Ways of saying I

Ways of saying I


Self-portraiture and Women in the Art Museums Network of Catalonia

Curator: Cristina Masanés


35 works
32 artists
9 museums: Museu d’Art de Cerdanyola / Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona / Museu d’Art de Girona / Museu d’Art de Sabadell / Museu d’Art Jaume Morera / Museu d’Art Modern de Tarragona / Museu de l’Empordà / Museu de Manresà / Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

I, or self-concept, is quite modern. Firstly, in the 17th century, it was necessary to formulate it as a concept. Later, in the 18th century, the self-portrait began to be important. Finally, in the 19th century, it became popular among the bourgeoisie to record their private lives in personal diaries. It was modernity that fostered a notion of identity as an introspective process that led the depths of the soul to emerge into a supposed authentic I. Whether it be the I thinking about the essay, the painted portrait or the private voice of those writing a diary, what is in play is the always awkward question of "Who answers to my name?".

In modern self-portraiture, the artists –men, of course– often present themselves as masterful creators or tortured souls. They depict themselves in their studios, as well as sometimes playing social roles or displaying connections –perhaps with their families– of mastery or patronage. Female artists, although they have been mainly presented as objects and rarely as subjects, cannot be said not to have portrayed themselves. As a proclamatory gesture, much work remains to be done and, perhaps as a result of the interest for their own image or due to a privileged physical awareness, we also have self-portraits signed by women. More than you would imagine at first.

This is a virtual journey through the collections of the Art Museums Network of Catalonia in which we have traced a line between the different self-portraits of women. Very few women artists paint themselves painting. The first canvases –from the late 19th century– incorporate the pictorial canon of the portrait. However, it was from the 1960s that self-representation of women artists became widespread, expanding the very notion of self-portraiture. It is evident that feminism played an important role in this, as well as the idea of a porous subject linked to post-modernity and the freedom associated with contemporary art.

It is not easy to depict yourself, even in the age of the selfie. In addition to technical ability, a certain psychological honesty is required “to be able build up an image in which I recognise myself”. Needless to say, in this process the face takes the largest part of the cake and, naturally, along with the face comes the look. However, that is just the tip of the self-representation iceberg. We invite you to follow some of its driftings, bearing in mind the performative risk of the self-image: “If I show what I’m like, I might end up resembling myself”.

Anatomies: when the I is spoken with the body

There are many portraits that, following the rules of the tradition, concentrate on the face and the look, seeking all that is specific. Sometimes it is the breadth of the cheekbones, the inclination of the head or the intensity of the eyes. Pepita Teixidor, Trini Sotos, Maria Teresa Ripoll, Maria Noguera, Joaquim Casas and Ana Maria Smith chose that option. There are no full figures; at the most, they are three-quarter length portraits. Neither do we have any fragmented bodies until well into the 20th century when, in a clear metonymy, the artists decided to take a part for the whole. Hands, feet, breasts, heart, lungs and other parts of the anatomy are the focus of the works of Ana Sánchez, Ester Fabregat and Laura Cirera. Is the fragmented body of the subject contemporary? Or is it the prehistoric essentiality that is so well invoked by Ana Mendieta with her self-portrait in a leaf? The fact is that, also in art, the I is often expressed with the body.

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Leaf Drawing)

Ana MendietaUntitled(Leaf Drawing), 1982
Tree leave and ink. 20 x 14 cm
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation.
Long-term loan of Brondesbury Holdings Ltd.

Woman, immigrant and latin american

Woman, immigrant and Latin American. Ana Mendieta (La Havana, 1948-New York, 1985) is a mythical name in 1970s feminism. During her brief artistic career (only thirteen years before she was killed), she opted for land art, body art and performance. She spoke of the “earth/body” to describe her approach to art, in which her figure or her footprint “became one with the earth”. With magnificent lyricism and a surprising communicative simplicity, her drawings on leaves connect us silently and directly with the first self-portraits of a prelinguistic humanity.

