs. The body parts were holding themselves up, as if they were still attached to an invisible body. I continued drawing different versions of the same frame, and then I went to the studio to replicate the image I saw in my head. The resulting photo ended up matching my sketch to perfection.
After that I continued going to the studio and shooting different versions of my concept. I began posing nude in front of the camera. I would undress by the entrance and start a visual investigation of my body, observing the angles of my limbs, the various positions I could adapt to, and seeing my body as a mannequin ready to be dismantled. It became a performativity of my female embodiment. Figure 2 speaks directly to this through my use of light. While photographing myself I started noticing how aggressively the strokes were firing and how potent the light was, and in consequence made me think how light acts as an instrument for seeing. Immediately the connection seemed clear—I would use light to represent the hostility of the male white gaze. In Figure 2 we can see a diptych that represents the action and consequence of the male gaze which is intertwined in a silent dynamic that speaks to the power relations in Argentina social structure. The first image, the action of seeing, is represented by a harsh circular light source. The second image represents the consequences of this action— the breakage of my gender individuality and the physical and emotional violence against women. The use of hard light as a metaphor for the male gaze is seen throughout several images, especially in Figure 3.
Surrealism provides an ethereal language to convey my experiences into a delicate and crude visual. The body as a dismantled conjuncture of parts mirrors the cis-het oppressive white male gaze, that not just constitutes for the Argentinian social form but also to Surrealism as a movement in art history. Surrealists strived to creatively undermine what they viewed as postwar society’s excessive rationality and oppressive order by producing work generated not out of the conscious but by tapping into the unconscious, its desiring, dreaming, irrational portion. This 20th-century art movement was heavily influenced by psychoanalysis—based primarily on the research of Sigmund Freud—which consisted of case studies on patients with hysteria, a predominantly female-diagnosed mental disorder. From his clinical observations of hysteria, Freud developed his theories on unconscious drives and psychosexual development. In consequence, the unconventional art that came out of the Surrealist movement was deeply rooted in sexist and problematic policing of desire instituted by Freud. Women were key parts of Surrealism, not as artists but as muses: objects of inspiration.
When we think of Surrealism we think of Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Andre Breton… and we often fail to mention more than one, if any, female artist. Throughout the happenings in the 20th century, women artists, regardless of whether they declared themselves feminists or not, have presented their view of how culture exposes and perceives women’s bodies with the aid of an explicit, clearly stated and exhibit body. Lee Miller was an American photographer and photojournalist and until 1933, she was Man Ray’s inspiration, muse and collaborator. In most of Man Ray’s images we can see that he utilized Miller’s body parts, for example in the serigraph A l’Heure de l’Observatoire. He only painted Lee Miller’s lips as a symbol for femininity, sexuality and erotism. In response to the objectification of women in the art world, Lee Miller was one of many female Surrealists who decided to turn the gaze around and reappropriate their own identity and power. But there’s one particular image that stands out for creating a pivotal role for women in Surrealism, and it is perhaps her most violent critique of female objectification.
The image Untitled is one of my biggest inspirations for this project. With this piece Miller made a social, feminist, and political statement. She composed this photograph after observing a mastectomy, and then she carried the severed breast to her studio and photographed it on a white plate with a knife and fork. I see this photograph as a big criticism of Man Ray and all male Surrealists, when they felt entitled to dismember women’s bodies in their artwork and paint them as erotic objects. What I admired the most about her work is how literal her statement is, and that is why this photograph inspired me to speak out about my upbringing and my culture in an explicit manner.
While thinking about my upbringing in Latin America, I became aware of the way in which female sexuality and reproductive rights are used as institutional weapons to assert dominance. Abortion rights were a utopian intent that have been driving millions of people into the streets to protest. Fortunately, I was able to attend a few of them while living in Buenos Aires. The collective anger, frustration and rage over our fallen sisters was breathable all thorough-out the city. Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito became an iconic movement in Argentina since 1988, and today you can see the distinctive and famous green handkerchief on many people’s bags or clothing, as a sign of support to the cause. Nevertheless, the opposing side is quite strong in Latin America, with the Catholic Church working in conjunction with the government. I knew I wanted to talk about this in my thesis so I went back to the studio.
