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maenad or menad (ˈmiːnæd)
1. classical myth a woman participant in the orgiastic rites of Dionysus; bacchante
2. a frenzied woman
[C16: from Latin Maenas, from Greek mainas madwoman]

Registro de Ménades, Record of Maenads

The “voluntary” inscription or enrollment of every woman working in the sex industry and/or working in bars, canteens, breweries, and similar places; it is a record which was kept by the General Direction of Police. The women’s name, age, place of birth, parents’ address, and all other data that could be linked to their identity and place of work would be registered. For the effects of individualization, a portrait had to be handed in. Usually, a picture used in the identification document was the one chosen in order to identify them.

Ever since the photograph was invented, it has served a series of purposes which, in the course of time, have been linked to the way it has been interpreted and taken on by the different social groups that have used it and stimulated its development: as a type of testimony to save-guard and maintain, in time, family, individual, and social memories; as a registration of the advances or setbacks that a society has undergone in social, political, economic, and cultural fields; or as a new field of artistic interest dated back to the decade of the sixties of the last century.

Simultaneously, the photograph has constituted records of certain fields of social life that aren´t necessarily always visible. In the context of the photographic practice that we present here, the central idea is to attempt to demonstrate that this marvelous invention of the XIXth century has also been an important tool which, from and for the State, has been used to control, register, stigmatize, penalize, regulate, and document those fields of social life which have—hardly ever—been considered as emotionally or morally “permissible” and that have almost always been condemned by society, but coolly tolerated and regulated by the governing powers.

The official photograph is useful since it allows the systematization and registration of images taken by the respective authorities in the realm of their authority with the sole purpose of providing sense and order to the functioning of society. Even though the circumstances in which such records are produced are diverse, they are not necessarily distinct from each other: from the process of obtaining a driver’s license, to the processes following accusations of a fault or a felony. In both cases, the interest to control is essential. In the case of voluntary photographic records, many of these have been produced – at least formally – without the use of coercion: the photographs were handed in by the interested party in order to fulfill a requisite and to be able to act within the field of what is permitted.

In the history of photography and critical essays on the subject, little is said regarding the use of images as tools with ends far from artistic purposes. Encarnación (Incarnation), gathers a series of photographs and portraits elaborated in order to control and identify; their original conception could not have been further away from art and from being shown and exhibited in galleries of a cultural institution. The purpose of all this speaks to one of the major anxieties of contemporary art: to inquire into the archives in order to find new readings in the light of a determined time and reality, both past and present.

José Manuel Mayorga


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