Pepita Teixidor, Self-portrait, prior to 1900. MNAC

Pepita TeixidorSelf-portrait, prior to 1900.
Watercolor on paper. 60 x 50 cm
Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
purchased 1914

As i she were emerging from a floral background

Glamourous, as if she were emerging from a floral background. Considered the best flower water-colourist of her time, she ignored the advice of her father and brother –also painters– to opt for the portrait. By adopting a genre such as flowers that was traditionally assigned to women, she was able to achieve recognition and a certain autonomy, a situation she valued highly. Pepita Teixidor (Barcelona, 1865-1914) involved herself in various women’s causes, both in Barcelona and Paris. For her self-portrait, she chose an oval shape and bright tones, such as purpurin. She exhibited assiduously and received good reviews. She was able to earn a living from painting, which was highly unusual for a woman. She died at the age of 48.

Trini Sotos, Self-portrait

Trini SotosSelf-portrait, 1946
Oil on canvas. 54,5 x 45,5 cm
Col·lecció del Museu d’Art de Sabadell

Why erase the line?

Trini Sotos (Sabadell, 1927) was nineteen when she portrayed herself. At the age of twelve she won the Sabadell Fine Arts Academy Children’s Prize and her family sent her for art classes with Antoni Vila Arrufat until she was nineteen, when she enrolled in the Faculty of Fine Arts in Barcelona. Her self-portrait is from that time. Why did she erase the lines and choose sfumato, a pictorial effect that distances the figure? What does that darkness tell us?

Maria Noguera, Self-portrait, c. 1935. Museu de Manresa

Maria NogueraSelf-portrait, c 1935
Painting on canvas. 47 x 38,5 cm
Museu de Manresa

She turns her head and observes us

A girl turns her head and looks at us. She is 24 years old and, supported by her family, wants to become a professional artist. The daughter of one of the founding members of the Manresa Choral Society, Maria Noguera (Manresa, 1906-2002) enrolled in the Manresa School of Arts and Crafts, after which she attended the Escola Massana and the Llotja de Barcelona. It was at the last of these that she attended the classes given by Miquel Soldevila, where she discovered that what really interested her was enamelwork. After the war, as an enameller and painter she received many commissions for sacred art, which she combined with teaching and her own artistic production. We do not know if she painted any other portraits of herself. We know that the energy of this figure is to be found in the look and the force of the gesture.

Ana Maria Smith i Marí, Self-portrait

Ana Maria Smith, Self-portrait, 1917.
Museu d’Art de Cerdanyola
Dipòsit Enrique García-Herráiz

Behind the veil of a fashionable hat

The success of her brother, the sculptor, sketch artist and otherwise undefinable character, Ismael Smith, almost eclipsed the name and work of Ana Maria Smith i Marí (Barcelona, 1889-Irvington, New York, 1954). This Modernist (avant-garde) illustrator and sketch artist opted for the refined caricature and a certain Decadentism. She came from an affluent and highly unusual family (four children who always lived together, none of whom had any children of their own), in 1919. Two years after this self-portrait was painted, the family took up residence in New York. One of the few of her works that have been preserved, her portrait transmits the joy of life; a young woman looks at us complicitly from behind the veil of a fashionable hat, with rouge on her cheeks and a beauty spot included.

Maria Teresa Ripoll, Self-portrait, 1948. Museu d’Art Modern de Tarragona

Maria Teresa Ripoll, Self-portrait, 1948
Graphite drawing on paper. 48 x 32 cm
Museu d’Art Modern de Tarragona

Who knows if it is a relinquishment

Maria Teresa Ripoll (Tarragona, 1914-1987) enrolled in the Catalan Regional Government Art Workshop School in Tarragona, a model experiment in the teaching of the visual arts in the country, in 1935. She was awarded one of its two scholarships for sculpture. With realist work close to Noucentisme, she began a short-lived career that lasted until 1948, when she moved to Rome and then to Havana due to her husband’s profession and did not continue with sculpture. This therefore is a portrait at a time of transition, who knows if of relinquishment. Although her body is barely sketched out, of particular note is the forcefulness of her look. What message does it contain?

