“The New World,” as a designation for the Americas, originated in sixteenth-century Europe during the so-called age of discovery. Four centuries later, the term still evokes a combination of idealistic optimism and strategic exploitation. Cristina Velasquez questions this legacy from the perspective of her native Colombia. Deploying the concept of mestizaje, or the mixing of different ethnicities and cultures, Velasquez combines photography (a new medium) with weaving (an ancient method). Neither is privileged: weaving lends texture and dimension to photography, and photography adds representational detail to weaving. Velasquez produces objects that are overtly manual in origin, asking the viewer to think about labor—her own, and also that of Latin American people across the history of colonialism—as her true subject. Rather than illustrating working bodies in a conventionally documentary way, Velasquez frequently depicts isolated limbs in stylized, almost sculptural arrangements. These photographs are collaborative stagings of bodies in landscapes. In another form of mestizaje, they blend categories of genre and tone. Serious in intent and exacting in terms of craftsmanship, Velasquez’s “New World” is also animated by a sense of absurdity and joyous color. The artist’s approach is not didactic or propagandistic, but delivers its social and historic message via performance, engaging the viewer in the game of questioning, revision, and revelation.
–Britt Salvesen, Curator and Head of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department and the Prints and Drawings Department at LACMA.