Muñecas de Magia: A Review of Between Us
Alexandra Alvarez

  Between Us,  by Barbara Miñarro. Photo credits to Barbara Miñarro

Between Us, by Barbara Miñarro. Photo credits to Barbara Miñarro

Almost all world Art History classes begin with a study of the Hall of the Bulls. A cave painting in Lascaux, France, the primitive artwork is thought to be up to 20,000 years old and depicts multiple scenes of hunts with various animals including bison and the extinct aurochs. The Art History teacher may talk about how the visual depth shows a primitive idea or perception, but the meaning of the work is not it’s contribution to the field of art. Rather the meaning of the work is that the scene was created as an act of manifestation; it is an early example of the alliance between art and spirituality.

These cave paintings were a part of mystical rituals to summon a successful hunt. Walter Benjamin in the Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction reflects on the artworks of our ancestors and states, “Artistic production begins with ceremonial objects destined to serve in a cult. One may assume that what mattered was their existence, not their being on view. The elk portrayed by the man of the Stone Age on the walls of his cave was an instrument of magic. He did expose it to his fellow men, but in the main it was meant for the spirits.” (http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/benjamin.pdf). The magic Benjamin is referring to, the idea “like produces like”, is a facet of sympathetic magic.

Coined by Sir James George Frazer in 1890 in the Golden Bough, sympathetic magic, or the law of sympathy, is a term used to describe ancient and modern magic practices that "assume that things act on each other at a distance through a secret sympathy, the impulse being transmitted from one to the other by means of what we may conceive as a kind of invisible ether.” (http://www.bartleby.com/196/5.html). Similar to Einstein’s proven concept of entanglement, sympathetic magic is a way to describe how objects may physically affect, emulate, connect, and replicate with one another across space and time. Frazer breaks down sympathetic magic into two branches, homeopathic magic (law of similarity: like produces like) and contagious magic (law of contact: what is once in contact stays in contact). Including the Hall of Bulls, examples of the former would be the beliefs that certain stones have spiritual properties such as rose quartz is associated with love or a witch who says a spell or acts out what she wants to happen and examples of the latter would be the Horcrux in Harry Potter, a site considered holy because it had been visited by an important figure, or a magical amulet that gives power to whomever holds it.

Humans exercise contact and identify similarity most often through our skin. Epidermis operates our sense of touch faculties and is the most visible surface of our personhood. The skin is the casing that keeps our innards confined to a boundary, yet it acutely consumes what it comes into contact with because of its absorbent properties. Simultaneously, the outermost layer excretes a part of itself onto the object it grazes because of its shedding nature. Skin is so sensitive that it needs protection; ergo the ritual of getting dressed daily. It is also so sacred that it has become a form of identity.  

Clothes are a cover, a layer, a touch; their performative nature gives them histories and future. If clothing has the potential to be skin, through contagion (fabric on epidermis) and the idea like produces like (clothing is an extension of the self functionally and visually), then the bodies of work by Barbara Miñarro can be considered something more than just art, they are puffs of sympathetic magic. In her practice, Barbara Miñarro uses clothing she has collected from her grandmother and other women influencers and that she carried while migrating from Mexico to the United States to immaculately conceive new objects. “Since I moved countries, I started getting the feeling ni aquí o de alla. But I’ve always felt that my body is my home, it is not a geographical location that has to be my home but me my body is my home, my shelter. I started using a lot of clothing because it’s a different type of telling time.”

By believing clothing can be flesh (law of similarity) and through using materials that were touched by her ancestors (law of contact) Miñarro practices both homeopathic and contagious magic. Miñarro use her magical garments as skins to encapsulate the body of her history. The artistic process is much like the making of a voodoo doll.

Walking into her latest exhibition Between Us at Clamp Light is like opening the heavy door of a meat locker. Miñarro’s artwork hangs like fish on a line. Between Us is an exhibition of fashion carnage. Ladders of shapes look like ribs, sacks of fabric hang like cow torsos, clothing intestines drape the ceiling like streamers at prom, the wall of netted tapestries are reminiscent of textured-multi-shaded-large-strips of chicharrón. The patterns and the materiality of the textiles she uses are visually reminiscent to BBQ picnics: crochet, stripes, embroidery, floral, and gingham.