Joaquima Casas, Self-portrait

Joaquima Casas, Self-portrait, 1996
Watercolor on paper. 55,7 x 45,5 cm
Museu d’Art de Girona. Dipòsit Generalitat de Catalunya. Col·lecció Nacional d’Art

An I exposed to the observation of others

The window, the door and the mirror are habitual resources used in pictorial self-representation. The mirror has clear philosophical connotations, but the window, as in this watercolour by Joaquima Casas (Girona, 1931), acts as an architectural element, a point of support for an I exposed to the observation of others. This is the self-portrait of a mature artist, who, after forty years living in Egypt, had returned to Girona, although it was not the first time the artist had depicted herself. For this self-portrait of her maturity, she chose the three-quarter-length figure and soft tones in which the body blends with the background to give predominance to her face –which reflects great serenity– and her hands, worn by the years.

Laura Cirera, Descriptive Anatomy Series

Laura Cirera, Descriptive Anatomy Series, 1999
Printed on hydrophilic gauze. 18,5 x 18,5 cm each
Museu d’Art Jaume Morera

Brain, lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, stomach

Brain, lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, stomach. Laura Cirera (Alpicat, 1971) opted here for an organic portrait of the I. In other proposals she has offered a performative exhibition of the subject of the artist. For example, in Useless Individual, in which she depicts herself in the street, barefoot, begging for money, holding a piece of paper in her hand on which we can read the word “artist”. In this case she opts for an anatomical approach to the concept of the body. Small hydrophilic gauze bandages are turned into artist’s materials, evoking extreme fragility. The red of the organs depicted provides the element of blood. It is a series in which manual creation predominates and, at the same time, it is a contemporary reversion of anatomic study.

Ana Sánchez, Untitled, 2002. Museu d’Art Modern de Tarragona

Ana Sánchez, Untitled, 2002
Mixed media on paper. 125 x 182 cm
Museu d’Art Modern de Tarragona

Hands? Animal skin?

Ana Sánchez (Salamanca, 1964) works with her hands. Her proposals are highly lyrical, taking fabrics, books and printed materials to build objects that favour the idea of texture and tactile sensoriality. The hand is thus a central element in her idea and practice of art. It is how this photographic composition constructed as a mosaic of hands takes on a fully self-representational meaning. Seen from a distance, the assemblage of hands acquires the appearance of snake skin and sketches a clearly organic movement. Hands? Animal skin? Tectonic movement?

Ester Fabregat, Piel de tetas

Ester Fabregat, Piel de tetas, 2010
Photographic technique, polypropylene suit and wooden hanger
2 photographs, 1 suit and 1 hanger. Various dimensions
Museu d’Art Modern de Tarragona

Wich body do you mean?

Sheathed in a second skin of flesh-coloured polypropylene with long breast-like protuberances, Ester Fabregat (Tarragona, 1977) submerges herself in the water, a liquid that allows her to try out new movements and new ways of being in the world. If a large part of her work is structured around the idea of metamorphosis, Piel de tetas (Breast Skin) serves as a new self-defining epidermis that alters the volume of her body. It is a work with multiple readings and a mythological dimension that takes us quite directly to the trajectory that entails the corporal construction of identity. “Which body do you mean?”, she asks from in the water.

A biographical I

Sometimes the anatomy is not sufficient and a biographical I emerges. An I that cannot be recognised in a moment frozen in time, but is found in the temporality of life. These are the portraits in which a life story is explained and in which the self-image is constructed as a report. It is Fina Miralles’ return or Cristina Núñez’s photographed youth. It is the link with the mother evoked by Ana Marín, Andrea Lerín’s dialogue with her father, Mari Chordà’s uterine maternity, Carme Coma and Montse Gomis’ family album, or the figure of Barbara Stammel’s sister. In all of them there is a subject launched into time and the inexhaustible plot of relationships and bonds.

Mari Chordà, Pregnant Self-portrait

Mari Chordà, Pregnant Self-portrait, 1966-1967
Glazed gouache on cardboard. 25 x 35 cm (each)
Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

They are no portraits, they are affirmations

Between 1966 and 1967, Mari Chordà (Amposta, 1942) recorded the months of her pregnancy with her daughter Àngela, who came along quite unexpectedly as she was studying art. She pioneered the way for other artists on the international scene who subsequently did the same. Paula Modersohn-Becker portrayed herself naked and pregnant in 1906, even though she wasn’t. In neither case are they portraits, but affirmations. Mari Chordà’s small gouaches (corresponding to the first, seventh and ninth month), with their pop art-like organic shapes and irreverent colours from the classical portrait palette, contain a matrix diary of the gestation.

