Delilah Montoya 12/5/00



The Digital Imprint and the Guadalupe En Piel


As an artist witha history of creating photographic images with different media, I find themalleability of digital technology offers compelling imagery. The truth of thematter is that most of the special effects produced through the computer can becomposed by a comparable analog method; the computer simply does it withgreater efficiency. Throughout my career, I have worked the image byre-constructing it through various processes. This resulted from the desire tobring together a mark making response into processes oriented applications likeprintmaking or photography. In my estimation with the arrival of the digitalage my technical aptitudes have crystallized.

As a photographicprintmaker (who developed collotype, photo-lithography, photo-serigraphy,non-silver and special effects technique) I have insight regarding imagesupport surfaces. The support surface is the sculptural aspect of the imageand constructs the conceptual as well as the formal intentions of the artist. As far as outputting the digital image onto various surfaces one must beprepared to experiment. The printer responds uniquely to each surface. Minutechanges in the software profiles[1] will dramatically change the ultimatelook of an image. Currently, the industry offers a variety of print materialssuch as mylar, canvas, rag and cover stock papers. Each surface will eitherhold the image with the amazing clarity of color balance and contrast or softenit beyond recognition. It is my experience, that cover stocks and mylarsurfaces tend to hold the digital image well. Certain rag papers likecopperplate, Somerset, or a German etching paper makes for an exquisite print.Once the photographic digital image has been outputted to a well- suitedsurface, it lands between the chemical photograph and the photo lithograph/collotype and thus rivals the graphic print.

The most rewardingaspect of digital imaging is the way the initial capture can be worked. Thepossibilities are endless. Yet with a little skill and vision thosepossibilities are edited to meet the needs of the designer. "Guadalupe EnPiel", a window installation at the Andrew Smith Gallery in Santa Fe N.M.,was precisely that type of project. The intention was to take an eminent mythand frame it by evoking an intellectual response to an archaic symbol.

The Guadalupe, abi-cultural icon, denotes not only the international Baroque response immersedin Catholicism but references central parameters to Náhuatl[2]thought. The apparition story is seemingly simple. On Saturday, December 9,1531[3], "Our Lady" first appeared to Juan Diego, a Mexica Indian and recentCatholic convert. She requested that a church be built in her honor. The"seĖal"/sign or proof that Juan Diego had spoken to Guadalupe or"Our Lady"/Tonantzin is her graphic appearance onto his cloak knownas a "tilmatli" or tilma. Like the Guadalupe, herself, thecollective understanding of the tilma has remained intact throughout the centuriesand resonates in the consciousness of Xicano society.

The tilmareferences clothe as a symbolic "magical alteration of reality"[4]and a metaphor for the second skin. The first skin of course is nakedness andthe second skin conceals that state. In addition, for Náhuatl society thesecond skin evokes the "Xipe Totec's flayed skin garment, which waspresented to this Amerindian deity following sacrificial rituals in observanceof military and fertility rites." [5] The Xipe Totec wasconsidered the male equivalent to the earth and moon goddess. During theritual the youth to be flayed wears a mask made of skin that was considered tobe the sacrificed Earth Mother/ Tonantzin. Interestingly prior to thesacrificial flaying of the woman, who represented the goddess, she wore a tilmamade of maguey. This act binds the tilma into the ritual practice associatedwith the "Xipe Totec." The tilma that Juan Diego was wearing whenthe Guadalupe's miraculous image imprinted onto the fabric was made of maguey. Like the Guadalupe, the maguey is native to the Americas and is associated withNáhuatl spirituality. The tilma that was worn by Diego hangs to this day inMexico City at the basilica that was built at the request of Guadalupe and inher honor.

It is believedthat without the Guadalupe myth that bridged the Spanish and Native Americancultures, an absolute holocaust may have ensued. Her acceptance by theCatholic Church opened the door for the conversion of the Amerindian people byextending the spiritual views of both societies.

With all this inmind, the contemporary tattooing of the Guadalupe onto the backs of Cholos[6] is not an odd coincidence that is, if one trusts the collective consciousness. This act in many ways is a ritual practice that is meant to provide protectionagainst harm and also empowers the Cholo during conflicts. It is theprotective symbol for the pugnacious person. In tattooing Guadalupe's imagesonto their back the ritualistic wearing of "Our Lady" is referenced. In following the myth, the tattooed Cholo can be thought of as the Xipe Totecwho is the male aspect of Tonantzin. This act binds together both the male andfemale energies of "Our Lady."