Miñarro transforms Clamp Light into a brightly and multi-colored jungle gym of cotton stuffed fashion bratwursts that have shapes like McDonalds’ mysterious chicken nuggets. Miñarro’s forms don’t hold mathematical shapes; they aren’t perfect pepperonis. Her neglect of geometry speaks volumes to how the artist views composition of the body. The lack of precise forms and strict linearity is parallel to imagery from a Dr. Seuss book. The irregular composition in Dr. Seuss’s stories is a style associates with pre-pubescence. In western society formless objects or iterations are considered to be more childlike. Although Miñarro’s works are also amoeba-esque she puts them in women’s clothing and calls them fully formed figures.

When Barbara migrated to the United States she was the ripe age of 12-13 years old. Similar to when the bible’s Eve ate the fruit and realized she was naked, Miñarro’s journey across the border brought on an awareness of her skin color and form. She realized that she was a woman and not just any type of woman but a brown immigrant woman. “When I was in Mexico I was just me” Miñarro recounts of the shift.  Coming to the United Sates while un-fully formed, Miñarro became aware of the gaze; the incredibly western noose on the neck of society, which hangs tighter on people of color, tightest around women.

Miñarro’s objects are a sort of protest against the shapes in which women are supposed to inhabit. Rather than giving her skins long and lean or pear shaped bodies, Miñarro creates forms that are more concerned with how they are occupying their skin than the shape they inhabit. Her works put curves in clothing when so often women are pushed to be hangers for the clothing. Miñarro’s pillows are totally darling but they are not dainty; they have weight and fleshy strength. The likeness of Miñarro’s bodies’ muscular shapes to Minoan fertility goddess statuettes arouses a primal sense of the effeminate—Whether ancient Incan, Mayan, or Minoan, Miñarro takes us back to a form of feminine energy before the Greeks and Romans came in with their standards and cannons to physically measure gender.  

Through artistic enactment of sympathetic magic, Barbara Miñarro creates figures full of identity that conjure the viewer to reimagine the body within her vision. Miñarro’s solo show denies us the Western body types and scientific lines we are used to seeing, instead she serves us a charcuterie board of healthy and organic alternatives. Her concepts of forms, beauty, and composition become real bodies in a real space; the histories of her ancestors come to life in a mosaic of hanging objects. Like the Hall of Bulls, Miñarro’s artwork is a depiction of the stories she would like to come into being in the world as well as a manifestation of the figures she wanted to see in her environment as a pre-teen.

Even without reading the artist statement, it’s incredibly obvious that her materials are not random. Like a sample of a population on New York City subway cart, each work in Between Us is incredibly unique yet as an orchestra they all vibrate on the same frequency. Every item in the show resonate together except a pyramid of jeans at the mouth of the exhibition. Hanging like a denim display at the Gap, the only pieces to not be structurally manipulated are a ladies blue jeans dance troupe in formation. While all other garments have been scalpeled, tummy tucked and given facelifts, the blue jeaned items in the show are ready to be plucked off and worn again.

This artistic choice to leave the jeans as is, is a subconscious respect to jeans as a relic that further dramatizes Miñarro’s attunement with the magical properties governing objects. Whether it’s the idea of Mick Jagger junk on the album art work of Sticky Fingers to Lana Del Rey singing blue jean baby or Levi Straus high waisted and western to apple-bottom, jeans have a magic meaning in pop culture Miñarro can’t cut. Her sympathetic magic connection to her ancestor’s jeans is secondary to the sympathetic magic pop culture has given denim.

What makes Miñarro an artist and not just a magician is her intense detail to confinement and repetition. In sum, her arrangements and composition allude to someone who knows about color theory and relationship to space. She has flow and meaning beyond her own story. Her bodies also do what art is supposed to do; they change perceptions and create new forms. Like the pair of Adidas tatted in marker wrapped a plastic bag tied with a purple string on a mound of dirt, Between Us is a grounded, historical, and a preserved parcel of soles that travel through space and time.