Anna Marín, The Source I / 12 April, 1965 – 2003. Museu de l’Empordà

Anna Marín, The Source I / 12 April, 1965 - 2003.
Photography. 100 x 150 cm
Museu de l’Empordà

The myth of the origin

Anna Marín presented this photographic diptych at an exhibition in Figueres in 2003, the town where she was born. It is a composition that evokes her birth and the figure of the mother. The image on the right, of candles in a mosque in Istanbul, embodies a private homage to the mother, while the early black and white portrait of the artist is an evident return to the myth of the origin. The relationship with the mother as a unique and originating bond is fused here with the first portrait of an I just arrived in the world.

Montse Gomis, Self-portrait Series, 1999. Museu d’Art Modern de Tarragona

Montse Gomis, Self-portrait Series, 1999
Collage. Photography, transfer and collage on paper
23 pieces. Various dimensions
Museu d’Art Modern de Tarragona

Twenty-three moments of life

Twenty-three moments of her life documented photographically. Montse Gomis (Valls, 1954) condenses her 45 years of life in an exercise of self-portraiture. Always in black and white, some of her images document moments of transition, such as her first communion, while others are of a private nature that only the artist is aware of. Accompanied by titles in Latin (Eventus, Germen, Comunnio, etc.), the artist draws small figures above the photographs in a parallel reality of clouds, castles, crowns or chimneys. It is a mosaic of symbolic elements that amplify the narrative nature of the collection and the idea of the I as a story of life.

Carme Coma, Self-portrait for the Family Album, 1975. Museu d’Art de Girona

Carme Coma, Self-portrait for the Family Album. 1975
Glazed ceramics. 18,5 x 37 cm
Museu d’Art de Girona. Dipòsit Generalitat de Catalunya. Col·lecció Nacional d’Art

The passing of the days

Although it is an early work, Carme Coma (Barcelona, 1950) is already incorporating the photographic element into the ceramic material, a trait she would develop and that would end up defining her work as a ceramist. In her self-portrait, she inserts a photograph of herself smiling in a supposed family album. The creation consists of small ceramic plaques, four of which incorporate minimal variations of her image, and the other four experiment with the material, such as cracks or regular holes. Of particular note is the idea of a series or repetition, who knows whether as a reference to the passing of the days implicit in the very idea of a family album.

Cristina Núñez, Monegros

Cristina Núñez, Monegros, 1996
Photography. 20 x 30 cm
Girona Art Museum. Deposit of the Generalitat de Catalunya. National Art Collection.

Before the selfie

At the age of twenty-six, self-portraiture saved her from heroin addiction. Since then, this form of knowledge, which is the representation of oneself, has focused the work of Cristina Núñez (Figueres, 1962), in both her visual and didactic facets. The titles of her works and exhibitions speak for themselves: We Exist, I Am An Old Woman, Self-portrait Is Prison, Close To Me or Higher Self. Among her many self-portraits, Monegros is a work of youth: a sequence of twelve small portraits like a contact sheet with the subject looking directly at the camera and the landscape of Aragon in the background. Wearing a dark leather jacket that highlights the aridity of the backdrop and with a steely gaze, the artist stares unblinkingly at the camera in a visual exploration of the I before the era of the selfie.

Andrea Lería, Ash Garden

Andrea Lería, Ash Garden, 2017
Charcoal on paper and text. 152 x 190 cm
Museu d’Art Modern de Tarragona

A biographical way of looking at the world

Andrea Lería (Barcelona, 1980) composes biographical narratives with family photographs, texts, paintings, drawings and videos. Ash Garden won the Tapiró Prize at the 2017 Tarragona Provincial Government Art Biennial. It is composition that incorporates photographs and childhood drawings of the artist with the mother, and a dialogue on the paternal-filial love between the artist and her father. Although it contains a marked autobiographical element, Lería insists on the public dimension of her narrative: “The intimate experiences become flexible instruments that cross the dividing line between the public and the private.” She herself categorises her work a “a biographical way of looking at the world.”

