On one of her trips to the local dollar savings store, where shopping is a ritualized search for the ultimate bargain in kitsch, media artist Melanie Gonzalez experienced a revelation bordering on an epiphany.
Among the rows of bottled candles with holy figurines, the scattered array of mass produced, commodified sacred objects, Gonzalez discovered a treasure trove of faux gold jewelry, pink hair rollers, hairnets and do-rags. These she reimagined as contemporary holy relics to be used to assert a new testament centered around Ghetto Mary and her son Papi Jesús, Bronx denizens leading quotidian inner city lives.
Much in the manner of Renaissance artists who used contemporary models to reenact biblical scenes, Gonzalez reveals the heroic in the ordinary. Her photographs exhibit an understanding of codified gesture and posture in sacred painting that commands attention and strangely delivers a sense of truth or authenticity. These are, after all, young men and women one might easily run into on Freeman Street or Hunts Point and yet... Gonzalez elevates the ‘hood, making viewers rethink exactly who these young men and women might be. According to Melanie Gonzalez: “This is my interpretation of what St. Peter, St. Elizabeth, Mary Magdalene and others would look like today in the South Bronx. My portraits are the discount store versions of the saints, a meshing of high Renaissance art and garish street styles.”
The large projections of the pietá, set in Crotona Park, and the last supper, staged in a tenement apartment, with a table spread of Chinese take-out cartons and bottled drinks , are startling in being both recognizably sacred and profane, eternal and topical. A looming large cross, constructed with faux gold door-knocker earrings, beckons one to enter its chapel-like cove while stations of the ‘hood displayed in the video wall expand the gospel according to Melanie Gonzalez.ARTIST BIO
Melanie Gonzalez is a Bronx-based photographer and media artist who seeks to mesh high art with street style. Goodness Graceous!, a recreation in video and photographs of the iconic images of Grace Jones, exhibited at the Andrew Freedman Home in May 2015. It later toured citywide, exhibiting at the Greenpoint Gallery, the 2015 Bushwick Film Festival, the Mosaic Gallery, The Warehouse, Sole Exchange and Make the Road NY. An earlier photographic series, Letters to Armando, was presented at B.C.A.D. Art Gallery in June 2014. Gonzalez has directed small-screen music videos and YouTube video projects. As an actor, she appeared in two Italian theater productions by Teatromania. She is a recipient of the Bronx Council of the Arts 2015 Arts Fund Grant.
Melanie Gonzalez collaborated with Stephanie Mota, a painter and sculptor, on the Cross; and with Luis Servera, a filmmaker, on many of the videos.
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