The installationmakes indirect reference to these ideas by displaying a Guadalupe tattoolocated on the back as a rollout; creating a collage digitally: the leftpectoral, left shoulder, back, right shoulder and right pectoral are displayedas a seamless image. The image resembles a garment or rather the second skinthat has been flattened. In photographing the original tattoo work onto 8x10black and white negatives then capturing them to a digital file, the finaloutput has an impressive clarity. This clarity compares to the immediacy of aphotographic imprint while at the same time is structured to my conceptualideas concerning the tilma as the second skin. The ideas are furtherelaborated in that the tattoo work exemplifies the style of the Cholo Artist. On the left shoulder lies a depiction of Cristo Crucificado, the back has"Armijio" written in Old English lettering with the Guadalupepositioned below it, and the right shoulder displays the praying hands. Thisimage, laminated onto three panels, is located on reverse side of a nine-panelmural that measures a total of eight feet. The digital image is of a Cholo/Veterano[7] handcuffed with a Guadalupe tattooedon his back. He stands in front of iron bars in a detention center.

Below the Armijioimage is an additional rollout of a full-bodied female torso and depictedbetween the shoulder blades lies the Guadalupe. The image is printed on frostedmylar that gives it a front/ back view and the rollout is suspended withfilament wire. One is struck by the fleshiness that fractures the body intovalleys and hills that conceal contouring crevasses. The form references the"earth" and the nipples suggest "mother". It is the visualkenning[8] for Earth Mother, "Our LadyGuadalupe"/ Tonantzin. The image becomes fully awake during daybreak andtwilight when the lights in the window back-light the "Earth Mother"and illuminates the image with a warm glow while the ambient daylight clarifiesthe front surface. The moment between night and day speaks of the dual natureinvested by Nahautl thought concerning "difrasismo."[9] It isa poetic technique in which a single idea is expressed by two words, eitherbecause they are synonymous or because they complement each other. In thiscase the daybreak express the crack between worlds as a creative act that movesfrom one world to the other.

Pressed, withwhite vinyl lettering, onto the window is a poem composed by Alurista that hewrote specifically for the installation. It reads:

corazón colonizado

            comorosa blooms


guadalupe tonantzin

            enla tilma de nuestra


xicana piel


The poem grounds the installation'sconcerns of presenting a contemporary Xicano expression of the Guadalupe. Forthe Xicano, she is our protector, a symbol of empowerment, and "OurLady" of the Americas.

The installationis entirely constructed digitally and outputted with an Epson 9000 onto mylarand cover stock paper. It was then laminated with an UV protective film andthen the photo-mural was adhered to panels made of Syntra. The viewer rarelystops to consider if the installation is a digital display. It is accepted asan art-piece and at times confused with the chemical process. At one point, Iwas asked, "So are you working chemically?" In General, the windowinstallation, "Guadalupe En Piel", is discern to be photographic innature. In my estimation this verifies that the photographic environment haseffectively implemented the digital electronic image into its paradigm and ifthe work is compelling the distinctions that divide the photographic imprintfrom the drawing become moot.








[1] Profiles are menus of specific datathat adjusts the printer for specific surface material.

[2] Náhuatl is the linguistic name of theAztec Indians

[3] Victor Alejandro Sorell; "HerPresence in Her Absence: New Mexican Image of La Guadalupana"

[4] George Kubler; The Art andArchitecture of Ancient America; Kingsport Press, Inc., Kingsport,Tennessee; pg. 105

[5] IBID pg.13

[6] Cholo refers to youth from theworking class Mexican communities that dominant culture believes to have takenon the gang life style.

[7] A Veterano is an older Cholo who hasspent time in prison.

[8] A kenning is literary devise used in13c Old Norse court. This term implies that some knowledge or thought wasrequired to understand the allusion intended. One must be able to make adirect comparison by substituting the image for the literary metaphor. JohnHowland Rowe, "Form and Meaning in Chavin Art." Pg. 72

[9] Miguel León-Portilla, AztecThought and Culture: A Study of the Ancient Náhuatl Mind; as footnoted byVictor Alejandro Sorell, "Her Presence in Her Absence: New Mexican Imagesof the La Guadalupan".