Barbara Stammel, Sister I and Sister II, 1997. Museu d’Art Modern de Tarragona

Barbara Stammel, Sister I and Sister II, 1997
Oil on canvas. 170 x 160 cm (each)
Museu d’Art Modern de Tarragona

The disquieting place from wich we are observed

Sister I depicts an extreme coldness. Sister II, a deformed skull. In both images the thick, rapid brushstrokes contribute expressivity and the disproportion in the dimensions of the face intensifies the disquieting place from which we are observed. Why does Sister I have raised eyebrows and pursed lips? Why is the artist Sister II? We don’t know the life story linked to the portrait of the I. We know that Barbara Stammel (Söcking-Stamberg, Germany, 1960) constructs her self-portraiture exercise in relation to the sister. With an expressionist facture, this artist, now resident in the Basque Country, treats the human form as an object.

Fina Miralles (idea and action) / Joan Casellas  Arxiu Aire (fotografia), El retorn, 2012

Fina Miralles (idea and action)
Joan Casellas - Arxiu Aire (Photography)
The return, 2012
Photography. 95 x 66,5 cm
Museu de l’Empordà

The swim as a return

The title is not deceptive, it is a return. After thirty years without actions interacting with nature, in 2012 Fina Miralles (Sabadell, 1950) undertook this immersion in water at the source of the Caula, a gorge in the municipality of Les Escaules in Alt Empordà county. She thus retuned to the actionism for which she had become known in the early nineteen-seventies. To commemorate Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray’s visit to this town in the Empordà region, an annual performance art festival has been held for the past fifteen years. Photographed by Joan Casellas, the heart and soul of the festival, Miralles’ “Duchampian” swim in the Caula –the swim as a return– was the image used on the poster for the 2012 edition of the festival.

Reverberations of the I

In around 1899, Lluïsa Vidal painted herself in Barcelona wearing her artist’s smock and holding her palette and brush. To tell us who she is, she is explaining what she does. In addition to asserting the right of women to become professional artists, it is interesting to see how the I is often explained by depicting an activity in which one recognises oneself. Other artists have portrayed themselves in their studios, including Núria Batlle, although 101 years separate one studio from the other. In place of the studio, Neus Buira reveals the environment associated with the inner journey and discovery that is the personal library, while Lara Almarcegui shows us her work in the allotment garden as a personal and social growth project. And if we are speaking of extensions or reverberations of the I, we cannot ignore the domestic space, denounced in this case by Martha Rosler and her objectual kitchen.

Lluïsa Vidal, Self-portrait

Lluïsa Vidal, Self-portrait, c
About 1899. 
Oil on wood. 36 x 27 cm
Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
Donated by Francesca Vidal and other brothers of the artist, 1935

The painting doesn't matter

She stops painting to look at us. Here the painting doesn’t matter, it’s simply not there. A twenty-three-year-old girl commits herself to art. The daughter of a composer and a cabinetmaker, Lluïsa Vidal (Barcelona, 1876-1918) trained in Paris under Eugène Carrière and by copying in the Louvre. Over the years, she would paint many portraits of women, often smiling, including mothers and daughters ironing, girls sewing or relaxing, others drawing. For her self-portrait of vibrant brushstrokes, she chose orange against a green background, lighting from the side and a defiant look. She died of the flu in the 1918 pandemic. Although years later some of her paintings appeared on the market with the signature changed and a much higher price, this was not the case of her self-portrait depicting her painting, an undoubted exercise of affirmation.

Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975

Martha Rosler, Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975. MACBA

When the woman speaks

Apron, bowl, chopper, dish, etc. A young Martha Rosler (New York, 1945) shows and enumerates objects in her kitchen. In alphabetic order, her gestures evolve from the descriptive to the increasingly threatening. The video is constructed as a parody of a TV cooking programme. Rosler presents herself as an “anti-Julia Child”, referring to a popular nineteen-sixties TV presenter who brought French cooking to a wider American audience. What is most significant, however, is the vocabulary of frustration she manages to create with her gestures and the I as a prisoner of the domestic space. As the artist herself explained, “When the woman speaks, she gives a name to her own oppression”.


