Carolina Mayorga

Mayorga is a keen observer of her surroundings. She draws inspiration from everyday life, her bicultural experience and her upbringing.

November 18, 2013
by Donna M.E. Banks
Installation shot for Divine Revelations: Passage From the Life of Our Lady, 2012
Installation shot for Divine Revelations: Passage From the Life of Our Lady, 2012

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.
– Aristotle

Carolina Mayorga’s art is striking, captivating, poignant, thought provoking and often humorous. As an artist who provides visual commentary and critiques on human issues that transcend geographic boundaries, her art is also essential.

Mayorga was born in Colombia and grew up during a time of exacerbated violence. No place was safe, no one was safe. Violence was constant and far-reaching. Her recollections of this time are not just facts and events but sensorial memories which include feelings, perceptions and behaviours. Mayorga’s earlier work often explores themes of war and displacement. Site-specific installations and video pieces called attention to the lives of victims, often children, impacted by crises. Through installations such as The Displaced, Orphans and Snow Clock and video pieces such as La Visita, Mayorga invited the visitor to experience the despair, loss and hopelessness of these silenced victims. She captures the rapidity in which family life went from normal, happy and loving to unforeseeable devastation.

Although born in Colombia, Mayorga relocated to the United States 15 years ago to attend graduate school. At this time, the artist underwent a change in identity. No longer living in the country of her birth she was now an immigrant in a foreign land. As an artist interested in social and political themes, it was logical for Mayorga to begin examining issues of identity and otherness. To that end, she frequently uses her own image ‘as an interpretation of cultural, ethnic and gendered stereotypical identities’.

One of her most recent photographic series is Divine Revelations. This series of self-portraits is inspired by the depictions of the Madonna in Italian Renaissance art. In preparation for this work, Mayorga traveled to Spain and Italy in 2009 and 2010 where she visited museums, palaces and churches to examine the Madonna. She states that the Madonna del Granduca and Madonna and Child by Raphael inspired some of her compositions.

In another recent work, a performance piece, Maid in the USA, the artist provides a commentary on stereotypes and the roles that are ‘often attributed to immigrants of Hispanic origin.’ In Maid in the USA, Mayorga, wearing a traditional Colombian Cumbia dress and holding a broom, cleans the performance site. The artist’s work sheds light on the very real and endemic stereotypes in U.S. mainstream media of women whose ancestral roots are in Latin America. While there has been much criticism of Hollywood’s continued portrayal of such stereotypical roles, it persists. One famous, recently deceased, U.S. actress of Mexican descent estimated she had been cast as a maid over 150 times.

Whether a site-specific installation, performance, photographic or video exhibition, visitors are expected to interact or participate with the work in some way. Mayorga’s art is a shared experience, one of inter-subjectivity wherein the visitor and the art actively engage. In so doing, the visitor becomes part of the art work.

Mayorga is a keen observer of her surroundings. She draws inspiration from everyday life, her bicultural experience and her upbringing. Her artistic influences include the works of Barbara Kruger, Marina Abramović, Edward Kienholz, William Kentridge and Louise Bourgeois. While Mayorga does not consider her work as a form of activism, she states ‘I definitely have a message I want to convey. I’m only presenting the issues. I pose questions and leave them open to interpretation.’