I took some props to the studio to photograph them as references to the genitalia and reproductive organs. Figure 4 is a diptych I took during these sessions. In the first image there is a plate with a few eggs and a blood orange cut in half, served with a fork and a knife. The eggs are a reference to the female reproductive system and the blood orange symbolizes the vagina. On the second image there is a bent coat hanger that represents the dangers of clandestine abortions. These elements served on a plate as if it was a meal act as a visual metaphor to portray how men consumed from women’s bodies for decades.
Guns are intricate objects. They hold an essence violence and death, materializing the savagery of human beings. Although my father’s nickname came from a place of love and strictly physical resemblance, I began to question in which way those connotations have affected the perception of my own bodily experience. My legs were marked with a signifier of fear and terror, and in creating this project I realized how this has etched a negative imprint on my gender expression and identity. At this time, I began incorporating the still life imagery of my father’s gun into the thesis work. In some instances, the photograph of the gun as a personified version of myself stands by itself. In others, it creates a diptych together with an image of my severed body. I consider both self-portraits. Furthermore, the gun stands out by itself as an incarnation of the male gaze’s destruction. We can read the gun as playing a key part of my thesis on multiple layers. There’s the gun as myself, and also there’s the gun as the male counterpart. Loading the gun with a metaphor of representation of the male gaze provides a deeper analysis into the dynamic of my work’s symbolisms.
In Figure 5 the first image shows two pairs of dismembered limbs, or the “gun” part of my body, together with a photograph of a gun placed on a couch back in my Argentinian home. I placed these images together to form one single piece in order for the spectator to draw a visual correlation between the gun and my body. But the gun also represents the figure of my father. It stands by itself, placed on a chair in the living room, impersonating the violence of the male gaze in Latin America.
Figure 6 is another image I created thinking about this metaphor. For this diptych I photographed a close-up of the gun’s sight and placed it next to a photograph of body parts on a couch. The gun’s sight is an instrument for observing, aiming and shooting, and I utilize it as another symbolism for the male gaze. I see Figure 6 as another cause-and-consequence diptych, it explicitly shows the violence that comes from a patriarchal social structure.
My thesis Flaca Escopeta is curated to go from the impersonal to the more personal, human, vulnerable. It starts with photographs with no time or spatial reference taken at the studio, then it slowly moves into the eggs and hanger still lives and finally develops into a more personal level when I introduce the gun and my home. Together with the image work, I made a one-minute silent video piece as well. Also square-format and black-and-white, the video serves as a living photograph. I wanted to take advantage of the time-based medium and utilize it to further explore my concept. The video “Untitled” is a compilation of fast-paced surrealist shots in which my body appears dismembered as it does on my photographs. Through the use of gentle gestures, paced movements and the breathing torso, the video breaks the static nature of my images and makes them come alive. The repetition of the violent shots and their fast pacing is a representation of how often I would see these terrorizing images on the news. Because the video works in conjunction with the images and vice-versa, I decided to utilize a digital medium to present my thesis work and create a website. Presenting Flaca Escopeta in this manner also allows for people all around the world to access it, and that is one of the reasons why I am doing this work to begin with. I make political art to make a statement and bring awareness to the misogynistic social structures in Argentina, therefore women in Argentina should be able to access my work. During the next couple of months I plan to print out thousands of photos from this project together with a QR code each that will lead the viewer to the thesis website, and stick them all around New York City.
Throughout the making of this project I have experienced many changes regarding my sense of identity. By exploring how I have been observed throughout my life I started to discover and release myself from previous misconceptions about my sexuality and femininity. Flaca Escopeta has also allowed me to reconnect with my late father in a healing manner, as well as exploring his influence in my life and remembering his presence. It has been a long process of self-discovery as well as a coping mechanism for the trauma I have been through, and my hope is that other people find this body of work cathartic too. I know this project will continue throughout the years because I will continue photographing my body in relation to my identity as well as my Argentine heritage.
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