Lara Almarcegui, Building my Allotment Garden, 1999 - 2002. Museu d’Art Jaume Morera

Lara Almarcegui, Building my Allotment Garden, 1999 - 2002
Fotografia en color i text. 80 x 90 cm
Museu d’Art Jaume Morera

I decided to become part of the comunity

“A volkstuin is a plot of land near a railway line or a motorway where townspeople grow vegetables and flowers. In a situation where the dwelling, the workspace and the recreational areas have been planned en masse, the volkstuinen are a response to a state of affairs, as they are one of the few places in a city that were not designed by town planners and architects, but by their users.” When Lara Almarcegui (Zaragoza, 1972) moved to Holland in 1995, she worked in a community allotments association in Rotterdam for three years. Building my Allotment Garden contains a clear autobiographical reference, “After deciding on my posture as an artist, I decided to become part of the volkstuinen community”.

Neus Buira, Library, 2000. Museu d’Art Jaume Morera

Neus Buira, Biblioteca, 2000
Color photography
Museu d’Art Jaume Morera

The interior journey

In the year 2000, Neus Buira (Lleida, 1967) took part in an exhibition in the Palau de la Virreina with the installation Take Your Time [Self-portrait 2000]. She moved the living room of her home at 27 Avinyó Street to the Virreina. She took all the furniture except the bookcases. In their place, she hung a life-size photograph of the shelves with her books. In her self-portrait action, the only furniture that refused to leave its original place was that of the reading environment. Although Buira usually works with portraits of individuals in search of identity, when approaching the representation of her domestic space, she focuses on an area of the I associated with discovery and an interior journey, such as books.

Núria Batlle, Studio, 2000. Museu d’Art Modern de Tarragona

Núria Batlle, Studio, 2000
Photographic technique on paper. 100 x 100 cm
Museu d’Art Modern de Tarragona

The studio as an impossible space

For her self-portrait in the studio, Núria Batlle (Barcelona, 1958) constructs an impossible space. Accustomed to working with fragmented images of women’s bodies that blend in with elements of nature, when approaching her own representation, she places herself in front of a marine background that literally invades the workspace. Through the superposition of images, we see the artist pottering about among heterogeneous objects in a place that looks like a domestic garage, with the up and over door raised and seawater flowing in. Proposed as a palimpsest of visual elements, her photographic work has a marked pictorial effect.

Intentionally political bodies

In creating a self-portrait, there are those who shy away from introspection to understand the body not as a natural organism nor as a self-defining element, but as a political construction or an artefact of social architecture. It is in this paradigm that we find some of the contemporary artistic practices that criticise the very notion of identity. They are the intentionally political bodies of Núria Güell that investigate the I among the citizenry through the idea of the homeland, and those of Jo Spence that revoke the pictorial imaginary of maternity. It is the Guerrilla Girls’ denunciation of the patriarchy in the sphere of art, the demonised otherness of Marina Núñez, and the denied pleasure invoked by Ana Laura Aláez. Finally, and with considerable irony, Esther Ferrer dismantles the myth of nudity as the privileged place of intimacy.

Jo Spence / Terry Dennett

Jo Spence / Terry Dennett, Remodelling Photo History, 1982
Photograph in plasticized silver salts on plastic support. 26,5 x 34,7 cm
Col·lecció MACBA. Fundació MACBA. Obra adquirida gràcies a Fundació Banc Sabadell

The long visual imaginary of maternity

Who takes the photo and who poses as the model? Who is the subject and who is the object? An emblematic name in feminism, Jo Spence (London, 1934-1992) collaborated extensively with Terry Dennet (London, 1938-2018) on social photography and political action projects. In Remodelling Photo History (The History Lesson) they question the dominant models of visual representation through what they called “phototheatre”. These are staged images that, through the photographic practice itself, question the Western use of the photograph. In addition to simultaneously acting as both models and photographers, this scene has a powerful semiotic charge that revokes like few others the long visual imaginary of maternity.

Ana Laura Aláez, Sade, 1999. Museu d’Art Jaume Morera

Ana Laura Aláez, Sade, 1999
Color photography. 126 x 165 cm
Museu d’Art Jaume Morera

A satisfactory intimacy

“I always imagined that the Marquis de Sade was a pseudonym behind which there hid a woman. [...] And if it masked a delicate poetess such as Sappho who needed to express herself and be recognised in other murkier directions?”. Convinced there was a woman behind such a fierce defence of physical pleasure as we read in the Marquis de Sade’s books, Ana Laura Aláez (Bilbao, 1964) constructed a visual fiction as an assertion of the most carnal I. With all the iconic charge of the object of the lipstick, she proposes an action in which she places herself in the place of the supposed authoress who wrote under the name of de Sade. In a 2011 text commenting on this work, the artist traces a long genealogy of women who have denied their physical and emotional identities in different ways, while calling for “a satisfactory intimacy, in contrast to reproductive or obligatory sexuality”.

Marina Núñez, Untitled (Monstruas)

Marina Núñez, Untitled (Monstruas), 1997 - 1998
Oil on canvas. 235 x 136 cm
Museu d’Art Jaume Morera

That which remains outside

A woman self-harms. On a black background, she looks at us from the ground, where she is sitting with bared legs. It is part of the series that carried the name Monstruas painted between 1994 and 1998 by Marina Núñez (Palencia, 1966). Previously, she had painted the series Siniestras and Muertas and later Locas and Cyborgs. The fact is that this painter places her technical ability with the portrait at the service of dismantling the symbolic imaginary of the West projected on the subject of the woman. For centuries, woman is that which has remained outside: outside the rules, the law, the canon, reason, the world. Among all her painted women, this figure is disquieting for its physical resemblance to the artist.

Esther Ferrer, Intimate and Personal

Esther Ferrer, Intimate and Personal
Documentation of the action carried out in 1977 in the workshop of Fernando Lerín in Paris
Photographer: Ethel Blum
, 1977. MACBA

Begin again as many times as you like

“This action can be carried out by one person on their own or by many people at the same time, without regard for sex, age or condition. It can also be carried out by some people on others, in couples or in a line; the first person is measured by the second, who in turn is measured by the third, etc. They can be naked or clothed, standing or lying down, in any position and situation; in front of a large audience or in the most absolute solitude.”

Esther Ferrer (San Sebastián, 1937) wrote instructions for carrying out this action in 1971. She performed it herself in 1977 and has repeated it several times since. That such intimate and personal elements as the different parts of a naked body can be turned into simple objects to be measured is the politic statement of Ferrer’s action. Reduced to a pure statistic, where is the myth of nudity? Is intimacy no more than quantitative data? Ferrer ends the text with a dose of irony, “If the result has fully satisfied you, begin again as many times as you like.”

It’s Even Worse in Europe

It’s Even Worse in Europe. 1986
Ink printed on paper
43,3 x 56 cm
Col·lecció MACBA. Consorci MACBA




It’s Even Worse in Europe

In the mid-nineteen-eighties, posters with impertinent questions began to appear on buildings in Manhattan. They showed naked women wearing gorilla masks and messages such as Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get into the Met. Museum? Under the name of Guerrilla Girls, a group of anonymous female artists questioned the silence and lack of visibility of women in the world of the art. Adopting strategies of the so-called guerrilla communication, the Guerrilla Girls’ activism on the streets and in museums continued until the late nineteen-nineties. Theirs was a guerrilla self-portrait. Although one of the group’s best-known posters evokes Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque, we should not forget the message of the second.


Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get into the Met. Museum?, 1989
Ink printed on paper. 27,3 x 71,1 cm
Col·lecció MACBA. Consorci MACBA

Núria Güell, Stateless by Choice, 2015 - 2016. Museu d’Art Jaume Morera

Núria Güell, Stateless by Choice, 2015 - 2016
Installation. Mides variables
Museu d’Art Jaume Morera

Political subjects

Núria Güell (Vidreres, 1981) applied to the government of Spain to have her Spanish nationality to be withdrawn. With the help of a lawyer, the process took a year and a half. Finally, the Spanish Ministry of Justice denied her the right to be made stateless, arguing that statelessness cannot be requested by an individual of their own free will, but that it is a punishment imposed by the state. In the artists’ own words, “The project emerges from my disidentification with the nation-state structure and nationality as an imposed construction of the self”. In an installation that explains the whole process she undertook, she denounces the instrumentalisation by the modern state of our status as political subjects.


Tha absent body

Without doubt, nature, mathematical truths or unconsciousness go beyond one’s own individuality, while, at the same time, they constitute it. This is what is revealed by some forms of representation that dilute the physical presence or have it enter into dialogue with natural elements and realities that go beyond us. It is the oneiric I of Itziar Okariz or that transformed into Denys Blacker’s fortune telling chimney. It is also the universal geometry of Àngels Ribé or the return to primordial elements such as Fina Miralles’ tree or straw. They all end up diluting the human presence to the point of erasing it.

Denys Blacker (idea and action) i Joan Casellas-Arxiu Aire (photography), Kapnomància

Denys Blacker (idea and action)
Joan Casellas - Arxiu Aire (photography)
Kapnomància, 2013
Pphotography. 100 x 70 cm
Museu de l’Empordà

I use dress as an extension the body itself

“I often use dress as an extension of my own body”, Denys Blacker (London, 1961) explained in a 2019 interview. Resident in the Empordà region for the past 30 years, she has participated in action art events all over the world. Dress is one of her habitual elements, proposed as an organic extension of the body, although that sometimes leads to the disappearance of the latter. Kapnomancia is part of the Extensions series in which the artist covers herself in a very long monastic cowl. Faithful to the title of the action (capnomancy is an ancient divination technique using smoke), smoke rises from her long neck. The action was carried out as part of the Muga Caula action and performance festival in 2013 and was used for the poster of its ninth edition

Itziar Okariz, Diary of Dreams

Itziar Okariz, Diary of Dreams, 2016 - 2017
Installation. Mides variables
Museu d’Art Jaume Morera

Oneiric fidelity

For almost two months in the autumn of 2016 and the winter of 2017, Itzair Okariz (San Sebastián, 1965) recorded his nocturnal dreams. He sent them to the museum every day, where they were pinned on the wall. He tried to remain faithful to the dreams, with gaps in the discourse and repeated words, and accompanied them with drawings. In a second action, Okariz went to the exhibition space and, sitting in front of an audience, read his dreams in two voices, thus increasing their intelligibility. It was an oneiric autobiography or the record of that other nocturnal I that also makes up our identity.

Àngels Ribé, 3 Points 2

Àngels Ribé, 3 Points 2, 1972
Photography in silver salts
60,8 x 66,3 cm
Col·lecció MACBA. Fundació MACBA.
Work acquired thanks to Dinath de Grandi de Grijalbo

The sensation of being immersed in unknown structures

“Many of my pieces are linked to the relationship between my height, the sun and my shadow; or my I between two points and a ribbon and my height and all the infinite triangles that can take place”, Àngels Ribé (Barcelona, 1943) explained in a 2012 interview. This pioneer of action art in Catalonia uses her body as an element for investigating the geometric state of the space. In the series entitled 3 Points, undertaken between 1970 and 1973, she experiments with the notion of the triangle. “The sensation of being immersed in unknown structures. We are so surrounded by geometry. [...] There is a connection with the sun and, therefore, with the universe.”

Relations. Relation of the body with natural elements

Fina Miralles. Relations. Relation of the body with natural elements.
The body covered with straw, Sabadell, January 1975,

1975 action
Original negatives
Col·lecció del Museu d’Art de Sabadell





Designated as Translations and Relations, the actions carried out in nature by Fina Miralles (Sabadell, 1950) insert the body of the artist into a natural context to the point that it disappears. In Woman-Tree, performed in November 1973 in the woods of Sant Llorenç del Munt, the artist “planted” her legs vertically in the ground. In Relation of the body with straw, performed in Sabadell in January 1975, she completely covered her body with straw. Whereas in the artistic tradition we find numerous works that depict the woman as a natural element permanently available to another, male of course, Fina Miralles decides that she is the subject of nature, perhaps to remind us of our arboreal or vegetal condition.


Fina Miralles. Woman-Tree, Sant Llorenç del Munt, November 1973
Action. Original negatives
Col·lecció del Museu d’Art de Sabadell